The Top Ten Video Game Story-Telling Studios

DJ Arruda ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

1. BioWare

Screenshot from Dragon Age: Inquisition 4. Photo Credit: BioWare.
Screenshot from Dragon Age: Inquisition 4. Photo Credit: BioWare.
With the release of Dragon Age: Inquisition last month showcasing the narrative prowess behind this studio, it is no question that BioWare tells some of the greatest stories in the industry. Whether it is the epic fantasy of Dragon Age, or the sprawling space opera of Mass Effect, the Canadian based developer continues to deliver stories rich with character, lore, and emotion. Since 1995 the RPG genre has been blessed with the studio’s consistent quality, starting with Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights, and continuing to today. With another Mass Effect game slated to arrive within the next few years, as well as a new IP in the works, now is as exciting a time as ever for BioWare, as players work their way through Inquisition and look to the next big hit.

2. Telltale Games

Screenshot from The Walking Dead. Photo Credit: Telltale Games.
Screenshot from The Walking Dead. Photo Credit: Telltale Games.
Specializing in games that play more like interactive television shows than more traditional third person offerings, Telltale has become quite the force in the industry these past few years. Though their presence in the industry dates back to the days of Sam & Max a decade ago, the studio received deservedly more attention with their critically acclaimed adaption of The Walking Dead series in 2012. Since then a second season of the series has continued the narrative of the bleak, post-apocalyptic zombie world, while The Wolf Among Us beautifully brings a fairy tale noir prequel to the Fables comics series, showcasing how well the studio specializes in split-second decisions, character development, and world building through choice-based, episodic gameplay. With Tales from the Borderlands adding a new story to the titular game’s universe, and Game of Thrones similarly adding a new story of medieval political drama to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire universe, as well as the just announced Minecraft: Story Mode, the studio shows no signs of stopping, consistently delivering amazing adaptations of popular series and giving them their unique, engaging spin.

3. Remedy Entertainment

Screenshot from Max Payne 3. Photo Credit:
Screenshot from Max Payne 3. Photo Credit: Remedy Entertainment.
Claiming ownership of both Max Payne and Alan Wake, Remedy has two well-established series under their belt. The former focuses on the gritty, seedy underbelly of the NYPD as the titular police officer turned vigilante seeks to avenge his family and clear his name. The latter in contrast focuses on the bizarre, surreal journey of an author with writer’s block and the darkness he uncovers when taking a vacation with his wife to seemingly idyllic Bright Falls. Both game feature innovation in regards to their person shooting, with Payne’s “bullet time” and Wake’s flashlight-based combat with the Darkness. And the upcoming Quantum Break looks to bring a synthesis of this tried and true formula and adds the manipulation of time itself to the mix, along with a companions TV series. These stories are unique and well-constructed, drawing in the player and allowing them to uncover the greater mysteries through twisting plots and eccentric supporting characters alike.

4. CD Projekt Red

Screenshot from The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Photo Credit:
Screenshot from The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Photo Credit: CD Projekt Red.
Another juggernaut in the RPG genre, the Polish CD Projekt Red looks to end their claim to fame Witcher series on a high note come May. Though the third game in the series, Wild Hunt, was delayed from February, the studio remains one of the classiest and attentive in the industry. If they do not think the game is ready, they should be trusted. As the first two entries in Geralt of Rivia’s saga, based on Andrzej Sapkowski’s books, are exceptionally well done in terms of narrative and immersion. Throughout the games, the titular witcher is dragged into political turmoil and intricate plots, yet he must also stick to his job and hunt monsters, blending his individual narrative into the global one. And with an adaption of the tabletop RPG Cyberpunk, entitled Cyberpunk 2077, in the pipeline as well, even after the Witcher trilogy ends the studios take on science fiction should be equally riveting.

5. Irrational Games

Screenshot from Bioshock Infinite. Photo Credit:
Screenshot from BioShock Infinite. Photo Credit: Irrational Games.
Though it was announced that the studio was closing in February, the developer was able to go out on a high note with BioShock Infinite. The BioShock series remains one of the greatest stories told in gaming, with the atmospheric, twisting narrative of the first game elevating the industry to the tier of art as Jack is led through the decaying dystopia of Rapture at the behest of a mad man, while BioShock Infinite took things to a whole new level. Each time Irrational stepped up the narrative, and the studio’s swan song in Columbia remains a highlight of recent years, as Booker DeWitt must face the sins of his past in a world where time and history are constantly in flux. Whatever Ken Levine decides to do next, the stories he leaves us with in the BioShock universe show how well atmosphere, dialogue, and gameplay can come together to make a cinematically engaging and terrifying narrative.

