A major factor in (successful) video game storytelling is starting off on the right foot. As such, we’re taking a look at the best game openings from the past decade.
To celebrate the past decade in gaming, I wanted to take a look back at one of my favorite aspects of games: intro cinematics! Since I was little, I’ve always been a sucker for these things, which probably has something to do with my love of movies.
Throughout the 90s and early 00s, games were making the jump to the third dimension and able to embrace the more cinematic side of telling stories. The problem, of course, is that gameplay wasn’t quite able to convey the needs/basics of the story at the time. Thus, gamers were treated to opening cinematics that helped set up the story, make the stakes clear, and get you hyped to play.
As technology has improved, however, it became possible to accomplish these things while allowing players to dive directly into the action. Video game intro cinematics aren’t what they used to be. In fact, by and large, they’re almost non-existent these days. It’s a trend that started in the 00s decade, but were almost completely done away with this past decade. A part of me laments the loss of the cinematic intro, but there’s no denying the progress we’ve made as far as storytelling in games go.
With that in mind, today I’m going to discuss games that had the best overall openings. Whether it’s a first level (which work like prologues on many games) to particularly engaging “tutorial” sections, these games managed to hook you into the story while allowing you to step directly into the action.
[Ground Rules: Couple things in how I chose my list. Only including games I’ve played (duh), and limited myself to only one game in a franchise where applicable.]
Mass Effect 2 (2010)
Mass Effect 2 just BARELY makes this list, releasing right at the start of the decade, but it still features an introduction that’s tough to beat. Coming off the incredible success of the first game, and the epic story being told, fans were eager to dive back into the world of Mass Effect. Better yet, the promise of being able to transfer your save data into the new story meant we’d really be able to pick up where we left off with our crew…
The game starts as you and the crew of the Normandy are headed off to track down some remaining Geth fighters. Seems like a fairly straightforward intro to reacquaint gamers with the combat and prior story, but things go bad very quickly. You’re inexplicably attacked and rather than battling enemies you’re fighting to save/evacuate your crew from the nearly destroyed ship.
When you’re revived a couple years later, the galaxy we knew had changed. While it was a bummer to have to get a new party together, it was also an invigorating way to kick off the story. It was completely unexpected, surprisingly emotional, and made me eager to head out and see what had happened during my character’s two year life-hiatus.
God of War III (2010)
God of War III is one of the few on this list that actually came with a traditional opening cinematic. In and of itself, that cinematic is pretty great, serving as a reminder about the previous game’s ending and immediately sets the tone/stakes for the new title, but it does lead you directly into the action.
You start off as the vengeful Kratos riding on the back of the Titan Gaia as the gods in Olympus send down warriors to try and slow you’re assent. What follows is an epic battle as you climb up the moving body of the gigantic Titan. As you battle your way up the Titan’s body, the enemies grow more ruthless until you’re ultimately faced with an impressive boss battle against Poseidon himself.
It’s a dramatic set piece that delivers on the promise of the second game’s ending while setting the breakneck tone for the rest of the game. All of this happens within the game’s first 20(ish) minutes, making for one of the most action-packed and dynamic game introductions of the decade.
The stealth/action adventure gameplay of Dishonored is highly impressive. Combined with a unique art style and interactive world filled with an abundance of depth, it’s a game that continues to captivate players even today. The hook comes almost instantly with the game’s opening section.
Gamers are put in the role of Corvo, the dedicated bodyguard of the Empress, and are immediately thrust into the minutiae of the world. The game starts as you return from a foreign land, to seek aid for the deadly plague taking over the city of Dunwall. As you meet with the Empress to give her your report, you’re attacked by mysterious assassin’s who manage to keep you pinned down while they kill the Empress before your eyes while kidnapping her daughter (Spoiler Alert: she’s YOUR daughter too!).
Things manage to get even worse as you find yourself framed for the Empress’ murder. Now the whole city has turned against you, leaving you to start your adventure at a decided disadvantage. It’s an intro that manages to hit on an emotional level, provide a great story hook, and leave you eager to get into the action.
The Last of Us (2013)
It seems like I’ve been talking about The Last of Us a lot lately, but there’s a damn good reason for that…It’s a great game. It’s easily one of the best over the past decade, with an endearing story. Personally speaking, one of the main reasons I feel the story has stuck with me is the impressive opening sequence.
Compared to many of the others on this list, the intro level for The Last of Us is more low-key in terms of the action on the gamers’ part (more like passively playing through a movie scene). We kick off on a touching moment between Joel and his daughter. It’s a quiet moment, but I remember thinking on my first playthrough how it managed to hook me in emotionally in those first couple minutes more than just about any other game I’d played in a while.
The calm doesn’t last as we’re thrust into the first moments of the infection spreading. As we load up in the truck and desperately try to make it through the town, the fear and desperation are palpable. All of it comes to a head when Sarah is tragically killed. It makes for one of the most gut-wrenching game introductions of all time.
StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm (2013)
This is pretty much the only straight up intro cinematic on this list, but it’s more then worthy of a spot. Blizzard always brings the good with their cinematics which have already provided the story backbone of their various games. Featuring a wealth of lore, engaging characters, and stunning animation these cinematic videos (often used as promotional trailers as well) gets players hyped and ready to go.
