What is THE BEST, most creative, most moving story & character-based PC game you've ever played?
May 18, 2012 4:59 PM   Subscribe

What is THE BEST, most creative, most moving story & character-based PC game you've ever played?

I've just finished playing Mass Effect 3 and after a few days of being obsessed with indoctrination theory, I think it's time to move on.

I'm looking for something where you *care* about the characters, and where you're faced with moral dilemmas to which there is no "right" answer, preferably where the storyline is non linear and based on your choices.

--spoilers below--

I want to cry like I did when Mordin dies. I want to be surprised like I was when the platform sunk into the pit of fire in Portal. I want to eavesdrop on NPC's conversations. I want a story...with an ending! Skyrim is great, but I got bored with the endlessness of it, and the flatness of the characters (LYDIA, STOP swearing to carry my burdens! omfg)

--no more spoilers--

My favorite games, loosely ranked:

-Dragon Age: Origin (DAII is a bastard console spawn, imho, but don't get me started)
-Mass Effect 1,2,3
-The Quest for Glory series (ignoring the 90s graphics)
-The King's Quest series (ditto about the graphics)
-Plants v. Zombies (ok, I have a weakness for really good puzzle/ tower defense games with a lot of personality)

Further info:
*I'm considering the witcher or the witcher 2. Thoughts?
*I liked Assassin's creed, but it plays like much more of a console game and my computer had a hard time with the graphics for some reason.
*Neverwinter nights didn't do it for me. Not sure why. Maybe just the old-school graphics. I've been spoiled. :)

posted by Calicatt to Computers & Internet (45 answers total) 68 users marked this as a favorite
Planescape: Torment.
posted by griphus at 5:19 PM on May 18, 2012 [14 favorites]

I would take a look at Knights of the Old Republic. It's pretty linear (but maybe no more so than DA:O) but I really liked the plot and the characters in it. It's one of my all time favorite games for that reason. It's about 10 years old now, so hopefully the graphics aren't too dated.
posted by pombe at 5:20 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Parts of Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas are exactly what you want, but some of it is going to have the same sorts of shortcomings you felt Skyrim did.

New Vegas is much more traveling companion driven than Fallout 3 (you could do all of Fallout 3 solo if you wanted to) so you are helping them resolve their personal issues. Cool thing - every so often you can unlock a chunk of dialog by taking an NPC to a new place. Drawback - sometime you have to go through some old dialog to hear it.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:20 PM on May 18, 2012

Dragon Age.
Mass Effects 1 & 2 if you haven't already played them.
Fallout 3
Assassins Creed series, I like the 2nd one best.
Deus Ex.
posted by wwax at 5:24 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's console-only, but I thought the storyline and setting in Red Dead Redemption were top-notch. I found myself pretty deeply involved in the whole thing. I'm having a lot of fun with Skyrim, but RDR was just more...raw, I guess.
posted by jquinby at 5:27 PM on May 18, 2012

The Half Life series
posted by lockestockbarrel at 5:33 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would give Witcher 1 a try.

I wish I could recommend Baldur's Gate 2 and Planescape: Torment to you, but my guess is that you'd get hung up on the graphics. (It's from the era of isometric perspective RPGs, and they're hard to get into if you weren't weaned on them.)

Bioshock is also a good call. Be sure to start with the first one.

And you might like Divinity 2. But that's a longer shot, more grindy.
posted by voltairemodern at 5:35 PM on May 18, 2012

Have you ever tried a visual novel? They're not shooters. They're more like computerized versions of "choose your own story" books.

One example you can download for free is "Katawa Shoujo", which is in English despite the Japanese name. (Katawa Shoujo means "Crippled Girls".)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:47 PM on May 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

The Half-Life series.

The Deus Ex series.

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery

L.A. Noire has a PC version.

So does Alan Wake and Fahrenheit (aka Indigo Prophecy).

I heard many people say the story in Tron 2.0 was far better than the film's actual sequel.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:55 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't even worry about the graphics in Knights of the Old Republic. It's my favorite game ever, and it has absolutely everything on your checklist. Plus a smart-mouthed assassin droid who is the best video game character EVER.
posted by ronofthedead at 5:56 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Fallout: New Vegas has most of the things I like about Skyrim, but the moral choices were trickier, and the sidekicks more memorable (IMO.)

(I'm going to be vague with this anecdote but it could be considered a minor, non-story spoiler.)