6. Rocksteady Studios

Screenshot from Batman: Arkham City. Photo Credit: Rocksteady Studios.
Screenshot from Batman: Arkham City. Photo Credit: Rocksteady Studios.
This London based developer took the industry by storm with their adaption of the Batman mythos. Putting players in control of the Caped Crusader himself, the studio redefined stealth combat and players truly felt like they were a superhero through the well-constructed controls leading players through the story. Showcasing many familiar faces from the rich source material, the game’s narrative was able to still tell a story of its own, pitting Batman against the Joker in a winding, well executed plot. The sequel expanded upon the narrative and opened up the world to include even more of the series’ most iconic characters, and with Arkham Knight arriving in June it seems as if Rocksteady has hit their stride with these compelling, comic-derived narratives.

7. Bethesda Softworks

Screenshot from Elder Scroll V: Skyrim. Photo Credit: Bethesda Softworks.
Screenshot from Elder Scroll V: Skyrim. Photo Credit: Bethesda Softworks.
Choosing to let their worlds tell the stories more than individual quests, Bethesda remains a force to be reckoned with in regards to open world RPGs. The high fantasy of The Elder Scrolls, and the gritty post-apocalyptic fiction of Fallout prove that their games can present an engaging narrative just in the way the player interacts in the world. Though there plenty of side quests and a main plot, those stories are worth experiencing but are not as strong as the whole package. What truly makes these games stand out are the attentions to detail in the worlds that players can easily spend hundreds of hours in, traversing one side of the sandbox to the other and discovering many fascinating detours along the way. Though given the large scope and lack of a tighter narrative some immersion and story-telling is lost, overall the characters and locations visited take players to a new world in and of itself.

8. Ubisoft Entertainment

Screenshot from Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. Photo Credit: Ubisoft.
Screenshot from Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Photo Credit: Ubisoft.
Despite recent launch woes, Ubisoft’s long-running Assassin’s Creed series is a definitive standard of the studio. Showing how historical fiction can be paired with engaging, evolving third person gameplay in order to craft narratives bridging past and future, history and myth, the impact this series has had on the stories told in the industry should not be understated. In addition, the many other series under the umbrella of this studio add their own unique narratives to the stories being told in games. Far Cry takes players to lush settings and lets them run wild, the most recent outing in the Himalayas with 4, whereas the more traditional shooters of the Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon series continue to guide players on intriguing, flowing military operations around the world. With so many studios and franchises spanning the globe, Ubisoft bears a lot of power in the stories being told. Undoubtedly some miss the mark, but for those that do, the story is worth the price of admission.

9. Naughty Dog

Screenshot from The Last of Us. Photo Credit: Naughty Dog.
Screenshot from The Last of Us. Photo Credit: Naughty Dog.
Though beginning its career with Jax and Daxter, and Crash Bandicoot, which offered fun stories to engage with in their own right, Naught Dog truly took stories to new levels with the Uncharted series. At times playing more like an interactive action film than a game, the way in which the studio brings a cinematic experience to the industry time after time makes them a force to be reckoned with. The Last of Us was also overall just an excellent script put to a game, a heart wrenching story which rightfully earned much acclaim upon release. With a fourth Uncharted game on the way, it will be interesting to see how well their next narrative plays out on the new generation.

10. Rockstar Games

Screenshot from Grand Theft Auto 5. Photo Credit: Rockstar Games.
Screenshot from Grand Theft Auto 5. Photo Credit: Rockstar Games.
One of the most well-known game series, for better or for worse, is Grand Theft Auto. And much of the controversy surrounding the series is precisely because the narratives deals with criminals being criminals, as compelling as that is. Each game in the series takes players to a different city, for the most part, and puts them in control of protagonists whose moral compasses are not always pointed towards good. Yet the stories told do not leave things black and white but instead showcase the good and evil on both sides of the law, making for stories that are open ended and worthy of experiencing. In addition, the Red Dead series takes that formula to the Wild West for some open world gun shootin’ in a similar vein. With many offerings under its name, Rockstar consistently innovates on its past installments to continually deliver new stories for players to enjoy.

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