Top 10 Games With The Best Environmental Storytelling

Script written by Fred Humphries First rule of a good story is show, don’t tell. Welcome and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Games With The Best Environmental Storytelling. Special thanks to our user “Dan Paradis” for suggesting this topic using our interactive suggestion tool at http://WatchMojo.comsuggest

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Top 10 Games With Environmental Storytelling

Exposition isn’t the only way you can get information across. Welcome to and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Games With Environmental Storytelling.

For this list, we take a look at games that use elements of level design to tell the player about events that happened before you arrived there or to further fill out the world around you. While these design features may be supported by audio logs or journal entries, on their own they may just be a hint or indication to the occurrence of something rather more complex.

#10: “Left 4 Dead” (2008)

At first glance Valve’s co-op zombie shooter might simply seem like an endless slaughter of undead hordes – it certainly can be if you want it to be – but for those who are happy to take a bit of time to absorb the desolate, post-apocalyptic surroundings, you’ll find inferences to a story that many critics thought was absent. As is common for the genre, the narrative is left intentionally vague with desperate wall scrawlings from other survivors appropriately being used instead of exposition-heavy cutscenes. As it’s the end of the world, some typical methods of imparting information can’t be employed, so set pieces like a pill bottle next to a corpse give you enticing snippets to interpret as you wish.

#9: “Resident Evil” series (1996-)

Capcom’s survival horror series may have lost some of its subtlety when it moved into action-heavy territory, but early in its life, Resident Evil had some of the most detailed, believable worlds in gaming. You explore these environments with limited capabilities and through disorienting camera angles, adding to an atmosphere of unsettling desperation that was quite an achievement during the infancy of 3D games. There’s so much detail in fact that some intriguing elements added by developers are, while contributing to an overall feel, inconsequential compared to unexplained happenings of the outbreak that are often central to the game’s puzzles. Unlike Chris Redfield’s boulder punching exploits, the early games have a restraint that never closes any avenue of story interpretation.

#8: “Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End” (2016)

Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series is often compared to a Hollywood movie, yet as Nate and Sam discover the ruins of pirate utopia Libertalia, gaming shows it can surpass what conventional cinema can achieve. Each part of Henry Avery and Thomas Tew’s tropical settlement is meticulously crafted with big and small details about a possible uprising just waiting to be investigated. For a game that’s relatively reliant on its story, nothing is rammed down your throat with just the brother’s broad theorizing and discoverable documents shedding light on the possible reasons behind such a large-scale battle. Shacks, shops and grand halls – brought to life with breathtaking graphics – hint at a complex social structure we may never fully understand.

#7: “Obduction” (2016)

Brought to us by the creative minds of Myst, this spiritual successor to the aforementioned classic tells a story that you will barely realize is unfolding until journal entries and recordings come together in a thoroughly non-linear narrative. How much you find out about Hunrath and its absent citizens actually depends on your willingness to scour each diverse world for secrets or information that are not just exposition, but clues to drive you towards another world. As your character is entirely silent, you’re never subjected to an internal monologue overtly explaining family photos and other remnants from C.W. and Farley’s former community. Make sure you’re critical of everything you think you learn: it’s guaranteed to influence your later decisions.

#6: “Gone Home” (2013)

As soon as Katie Greenbriar returns home from her travels in Europe, it’s clear something’s not right at the family household: her parents and sister are nowhere to be seen and moving boxes populate the lobby, causing usual home decorations and paraphernalia to suddenly take on unlikely significance. Childish drawings feature the same imaginary characters, grunge music reflects your sister’s rebellious character and even scribbles on the TV guide flesh out the father’s love for conspiracy theories. Despite hints towards the supernatural, every relatively ambiguous sliver of evidence builds a tangible feeling of domestic discontent and upheaval to compliment your spookily uninhabited surrounds.

#5: “Half-Life 2” (2004)

Ever wondered why there are so many straw-clutching theories circling Valve’s classic FPS? Blame the developers’ enticing environmental storytelling. After repelling the Xenian invasion and going into a two-decade long stasis in the first game, Gordon Freeman is thrust into City 17, a post-invasion urban area controlled by the conquering Combine. The dictatorial climate is established within seconds as a Vort solemnly sweeps up and guards threaten every fearful, identically dressed worker that comes off the train. The more you talk to each downtrodden NPC, the more you’ll learn about the Big Brother-esque conditions they live under, a situation built so convincingly that, as a player, you feel as though events would still play out even if you weren’t there.

#4: “The Last of Us” (2013)

To create such an emotionally testing game, Naughty Dog strived to capture the human response to the end of the world with unique detail in every remnant of pre-apocalypse civilization. With more emphasis on exploration than the challenge of completion, apartments, store shelves and other mundane elements of regular life show you how people have endured the infection while desperately hanging onto small shreds of normality. While Joel’s redemption narrative is pretty clear-cut, the causes of the wider epidemic are only hinted at through nuggets of human existence you discover throughout a world rapidly being reclaimed by Mother Nature. Don’t expect to see a single copy-paste environment in this cataclysmic version of earth.

#3: “Fallout” series (1997-)

Even before Bethesda acquired the now-legendary atompunk RPG, a rich lore outside the central narrative had been established through an environmental storytelling that would go to another level once the series jumped to 3D. Skyrim’s jam-packed fantasy world certainly gives it a run for its money, but the macabre humor that permeates Fallout’s varied selection of radiated worlds sets it apart for us. The series’ scale makes getting to the deepest depths of its lore nearly impossible, but every skeleton, bottle or purposely placed item has its own story, further filling out a retro-futuristic world already richer than most. Since 1997, the Wasteland has gradually revealed its secrets - we can’t wait to immerse ourselves in yet another nuanced, nuclear landscape.

#2: “Inside” (2016)

With minimal sound and no dialogue, this eerie puzzle/platformer leaves it entirely up to level design to tell an indistinct story that has sparked considerable online hypothesizing. We can just about gather that some shady organization is experimenting on the population with mind control, but other than that, it’s down to you to rationalize your dilapidated surroundings. The puzzles combine gameplay and interpretive storytelling, meaning you’ll be contemplating its meaning for the duration of your playthrough: is the boy a zombie? Is the whole thing a commentary on our own mindlessness and lack of control? Just as you think you’re getting close to an answer, there’s also an alternate ending which we’re not going to spoil but it will provide you with a whole new perspective.

Before we reveal our top pick, let’s take a look at some honorable mentions.

“Metroid Prime” series (2002-07)

“Limbo” (2010)

“Outlast” (2013)

#1: “Dark Souls” series (2011-)

Everything about From Software’s bizarre, grandiose series will test your limits: if the maddening combat doesn’t drive you to the brink of insanity, then poring over its carefully considered symbolism, subtext and world-building surely will. Character interaction is minimal and confusing, the NPC’s odd way of speaking a potentially misleading sideshow to a lore that is created through visual design and artifacts that carry their own personality and history. There’s little narrative value in completing the game if you don’t reflect on the world and what you do in it: death is everywhere – if you’re not dying yourself, the game forces you to ponder mortality and its effect on life. And you thought it was just about slaying extraordinary monstrosities…

Do you agree with our list? Which games do you think have mastered this form of indirect storytelling? For more top 10s published every day, be sure to subscribe to

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