Like one time I was wandering the desert with my partner, an emotionally distant ex-military sniper, looking for a prison that had recently been overtaken by escaped cons. They were a marauding gang of jumpsuited hooligans harassing local citizens with grenades, theft, etc.

Suddenly some dustrat citizen shambles up to us.
"Hey, man, don't go that way, a bunch of asshole slavedrivers have a camp right over there." he said, in so many words, before running back towards the nearest town.

Well, wasting a few slavedrivers is just frosting on the cake of post-apocalyptic vigilantism, so I walked in precisely that direction, stopped at the crest of a hill, and checked out the camp below through my rifle scope. The "camp" was bigger than I had thought it might be. There were least a dozen enemies, more tents than The Gathering of The Juggalos, and, smack in the middle of it all, a group of captives on their knees in restraints near a campfire.

And they were all in prisoner jumpsuits.

For the next few minutes I weighed the moral and pragmatic pros and cons of trying to free these guys. Most of the escaped prisoners were violent, but what if these guys got captured precisely because they weren't? The local government is pretty authoritarian and militaristic, so maybe they were locked up on some bullshit drug charge. Maybe they were hardened criminals, who were trying to give up the life and start over. Maybe they were violent rapists and murderers who would have cut my throat in a second, but would turn over a new leaf if I showed them mercy and kindness. Maybe I could just execute them from afar to spare them a live of chains and save myself.

But, after circling the camp looking for weak spots, thinking about the moral algebra of the situation, I decided to attempt a rescue. Slavery is an abomination for even the worst of men. People deserve a chance for redemption. The slavers had to be stopped regardless of whether this particular batch was innocent. And so on and so on.

Anyway. The fight was difficult. It took stealth and trickiness and all the best parts of combat in Fallout. When the last bad guy fell to the ground with a still-exploding head, I leaned back in my chair and thought, this game is so good, and I went to talk to a prisoner.

Aaaaaaaand he glitched out and got stuck in a campfire. He said nothing interesting. He was not a terminally-ill geography teacher on his way to meet his son for the first time.

But still, it was really, really cool.
posted by spanishbombs at 6:02 PM on May 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

I suppose I should mention:

- This was just a random encounter that has no major bearing on the story, and the actual Big Plot Choices you make are also really cool, in general.
- Fallout 3 is also pretty good.
posted by spanishbombs at 6:04 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I came in to say Planescape: Torment. I haven't even played it, but I've heard enough about it from all my friends that did to recommend it for this.
posted by jacalata at 6:08 PM on May 18, 2012

The Witcher and the Witcher 2 sound like exactly what you want.

If you get a bit bored with traditional gameplay, you might Dear Esther a try. There's very little in the way of game elements, but the story (and the soundtrack) have definitely stuck with me over the last month or two.
posted by the artless dodger at 6:13 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Baldurs Gate series. You play the same character from the start of BG1, through BG2 and all its expansions. Along the way you have recurring characters, love blossoms, and you have a deeply personal story about your characters history and eventual fate. Highly recommended.

Also, Final Fantasy 7. And seconding Planescape: Torment.
posted by Effigy2000 at 6:57 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know without asking him that Mr. Selfmedicating's answer to this would be Planescape Torment also.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:05 PM on May 18, 2012

I want to eavesdrop on NPC's conversations.

You want The Last Express.
posted by GenericUser at 7:21 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Although Planescape: Torment is the only game where I've actually sighed and turned to an NPC for advice, or gotten angry at the way one NPC was treating another, you should be warned that the game engine and graphics are very dated indeed.
posted by tyllwin at 7:22 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

The best I can think of that hasn't been mentioned is Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines. Despite the too many colons and slightly antiquated graphics, it's a great setting with very interesting characters, and some moral choices that are shades of dirty gray.

I'm also very fond of Beyond Good & Evil, though there too you have to forgive the older graphics. It has some very nicely varied gameplay, good characters, and some plot twists you might appreciate.

Also, since you evidently like Bioware games, another answer is: more Bioware! KOTOR and Baldur's Gate, already mentioned, are also from Bioware, but a fun one that hasn't been mentioned yet is Jade Empire. Great setting and the usual excellent characters (I love Henpecked Hou).

