A lot of things have to be considered when making a video game. The best video games tend to possess phenomenal voice acting talents, immersive game worlds, thought-provoking or emotion-evoking writing, challenging battles, and easy-to-use controls.
Obviously however, not every game is perfect and more often than not, they lack a few of the necessities. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should skip them, because a video game that isn’t particularly well written can still be fun to play, or, as with the games listed here, games that don’t play well, can still be worth experiencing simply because they are really well written. It should be noted that for this list, we’re looking at general player reaction and not just professional critical reception, which we all know can be a little biased.
Game of Thrones (2012)
A prime example of this would be one of the poorly received video games developed for gamer fans of the Game of Thrones TV show. It starred new characters, Alester Sarwyck, a red priest, and Mors Westford, a ranger for the Night’s Watch. The Game of Thrones video game was certainly not well received, mainly due to the laughable voice acting (we’re talking random-TES: Oblivion-civilian levels of voice acting), repetitive fights, uninspired gameplay, and low-quality graphics and animation. Still, despite the poor critical reception, the game’s plot makes it worthwhile for those more interested in the deep characters and political intrigue in the books and GoT TV show.
The plot takes place during season 1 of the TV show. You switch between two characters. Alester Sarwyck, is a former knight who returns to his home of Riverspring after 15 years in Essos, fleeing there after being traumatised by events during Robert’s Rebellion. Now a red-priest, he attends his father’s funeral and learns of a plot by his half brother, to take his family home. Meanwhile, Mors Westford, a warg and ranger of the Night’s Watch, receives a letter from Jon Arryn, requesting aid in protecting a mysterious Jeyne Greystone. The plot, much like the show, takes you across Westeros and introduces then kills off characters with dark histories and secrets you never would have guessed. Despite all its flaws, your emotional investment in the plot and characters will be enough to ensure thrills in key moments and uncertainty when you try you best to pick the least depressing of four emotional endings.
Dragon Age 2
A lot of people don’t like the second entry into the Dragon Age series, and with good reason. Where the original took you around the vast nation of Ferelden, Dragon Age 2 trapped you in the less expansive Kirkwall— a city-state silently struggling to find stability in the grips of both the Templars and nobility. After the first five hours of gameplay, you might have found that you’d exhausted the game of new environments. That’s just one of the factors that polarised critics and gamers alike.
But Dragon Age 2’s beauty lies not in the actual setting or even gameplay, but the story and characters present within it. You play Hawke, a refugee of the fifth Blight. As with Dragon Age: Origins, you are free to customise your character (and by proxy, his/her family). Throughout Dragon Age 2, you play as Hawke and through approximately ten years of Hawke’s life as told by Varric. The reason for that, aside from one or two chuckle-worthy scenes, is that it helps the game lead into the epic Dragon Age: Inquisition and helps introduce and establish some of the characters. If you played that game without having played Dragon Age 2, you’ll want to, if only to see the incredible complexities that lead into the turmoil around which much of the plot of Dragon Age: Inquisition is built. It’s more than just war and villainy. The plot of Dragon Age 2 deals with racism, social disparity, corruption, adventure, and forces you to make the difficult choices regarding those themes.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist
Since 2002, the Splinter Cell series and its no-nonsense protagonist, Sam Fisher, based on Tom Clancy’s book series, has seldom failed to entertain with memorable levels and as much action-packed, politically driven story as any Mission Impossible film. The 2013 entry in the series, Splinter Cell: Blacklist, was not without its faults. Make no mistake, it was a sound video game, only, people noted that the main character’s change in voice actor from Michael Ironside to Eric Johnson was slightly off-putting for those both new to and familiar with the franchise. Players also could not help but notice that the graphics were dated in appearance.
But a great graphics does not a memorable game make. The feature that made Splinter Cell: Blacklist worth the price was the phenomenal plot surrounding Fourth Echelon and a terrorist group called The Engineers. For obvious reasons, it wouldn’t do well to write out every intriguing plot point here. Suffice to say, it’s a plot perfect for anyone who enjoys spy thrillers and games that give you reason to skulk around in the darkness, silently incapacitating armed criminals.
Beyond: Two Souls
There are games that focus on gameplay and there are those like Beyond: Two Souls, which focus solely on telling a story. It may not offer much in terms of control and freedom, although far more than Heavy Rain did, but it’s a powerful enough tale of a young girl, a ghost, and a doctor. While there are those that would argue that it’s not the most straightforward, as far as plots go, Beyond:Two Souls is still a video game worth playing through, if not for the satisfaction in the end of putting it all together and resolving this emotionally driven and fantastically acted story.
The Grand Theft Auto series has had more than its fair share of success in parodying the world with all its oddities and faults. It’s famed for giving players the freedom to do almost anything they wanted to do, especially in 2014’s Grand Theft Auto V.
Meanwhile, Square Enix’s Sleeping Dogs, set in Hong Kong, seems to go a different direction and despite seemingly borrowing a lot of other features from the GTA franchise, decided to give players a lot less to do. It’s no wonder the game received criticism from gamers for being largely empty.
Despite this, the characters were deep enough, especially the character of Wei Shen— the undercover cop trying to infiltrate the triads, and as with all worthy characters, Wei Shen harbours a troubled past, and a complex inner conflict that’s yours to win or lose. The storyline follows his investigation and subsequent rise through the ranks of Hong Kong’s gangs, named not-so-subtly after the real life gangs in the real city on which the Sleeping Dogs is based. Sleeping Dogs is worth playing for the often horrifying twists and turns, as well as the incredibly brutal final boss fight.
Call of Duty: Black Ops III
The annual Call of Duty games don’t usually offer much in regards to plot. Go here, shoot this guy, stop this terrorist organisation, etc…, but 2015 saw a different kind of Call of Duty plot in developer Treyarch’s Black Ops III. The gameplay gives you pretty much what you might have come to expect from Call of Duty games, but the plot was something else.
What began as any other first person shooter, turned out to be a huge talking point in the end. Were we Taylor, were we not Taylor? How much of that actually happened? What’s real anymore? Okay, maybe not the latter, but the ending was still different and complex enough that some people went back to watch everything carefully and try to pick up on the hints and clues you all missed the first time around. There are half a dozen theories out there on the internet about what actually happened, some of which are more convincing than others, but it’s worth going through Call of Duty: Black Ops III at least once more to see which one you think sufficiently explains that ending. Now if only every Call of Duty games would try to blow our minds like that one did.