One thing we learned from previous discussions is that talking narrative is hard. This isn’t our job, it’s a fun hobby. So we may be hesitant having the discussion and potentially spoiling story beats for one another when the others plan on playing it. As we all know, sometimes that surprise can really hit in an impactful way.
So below are the VGU teams’ favorite narratives from 2022.
*BEWARE: THERE MAY BE SPOILERS*
Josh Miller – The Other Other One
I know it says spoilers, but…I really don’t want to spoil Immortality. Not just what the narrative is, but how it’s told. That sense of discovery is a huge moment for that game to the point where it was one of my favorite moments in a game ever. But that discovery also bleeds well into the narrative too not only as the method to decoding things behind the scenes, but also a means to end it all in a satisfactory way.
On the surface, the narrative was already something I loved. FMV is never done as much as it should nowadays, and it’s even better when the acting is wonderful. Sure, there are some questionable looks throughout the decades of films they try to cover (those wigs….), but it still works. Manon Gage in particular steals the scenes every time and is easily one of the most standout performances in a game this year (more on that in our GOTY discussions). As the mystery deepens with each new film, it pulls me along to try and figure out what the hell is going on.
Then, there’s the peek behind the curtain and everything is flipped on it’s head. What you thought you knew is a facade and there’s so much more going on – and the method of discovering that was so magical. So the game opens up a whole new layer, causing me to go back through and revisit scenes. Reinvestigate it all. Immortality made the narrative special in a way that no game, or possibly medium in general, has done for me before. And it’s so damn cool.
The method in which the story is told may not be for everyone. I get that and it’s totally reasonable. I think there are definitely ways to make going about the whole process a bit more friendly. Even still, it didn’t ruin any of the experience for me. It pulled me in and didn’t let go, even after the credits rolled. Very few games do that, but Immortality did that for me this year. Which is why it’s not only one of my favorite narratives of the year, but one of the best games I played this year too.
Graydon Webb – Camp Crystal Fake
First things first, let’s address the elephant in the room: The Quarry has a lackluster ending, brought about by this old hag above me. No, I’m not being mean, that’s really what she’s referred to as. Anyway, she checks in every so often to tell you if you’re on the right path, assessing your collected tarot cards and steering the narrative with her premonitions – should you choose to reveal them. It’s a rather complicated storytelling method, especially in a video game with a set number of predetermined outcomes.
All this being said, these scenes had the potential to create something
incredible. Something deeply disturbing and perhaps even fourth wall
breaking. Instead, The Quarry culminated in a rather disappointing
ending that was either setting things up for a sequel or… attempting to
curse me through my television like some kind of virtual ghost? It’s the
equivalent of Jason Voorhees turning to the camera and attacking the
viewer as the screen fades to black. Ooooo spooky!
So you may be asking, “Why have you spent half of your best narrative nominee piece shitting on the narrative?” Simply put, I wanted to address the shortcomings before mentioning how The Quarry gets everything else right! I’ve said since I first saw the credits roll that the beauty of The Quarry is the journey it takes you on. With the ensemble cast, the branching story, and the myriad choices that genuinely feel impactful; this adventure leaves a lasting impression with every press of a button.
I’m not one who replays games often, but even as I sat there pondering the polarizing finale The Quarry provided, I couldn’t help but want to jump right. Back. In. It’s compelling, terrifying, and endearing all wrapped up into a glorious package that will have you hungry for another go, just to see what changes you can make in this interactive world! I know I’ve made this seem quite complicated, but look at it this way: If you’re on your way home from a family camping trip and your dog shits in the back seat… does that ruin the fun weekend you just had?
Allan Muir – Trying to be Better
God of War: Ragnarok
God of War: Ragnarok, in my honest opinion, was the best game of 2022. Not just that, but it is a master class in storytelling. Practically everything you are doing in the game serves a purpose in one way or another to the narrative. You can find items of importance depending on what realm you are in and destroying the ravens helps you in your cold war (no pun intended), with Odin and the greater forces of Asgard.
Every character introduced in Ragnarok serves a purpose in one way or another and while there are some characters that don’t have a lot to them in terms of being fleshed out by the writers, most, if not all, of the characters that had major contributions to the story were characters that originated in God of War 2018. Atreus, Freya, Mimir, Sindri, Brok, and obviously Kratos have their arcs expanded compared to where they were in the last game respectively. It could have been very easy to go the route of having major setpieces be the main focus and leaving the characters in the dust but Sony Santa Monica focused more on character building and while yes, there are big setpieces in the game, they are enhanced by the character development going on in said setpieces.
To expand even further on this, characters that are mentioned in the prior game but don’t really make an onscreen appearance have vital use to the narrative. Characters like Odin, Thor, and even Faye steal the show when it comes to the stellar performances given by their respective actors. The fact that you have the character of Odin portrayed seemingly as the inverse of what Zeus was in the first three God of War games is simply astonishing. While Odin gets more screen time than Thor and Faye the latter two’s screen time is in the sweet spot of being at a point where they are not being overused or underused but used in a manner that fits what their characters’ roles are to the plot.
To wrap things up, (for me anyway) God of War: Ragnarok pulls off the same effect that God of War 2 did back in 2007. I am going to link this Jacob Gellar video essay on the sense of deja vu with God of War 2 and Ragnarok that says everything I am thinking but cannot entirely articulate into words.
Emmett Watkins Jr – Stanned Varl Before It Was Cool
Horizon: Forbidden West
I’ve often talked about how much I love the lore of Horizon: Zero Dawn. The story of how that world became what it became is utterly fascinating and one of the best backstories in games as far as I’m concerned. But as much as I love that aspect of the narrative, the present story was never all that engaging. There were some fun characters and great setpieces, but I could barely tell you a single broad stroke of the primary plot.
So, to my delight, not only did the sequel tighten up combat, add more mission and collectible variety, and make the RPG elements deeper, but they also made the primary plot so much more engaging. After the first few hours of setup, the main plot begins to tease out the types of mysteries that were so engaging in the first game. For the month or so it took me to play through the game, my mind was racing not only with theories to solve the questions the story introduced but possibilities that would not be possible with newly discovered information in the narrative.
And my favorite thing about the game is that, at every opportunity the game has, it expands the world rather than truncates it. One of my biggest narrative pet peeves is when a fictional world seems to only revolve around a small handful of characters. Yes, having a main cast is important, but when every important event that happens in a world all takes place within one bloodline (looking at you Star Wars), it limits the possibilities of what’s possible in the universe. Horizon does everything in its power to not fall into this trap and goes to extraordinary lengths to expand the story, and even the thematic concepts, into wildly unexpected directions.
At the end of the day, Horizon: Forbidden West is exactly what it looks like it is, a AAA action RPG. That obvious fact is precisely the reason so many game enthusiasts slept on the game or never got into it in the first place. Its surprises are purely narrative, but those surprises are still absolutely worth experiencing. This is one of the best games of 2022 and deserves praise alongside the Ragnaroks and Elden Rings of the world, and most of that praise is due to its fantastic story.