Oh, and don't forget Mefi's gaming annex, MeFight Club.
posted by zompist at 7:51 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

How do you feel about non-action games? Grim Fandango is a graphical adventure with a great, moving story where you care about the characters more than in a lot of movies and books. It's pretty linear though, and like all LucasArts adventure games, you can never reach an unwinnable state.
posted by scose at 8:33 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Bioshock. Bioshock. Bioshock. Bioshock.

There is no right way to play it, moral dilemmas abound, and frankly I've never been more enthralled by PC game in my life. It's almost criminally thought-provoking, to the extent that I think it would make a phenomenal book and a downright bangin' motion picture.

And then after that? Bioshock 2.

And then after that? Bioshock Infinite. This one's not even out and it's going to blow your goddamned mind.

I'm not even kidding.
posted by Chutzler at 8:33 PM on May 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

Deus Ex: Human Revolution sounds like exactly what you're looking for. It's a prequel to the older games, so you won't need to do any background reading for it to make complete sense, there are a ton of characters, conversations and choices and a strong main story, and it's one of the most consistently atmospheric, stylish and sense-of-place-y games I've played in years. Particularly since you loved Mass Effect, I honestly can't imagine you not enjoying Human Revolution.

The Witcher 2 is a really good call, too. I'm sure others will disagree, but I'd skip the first one - I just found it dull and incredibly padded. The sequel is a whole different thing, though, and now's the perfect time to pick it up, as the Enhanced Edition (a great big, free content update) just added an awful lot of new stuff, and particularly gave the game a much more fleshed-out and satisfying beginning and final chapter.
posted by emmtee at 8:34 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you haven't played Portal 2 yet, why not? Everything you loved about portal, turned up to 11 with added back story and expanded characters.
posted by cosmicbandito at 8:44 PM on May 18, 2012

Response by poster: Omg! So many answers so quickly, and so many I haven't heard of. I was afraid asking that I was only going to get the answers I've already found for myself, but these are unexpected and great!!!

I've played Portal 2 and liked it well enough, but it just didn't have that totally unique creepiness to it that Portal the original did.

I absolutely LOVE Knights of the Old Republic! I can't believe that I forgot to mention that in my favorites list!

Ditto for Grim Fandango, although I played it now so long ago that I can't remember much except for loving it.

Keep them coming! I can't believe how many are out there that I haven't heard of! Thanks Mefi :)
posted by Calicatt at 9:42 PM on May 18, 2012

Response by poster: Oh, and Baldur's Gate was OK, but again the graphics got to me (totally spoiled, I know) and I prefer a closer 3rd person the the sort-of omniscient, distant, traditional rpg style. But I love, loved Jade Empire! (yes I've tried to mine the Bioware trove! absolutely my style.)
posted by Calicatt at 9:56 PM on May 18, 2012

Alpha Protocol has many flaws, but it also has some of the best characters of any game I've played. The writing and story are good as well.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 10:18 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Planescape: Torment. Also Planescape: Torment.
posted by Justinian at 11:05 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Planescape torment with the special pack that fixes the glitches and increases resolution.

Fallout 1 and 2.

Little big adventure 2.
posted by rainy at 11:21 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Dig. It's an old one, but it's one of my favorites.
posted by everybody polka at 12:20 AM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

You may also enjoy Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. This is a very adult adventure game, it pulls no punches, it deals with complex and mature themes and got extremely good reviews by most games journalists.
posted by fearnothing at 1:05 AM on May 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer is the only game I've ACTIVELY tried to play against the rules because of how gut wrenchingly disturbing the premise is. The moral choice is to not play.

Incredibly creative and very character driven. Also horrific.
posted by litleozy at 3:50 AM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

(also, if you enjoyed King's Quest, check out both excellent remakes (with voice acting!) of King's Quest 1, 2, 3. King's Quest 2 remake is one of the best games I've played and they've added a lot to original game without losing any of its flavour)
posted by litleozy at 4:03 AM on May 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you're willing to go 2d/indie, check out to the moon, which is quite literally the saddest, most horrific character driven game i've played. Tho, I guess it's more of an interactive movie?
posted by jaymzjulian at 7:38 AM on May 19, 2012

Infocom's "A Mind Forever Voyaging" is widely regarded as really poignant.
posted by steinsaltz at 8:44 AM on May 19, 2012

If you can find it, you want the original game called "Portal," from 1986.
posted by jbickers at 9:36 AM on May 19, 2012

The Witcher 1 is exactly what you're looking for.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 10:37 AM on May 19, 2012

