On the Hero’s Journey: How the Best Game Stories Turn Epic Plots into Personal Quests

Best Game Stories
Lichdom: Battlemage uses a trick from some of the best game stories—giving the player an early personal investment that makes them want to keep playing.

The best game stories can stick with us for a long time. The interactivity of the medium makes us participants, so looking back on the best game stories makes us feel like we were a part of the experience. But not every engaging story needs to be an epic—a personal touch can be just as effective as extensive worldbuilding and plot twists.

While some stories are memorable because they create new worlds or introduce us to beloved characters, it doesn’t always have to be that complex. Even sprawling epics need more than just the cool factor to be ranked among the best game stories. But how do the best game stories do it? Creating a memorable story isn’t as simple as throwing in dragons and robots and a snarky protagonist—it take a delicate combination of elements to make the best video game stories.

Best Game Stories
Characters like Liara T’soni are what makes Mass Effect one of the best game stories, as she grows and changes alongside the game’s fascinating plot. Image Source: K Putt via Flickr.

Character Depth Complements the Best Game Stories

There are two main reasons to consume any fiction—because you like the character or because you like the plot. The two things aren’t mutually exclusive, but nor are they mutually inclusive. Strong characters or exciting stories are just two different facets of fiction, neither one better than the other.

Many of the best game stories are rife with drama and explosions and espionage. Most games are action-driven in some way or another, but many of the best game stories also contain characters who are as memorable and deep as the people we meet in real life. Though the gameplay of BioWare’s games may not be to everyone’s taste, a large part of the reason the games are so popular are the characters—the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series are both packed with unique characters with different personalities and motivations, including those that differ from the protagonist. While some might play for the space invasion or civil war, others are attached to the individuals that make up the game’s cast. Though Mass Effect might be a great game without characters like Garrus, Liara, and Wrex, it wouldn’t stand out as much among games of its kind without them.

Deep characters like these can appear in any genre—Call of Duty’s Soap is up there with some of the greatest video game characters, as are Uncharted’s Nathan Drake and Portal’s GLaDOS, all of them making us invested in their fictional lives.

Best Game Stories
Like the hero’s journey, the best game stories often give an unlikely hero a personal and specific quest. Image Source: K Putt via Flickr.

Best Game Stories Draw Players In With a Personal Touch

When it comes to getting players invested, a great world isn’t the only element you need to make people want to continue. One of the easiest ways to make players care about what’s happening is to get them emotionally invested early—and the simplest method to do that is to give them something to care about and then take it away.

Lichdom: Battlemage is an excellent example of this. The game briefly introduces you to a character—your wife or your sister, depending on which gender you choose to play at the beginning of the game—who is immediately kidnapped. This gives main character—and the player, by extension—a reason to venture out into the world. From there, they’re swept up into the main story with a wider set of goals and objectives, always coming back to the core principle of finding your loved one.

What this does is centralize the story on one key goal rather than spreading the player too thin by throwing as many cool-sounding objectives at them as possible. Other opportunities may pop up over the course of the story, but it always returns to the simple quest to find your loved ones, reminding the player of what’s at stake.

Players Need a Reason to Progress in the Best Game Stories

Along with giving the player a simple, personal goal and characters to care about, there should be a reason to progress. That reason may be the safe return of their loved one, or it may be the promise of more character interaction down the line. What it often comes down to is a goal or quest that always seems just out of reach.

The simplest stories are about a want or a need and a journey to fulfill it. While there are often additional layers to that— and the best video game stories intertwine character, worldbuilding, and exciting action into their stories—a character without desire is a character who isn’t going anywhere. Games are naturally goal-oriented, and while getting the high score in Galaga is a worthy feat, it isn’t the same as fighting the evil king who destroyed your homeland or finding out the secret that the mysterious member of your crew is hiding.

We love games like The Legend of Zelda and Mario in part because of nostalgia, but also because their stories are archetypal. They are familiar and open, leaving lots of room for different takes and spins, but always following the simplest formula for the best game stories: a reason to move forward, an obstacle, and fun.

Lichdom: Battlemage hooks players with the personal touch from the beginning and keeps them invested with exciting, magic-based action, a deep spell crafting system, and an inventive story that showcases all the power a mage can wield. Pre-order your console copy now!


Lauren Helling

Writer, Singer, Avian Enthusiast, Movie Junkie

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