Early this week, it was announced that Horizon: Zero Dawn had won the Writers Guild Award for best video game writing. The other nominees were Dishonoured: Death of the Outsider, Futurama: Worlds of Tomorrow, and Madden NFL 18: Longshot. The PlayStation 4 exclusive, released in February last year, received universal praise for its storytelling. Receiving an 89 on Metacritic, many critics praised the game for both the story of protagonist Aloy and the deep post-Apocalyptic world they built. Horizon: Zero Dawn is just one of many Sony exclusives to emphasise story. Are rich stories and engrossing characters giving PlayStation exclusives the edge over competition?
A well-deserved accolade
Horizon: Zero Dawn had the immense task of many new IPs in starting from the ground up. The game takes place in a post-Apocalyptic world where robotic technology replaces wildlife and tribal societies replace civilisation. It follows the story of Aloy, a young girl who sets out to discover the mysteries of the world. Through Aloy, Guerilla Games gives players the perspective of someone just as unaccustomed to the world as they are. Narrative director John Gonzalez and lead writer Benjamin McCaw accepted the award.
Gonzalez told the Writers Guild “As writers who care deeply about the craft of telling stories, it’s incredibly exciting for us to be receiving this award in the company of so many other writers whose work we admire and appreciate.”
After accepting the award, he gave thanks to the other writing staff, the development team and the voice cast. Gonzalez dedicated the award to his and McCaw’s late mothers, explaining that they inspired some of the characters and themes.
“It is no coincidence that their sons went on to write an epic with a strong female protagonist in which human love in general, and maternal love in particular loomed so large. We learned that from them. This is for them. Thank you, they are not forgotten.”
Are story heavy exclusives giving Sony the advantage?
While the success of Horizon: Zero Dawn isn’t entirely due to the story, it’s definitely an important factor. The strength of many Playstation exclusives is the creativity and originality of a new intellectual property (IP). A new IP not only has to introduce entirely new characters but also build a world that they fit into. Where other platform exclusives have failed to captivate audiences, such as Sunset Overdrive or Quantum Break on the Xbox One, Sony has proved themselves time and time again. Horizon: Zero Dawn sold over 2.6 million units in two weeks, becoming the fastest selling new IP of this generation.
However, this is not limited to the current generation of consoles. The PlayStation 3 saw Naughtydog produce the Uncharted series, with writing and characters mimicking an Indiana Jones film, and The Last of Us, which was universally praised as having one of the best video game stories of all time and near perfect scores on Metacritic. The PlayStation 2 gave players the God of War series as a fresh IP, creating a mythical Ancient Greek world and Kratos, one of PlayStation’s biggest icons. Even the first PlayStation built a reputation as having the best in game stories over Nintendo, with players still revering Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy VII today.
Sony’s long history of story driven exclusives has always pushed them ahead in the console war. However, with criticisms over the Xbox’s lack of new IPs, in game storytelling has never been more important. As Sony looks to release The Last of Us 2, Spider-Man, God of War, Dreams, and Detroit: Become Human, Microsoft is bogged down in an underwhelming year with only State of Decay 2, Crackdown 3 and Sea of Thieves confirmed. Horizon: Zero Dawn shines as another example of the direct benefit storytelling can have on a game’s reception.