Firewatch was released back in 2016, and since then I have yet to come across another video game whose story telling, and writing could even begin to compare. Firewatch’s developers and writers demonstrate a significant understanding of story telling where the narrative is not just left up to awkwardly inserted exposition. Firewatch’s strong use of realistic adult oriented dialogue, together with a unique and immersive art style , as well clear streamlined game controls – allowed for Firewatch to pull you into the experience, while strapping you in as it took you on a roller coaster of emotions across the game’s fantastically written story.
This is How People Speak
Firewatch’s game play is secondary to the real aspect of this game. Its dialogue. Just comparing any recent video game where dialogue is available to Firewatch’s show a significant difference between the two.
Ultimately it comes down to a couple things - Firewatch’s dialogue reminds me of hearing people, mostly adults, interacting with each other. They can articulate several kinds of feelings in a short space of time, often without missing a beat. You can hear this in Firewatch when the primary characters interact with each other, telling stories of their past in a sad demeanor before quickly defusing the tense situation with a joke, often at their own expense.
It is just not how the voice actors in Firewatch articulated this flurry of emotions, but how dialogue itself represents a more somber and adult conversation. Comparing this, with a AAA Role-playing Game for example – where story, and by extension its dialogue, is often paramount, we see many Role-playing games often use grandiose language when expressing emotions and fulfilling plot details. While this style of language makes for a more emphatic and entertaining delivery, there are times when it loses the realism and the immersion that these conversations need to truly have weight.
Firewatch’s writing especially when it comes to the dialogue delivered by their fantastic voice actors easily outshines a multitude of other pieces in the medium.
Lacking Life, yet full of Lore
The world of Firewatch was designed around its story. Every piece of the world that you can interact with in Firewatch gives you a more in-depth view of the world around you. The world of Firewatch was filled with lore pieces that only after completing the game did, I realize that there was no wildlife in Firewatch. It was this realization that the game did such a fantastic job of filling the world with set pieces that made the world come alive even when there was no real life in it.
The plot unfolds in a very natural way, with the dialogue prose declaring what you should be doing in the game world, where you should be going. Following the path, the dialogue sets you on, and you will find numerous objects that are interact-able. These objects may contain lore that sets the stage of days and years past. There were times when the objects revealed pieces of information that one might consider a red herring – something to keep you thinking, “Is it part of the story? Or Am I just imagining this?”.
There is something that needs to be said about the art style that was chosen by the developers. The environment was always alive with colour and flora that spread itself as far as the camera could see. Each time the plot took you to another day or time, the environment would be accentuated and eventually bust with an astonishing amount of colour and vibrance which only served to enhance the immersion set forward by the narrative.
Though you were often the only object in the world that moved with any real sense, the game’s atmosphere, set pieces, and choice of artistic colour palettes made the game’s simple choices impactful and brought a sense of immersion that is often missed in other experiences.
Push To Talk
No interactive media is complete without the interactive part. Firewatch simplifies the game play found to just be a few buttons. A button to select dialogue options, a button to pick up items. A button for Map. Standard movement controls. It is this simplification of the control scheme that ensures a player is engrossed with the subject at hand – the dialogue/writing.
Items across the game world are usually interact-able, and with it you can communicate with the only other person in the game over your walkies-talkie. This provides additional story details, world building pieces, as well as obscure lore that helps add substance to other aspects of the game. Selecting a dialogue option from the branching options usually have you sitting there as you listen for the next prompt. A reduction in actions that can be performed means that you, the player, are more invested in any minute detail you can interact with or glean from as you attentively listen.
This trend continues even in the more intense scenes of the game. The control scheme, because it was so intuitive to begin with, fades into the background during the initial phases of the game and by the time the mid game arrives the controls become more of a reflex than anything else.
This simplified control scheme allows more of the experience of the game and the writing to be digestible by the user without the end user realizing it.
Firewatch is a masterclass in writing and immersive narrative world building. The game’s core dialogue, adult-oriented writing, immersive art style with clear set pieces that allows for more narration and world building to be snuck in between plot points, and a clear concise control scheme that sets the user up to be comfortably engrossed as the plot unfolds.
Firewatch comfortably demonstrates a deep understanding, not only of the kind of game it is, but of the story it set out to tell. Firewatch is an experience that should not go unexperienced.