While StarCraft 2 came out in three parts, the Heart of the Swarm opening cinematic is still my favorite of the bunch. It’s just…Epic. That’s about the only word to describe it. The action is intense, showing off an incredible battle that wouldn’t feel out of place on the big screen. More than setting up the story, this intro never fails to get my fingers twitchy and ready for action.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (2013)
Boy, 2013 sure seemed like a great year for amazing video game intros, huh? While not everyone was thrilled with Metal Gear Rising, and it’s drastic departure from the Metal Gear gameplay model fans had come to love, there’s no denying how impressive the introduction is.
Things start off simple enough and is highly evocative of the previous Metal Gear games and their overly talkative/philosophical nature. That doesn’t last long, however, as we’re thrust into the middle of the action, with superpowered cyborgs, explosions, and all manner of bloody body parts flying around.
Within the first few minutes you’re slicing and dicing your way through enemies, making you feel like a powerful badass even as you’re learning the basics of the game. All of it culminates an epic battle against Metal Gear Ray! The cinematic nature of the action immerses you from the outset, while promising more insane battles down the road. Whatever you may think of the game overall, those first 15 minutes are a blast.
Batman: Arkham Knight (2015)
Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham franchise has always done an excellent job of balancing the action elements with impressive storytelling, and the final chapter, Arkham Knight, is no different. It amps the stakes to an all new level (beyond merely expanding the scope/scale of the gameplay), and it’s evident in it’s opening sequence.
Once you get past the gruesome cremation of the Joker, we don’t immediately jump into the action with the caped crusader. Instead, Arkham Knight goes a different route, as we take on the persona of a Gotham City Police Officer visiting a local diner in a time of relative peace following the events of the previous game. Things take a disturbing turn, however, as we’re immersed in a nightmare vision and begin blasting away at “zombies.”
For the most part you only play the role of the “camera” as you take in the horror. As it’s discovered that you’re under the influence of Scarecrow’s serum (and thus shooting normal diner patrons), the gravity of the threat comes into focus. As the city begins to literally tear itself apart, you can’t help but feel you’re starting the adventure at a disadvantage…even though you’re Batman.
Dragon Ball FighterZ
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Resident Evil 7 (2017)
The Resident Evil franchise made a return to the survival horror genre with its seventh outing, and it’s clear from the beginning that fans/gamers were in for something truly terrifying. While the action for the first 15(ish) minutes is relatively low-key, it’s no less intense.
You start off with a mystery as something happens with your wife. The implication is that she dies somehow, but it’s not entirely clear, but three years after the fact, you get a message that she’s alive and wants you to come pick her up…Nothing strange or ominous about that!
As you explore the location where she’s supposed to be things don’t seem terrible initially. Sure, there’s a creepy ass mansion just hanging out there, but the bright sunlight and outdoor location seems counter to what we’ve come to expect. Even here, though, there’s a constant undertone of tension. The feeling that something isn’t right and danger is lurking around the corner that you just can’t shake.
Once we enter the house, find that disturbing video tape left behind it’s clear that things aren’t what they seem. But it’s okay because we FINALLY meet up with our beloved wife…Only to have her attack us in a gory encounter which ultimately results in losing a hand to a chainsaw! In an intro that’s both unsettling, chock full of tension, and complete with a shocking twist, Resident Evil 7 pulls no punches with introducing you to the all new world of terror you can expect for the remainder of the game.
Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017)
Breath of the Wild was easily one of the most anticipated Zelda titles in recent memory, mostly because it promised something very different for the beloved franchise. From the beginning, the game makes it clear that fans are in for a treat while highlighting the unique differences it brings.
The Great Plateau, is specifically designed to acquaint gamers to the title’s new format. While it’s a smaller area to explore, it still manages to FEEL expansive as you emerge from your slumber and begin trying to figure out what the hell went wrong in Hyrule.
From climbing, to combat and how weapons work, and plenty of exploration, most of the major elements you’ll encounter in the wider world can be found here. We also get teasing glimpses of the calamity that befell the world, presenting us with a mystery that would keep us playing for hours on end. While it may be just a “tutorial area,” it sets the stage for the amazing journey to come.
Destiny 2 (2017)
When the first Destiny released, one of the things Bungie did best was listen to gamers and seek to improve the overall experience. One of the main complaints was the general lack of story (at least one easy to interact with). While subsequent expansions drastically improved this aspect, the sequel managed to take it even further.
Destiny 2 kicks off with a bang, literally, as The Last City, a supposed bastion of safety for survivors is attacked out of nowhere. As you and the other Guardians rally to fight back, you’re thrown directly into the heart of the chaos as you have to shoot you way out and try to aide other survivors.
Despite being a badass who’s already helped save the galaxy, you find yourself on the losing end and simply struggling to make it out alive. It gives the action a sense of intensity that pulls you along. When the villain manages to drain the Traveler of its “Light” and take away the main source of your powers, the stakes are immediately clear as you must find a way to move on from there. It’s a powerful intro that manages to bring the story and action together in a powerful way.
There are so many great games and intros from the last decade that it’s hard to narrow them down. Personally speaking, these ten are the ones that stuck out to me the most and continue to come to mind even all these years later. Which video game openings were your favorites?