The last decade sure has been an adventure right? Well, it certainly has been for adventure games. The 00s were an all-time low for the genre, but over the last ten years, there has been a steady and dedicated resurgence that explored and expanded the core principles of adventure games. Offering some of the most interesting, engaging stories as well as some incredible experiences, we look back at some of the best adventure games of the last decade.
Previously in Wccftech's Games of the Decade: Indie
The Wolf Among Us
Telltale was the studio that brought the adventure game back into mainstream conversation. Starting by riding the wave of the hugely popular The Walking Dead series, the studio really found its episodic feet with the Wolf Among Us. Based on the Fable books players take on the role of the fabled Big Bad Wolf, now the enforcer keeping the fairytales living secretly in New York in line. Players had to make tough decisions, weighing up personal morality and the continued survival, and the effect was a hardboiled adventure with a great comic design. The studio had to let its entire staff go in 2018 but is starting to get back on its feet and is once again working on a sequel to the Wolf Among Us.
The game that reimagined the adventure genre, Gone Home was a quiet and reflective journey through a house and the memories and mementos that a family left behind. It told a personal, engaging and surprisingly human story that felt a world away from the outlandish and extreme narratives popular in the mainstream games industry at the time. Thanks to its critical acclaim, dozens of other games have taken on the more intimate approach to the storytelling possible in games and Gone Home has become a touchstone for that design for its fans and its detractors.
Firewatch has players exploring a beautiful, desolate forest as they not only wrestle with their conscience but navigate a relationship with a stranger. The incredible design and haunting isolation of the forest compound the relationship you have over the walkie-talkie and really lets you sit with your thoughts as a quiet conspiracy unravels around you. It probably wouldn’t have been possible without forerunners like Gone Home, but with its great dialogue system and eye-watering gorgeous art design, Firewatch is an incredible achievement that stands on its own. Unfortunately, its spiritual successor (In the Valley of Gods) was put on hold this year, but that doesn’t take away from the thoughtful adventure we’ve already had.
To get personal for a second, What Remains of Edith Finch was the only game I have ever scored a perfect ten. It is an incredible experience that like Gone Home revolves around a house and the objects and memories we leave behind, but it also goes so much further. Edith Finch asks players to consider death not as the end, but an end. In games, death is often shorthand for a fail state, yet throughout this adventure, you’ll die over and over again as part of the scripted experience. Edith Finch explores the nuance of life, death and family with a moving story and experimental, shifting mechanics that makes a perfectly paced, heartbreaking yet heartwarming tale.
Life is Strange
Taking some cues from the likes of Twin Peaks, Young Adult Literature, some universal teen experiences and who knows what else, Life is Strange is a game that almost immediately garnered an incredibly loyal fanbase. It deserves its great community and widespread critical praise. Inspired from games like the previously mentioned Gone Home as well as more traditional stories, players have to unravel a mystery using their time-bending superpower while also navigating through the personal issues and traumas of a teenager. Spawning equally powerful sequels and spin-offs, Life is Strange has become a benchmark for storytelling in games with its well-paced investigation, twists and turns, as well as representing communities, cultures, and identities that don’t often get much love in games.
Another game that redefined what adventure games can be, Journey is a peaceful wander through a beautiful desert. The central character is a mystery, the story is vague and mostly unimportant, and there is no action to speak of. Instead, as the name suggests, it is the journey that's the whole focus of the game. There is wonder and joy to be found in exploring the ruins, but the rewards are what the player makes of it; this isn’t a grand quest where the game will pat you on the back, but a journey where you the player takes the emotional burden. Journey did a lot to change the way games looked at traversal as a satisfying mechanic in games that has thankfully been carried over in the biggest titles like Death Stranding.
Night in the Woods
Night in the Woods is an incredible game. It was a stunning portrayal of economic stagnation, mental health, privilege and the burden of expectation. Delivered in a unique, animal style and involving a surprising amount of optional platforming, Night in the Woods was eye-catching and thought-provoking. It also used some subtle, experimental ideas that helped players empathise with the characters in a way that few adventure games can pull off, like having players nearly always traveling right to left, the opposite of what we normally feel is progression. Night in the Woods was, to a lot of people, a powerful and masterfully told story.
The Witness is admittedly quite different from the other adventure games on this list. After all, it is more accurately described as a puzzle game, but what is that if not an adventure at heart? In his review of the game, Francesco wrote:
The Witness is an excellent puzzle game, featuring many complex yet fair puzzles, a great atmosphere, an interesting narrative method and a lot of content. With no handholding whatsoever, The Witness certainly is not a game for everyone, but those who are up to the challenge will feel enriched once they solve most of the puzzles included in the game. After all the delays, Jonathan Blow and his crew fully delivered.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons was the remarkable game debut of Josef Fares, previously known as a film director. Between the spellbinding tale of the young brothers Naiee and Naia and innovative gameplay mechanics such as the ability to command them both at once with the two controller thumbsticks, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons garnered well-deserved critical acclaim. Although the game didn't sell nearly as well as Starbreeze had hoped, Fares managed to partner with Electronic Arts to make a spiritual successor called A Way Out which was very successful.
If you've always wanted to explore the ocean but are unable (or unwilling) to actually dive into the real thing, Abzû offers the next best alternative.
In his review of the game, Kai explained:
Abzû is a bit of a unique game to quantify. As a game, few gameplay hooks and incentives for completing a section may turn off players looking for their next adrenaline rush or challenge, especially when paired with the simple fact that death isn’t a thing that exists in the aquatic world. However, those looking for a narrative journey that’s unlike anything else on the Playstation 4, Abzû offers plenty to experience. Grab your flippers and jump into the world beneath the waves of Abzû; the water’s fine.
And there are other games that let us explore not just interesting worlds, but incredible concepts and reflect on our attitudes and feelings on things we might never have experienced otherwise. Below is just a small list of adventure games that deserve to be remembered coming into the next decade.