Thief 1 and 2 are also AMAZING (if you don't mind an older game engine).
posted by wolfdreams01 at 10:38 AM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I haven't been playing many games lately, but my recent favorite is Hammerfight. The story is unexpectedly engaging and the gameplay is a blast. I got it in a Humble Bundle and didn't even play it at first because it didn't look that good, but I was really missing out. (also I'm a sucker for games where you can collect an absurd variety of weapons)

Also Little Big Adventure 1 & 2. The plot is not so much original or compelling as just wacky and interesting, and I still remember the world like I was really there. The supporting characters and their accents are ridiculous and awesome. (gog.com) Fantastic music, also. Isometric graphics but for games from the 1990s the they look fantastic.

Bioshock is great but the original System Shock is my favorite Warren Spector (-style) game. (the controls are pretty wacky and the graphics haven't aged well at all, though)

Final Fantasy 7, of course.
posted by ropeladder at 2:11 PM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also in the visual novel category, Christine Love's games -- Digital: A Love Story, Don't Take It Personally Babe, Analogue: A Hate Story -- have some of the most absorbing stories and compelling characters I've ever seen in a video game. They involve some difficult moral decisions for the player, too.

(Semi-self-link disclaimer: I worked on the music for Analogue)
posted by speicus at 4:12 PM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know you said the old school graphics may turn you off, but give them a chance, they do grow on you.

I see Fallout 3 and New Vegas mentioned, but I feel the original Fallout is pretty much the zenith of PC RPGs. I mean, yes the other Fallouts (I'm including 2) are more epic and longer, but I feel the brevity of the original Fallout created a tighter story and more solid moral themes. When I beat Fallout 1, I saw shades of Greek tragedy and an interesting ambigurous interpretation of the ending based on one's own viewpoint of individual rights/justice vs. social stability. Just to top it off, I wrote a college paper on Fallout 1, and not on any of the other games. :P

Other than that, the creator of Fallout 1 also created ARCANUM: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura. It's a bit buggy, but it's got great and memorable NPCs and an interesting Tolkien/Steampunk mixed universe.

For adventure games, I'd second Orient Express. It's truly an anomaly in PC gaming, with it's strange Impressionist looking art and real time play. Another adventure game I'd suggest is Westwood's 1997 Blade Runner. If you've seen the movie, I feel it's a worthy game that lives up to the movie and the book.
posted by FJT at 7:32 PM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

nth-ing Bioshock and Bioshock 2. Bioshock (1) had me spending more time drooling over the gorgeous art deco environments, but Bioshock 2 really sucked me into the story. Both had varied endings based on the choices you'd made.

The most emotionally involved that I've ever become with a game and my character was years ago in Final Fantasy XI, playing through the Chains of Promathia missions with close friends. Admittedly, MMOs are in a different category because you're playing with other people and so you're naturally much more involved. That final cutscene out in Lufaise Meadows, with Prishe falling apart, I thought about all we'd been through as a group, the battles we'd won and lost, the friends we'd made and lost along the way, and I just fell apart. I still can't hear "Distant Worlds" without getting really choked up.
posted by xedrik at 9:41 PM on May 19, 2012

Fallout New Vegas made me fall in love but Planescaoe Torment made me cry. The first is a very well done traditional RPG in a great setting the other is a whole critical takedown of the idea of RPGs in like a meta fiction sense.
posted by The Whelk at 10:34 PM on May 20, 2012

Short of a PC port of Heavy Rain, you could try Indigo Prophecy.

Snatcher from an emulated Sega CD.
posted by tremspeed at 11:50 PM on May 20, 2012

GTA IV might be up your alley. Not a whole lot of moral choices, though there are some. Great characters, plenty of things to eavesdrop on and snoop around.

The game was notoriously demanding / poorly-optimized when it came out for the computer back in 2008, if you've upgraded your computer since then you should be OK.

And seconding Fallout: New Vegas. It hits all of your points. I can't recommend that game enough.
posted by clorox at 12:13 AM on May 21, 2012

Response by poster: I think I have my gaming path set for the next few years! Thanks all. I can see where all my upcoming paychecks will be headed...

On the free front, a special nod to litleozy, as I've been getting nostalgic over the King's Quest and Quest for Glory downloads for the past few days. :)
posted by Calicatt at 10:06 AM on May 24, 2012

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