5 Popular Video Games That Are Hiding Fascinating Backstories

5 Popular Video Games That Are Hiding Fascinating Backstories

1. Every DOOM game tells one big interconnected story

DOOM — that is to say the video game from 2016 and not the one from nearly 25 years ago — doesn’t waste a lot of time with exposition. It’s… Kind of the game’s defining characteristic. Within the first five minutes of the game its protagonist literally punches plot and character development. Like, with their fist. It’s great.

If you’re not too overawed by the game’s unmitigated demon murder, however, you’ll notice a weirdly intricate plot that somehow manages to weave every DOOM game before the reboot into an ongoing timeline. Yes: Doom, Doom 2, Doom 3, and even Pinky-demon-loving Doom 64 could all theoretically fall into a shared universe.

This is in spite of the fact that most of the Doom games have no more story than what someone was able to fit onto a single page of a player manual. Nevertheless it all makes a weird sort of sense — enough so that quite a lot has been written about this “unifying theory.”

The skinny of it goes like this. The original Doom takes place on Mars. The Union Aerospace Corporation — a running entity through most of the Doom games — is screwing around with teleportation. Pretty soon they screw up said experiments by accidentally opening a portal to Hell. Which seems a bit like testing lipstick on chimps and accidentally causing the zombie outbreak from 28 Days Later but hey! These things happen (in Doom games, anyway).

The aptly named Doom 2: Hell on Earth brings the fight home after the lone marine that defeated the demons of the first game learns they made it to the human homeworld. He proceeds to kill them as well. Of course, he can’t catch a breather because Doom 64 — not just a port of the original game to Nintendo’s console but an entirely new sequel — sends the Marine back to Mars to mop up the remaining demons.

That game ends with the marine staying in Hell indefinitely to continue doing what he loves best: killing demons.

Meanwhile, Doom 3 picks up with a notably different tone and protagonist from those three games. In this installment, humanity picks up its old teleportation research, which it found in the ashes of the old Doom 2 world, and once again opens a portal to Hell. Apparently an apocalypse wiping out all of recorded history makes it really easy to repeat past mistakes.

Finally, when DOOM 2016 starts, Hell is a pretty well-understood entity. There are cults devoted to it. It’s part of the corporate structure of the UAC. In fact, the company is mining the dimension for unlimited, clean energy. Which, if this unifying theory is to be believed, comes to a halt once they find a legendary warrior wrapped up in stone inside the underworld.

Who else could it be besides the one, the only, the Doom marine who stayed in Hell after Doom 64? In-game text and audio logs back this up pretty substantially, too. Meaning Doom of all series might just have one of the longest-running plotlines in all of video games…

2. The Rise and Fall of Destiny’s Taken King

If you’re one of the dubiously lucky people that played Destiny when it launched in 2014, you know that the game originally had next to no story to speak of. If you’re one of the inarguably unlucky people who searched for the game’s missing plot in Grimoire Cards, you have our condolences.

Grimoire Cards, for those more fortunate souls out there, are how this bizarrely inexplicable first-person shooter dumps its lore. Lots of video games do something similar. They’ll hide whatever exposition is deemed too minute for the main plot in optional text and audio logs. The difference is that most games also let you read or listen to that stuff in… The game. Destiny, for whatever reason, forces you to look them up in an app. These are the Grimoire Cards.

Most of these cards are smoke and mirrors — half-sensical nonsense words written to sound like something that doesn’t really mean anything. A few of them, however, are pretty damn interesting. Specifically the ones about Oryx, the Taken King — final boss of Destiny’s best expansion, the, uh… The Taken King.

By the time he shows up in Destiny Oryx is a pretty heavy hitter. He’s got an army, a moon-sized battleship, and magic powers that let him “take,” or basically mind control most of his foes. It didn’t start out that way, however, as we learn from a series of Grimoire Cards that detail the monarch’s rise to power — as well as their fall from grace.

Oryx, you see, used to be Aurash. She was the princess of hard-living race of bug people with a lifespan of about 10 years. Her father became obsessed with an apocalyptic prophecy. So much so that one of his courtiers instigated a coup out of fear that he’d gone crazy. Aurash and her two sisters headed for the hills rather than get whatever the short-lived bug-person equivalent of a guillotine is and promised to regain their throne.

Well, they did, but only by making deals with undead worms that gave up their souls to the Darkness: Destiny’s unseen ultimate villain. This encouraged Aurash to morph into Auryx. Auryx then became Oryx when he killed his parasitic worm, who had addicted him to “inquisitiveness,” and The Taken King became a nihilistic space god. Unfortunately for the players of Destiny, Oryx’s inquisitiveness usually manifested itself as a desire to learn how best to kill every living species in his way. It was a nasty turn of events for the once pretty noble creature, Aurash, but one helluva a backstory for a good villain.

3. Secret Stories About Secret Moon Bases in Warframe

For the uninitiated, Warframe is an exceedingly popular yet weirdly not-much-talked-about free-to-play action game where you inhabit a variety of space ninjas to fight brain damaged clones and mutant bug people. The premise alone should at least imply that there’s a lot going on beneath the surface of the game’s plot.

The basic setup is this: men and women with special, psychic powers channeled through robot suits worked as elite soldiers for an ancient, solar empire. They beat back an invading alien race but lost the empire in the process. Eons later theses space ninjas — called Tenno — get woken up by some disembodied voice calling itself The Lotus to fight slightly more minor evil factions that have spread across the stars. At which point players mostly ignore all of that in favor of grinding out sweet, delicious loot a la Diablo or World of Warcraft.

For years after the game’s release that’s how things went. Developer Digital Extremes dropped hints about the greater universe but only in side quests designed to get players grinding for more Warframes (those robot suits you pilot throughout the whole game). That didn’t leave a lot of room for exposition.

That is until Digital Extremes dispensed with the pussyfooting and dropped one big, fat lore bomb on long-time players. A fairly difficult, late-game quest called The Second Dream came onto the scene. It wasn’t about just acquiring some new weapon or frame, either. Oh, no. This puppy went the deep into backstory of Warframe with full-on cutscenes, dialogue, and new characters — all of which were rarities for Warframe at the time.

In short, bad shit happens. A boss-like random encounter enemy called The Stalker inserts itself into the foreground and tries to blow up Earth’s moon for some reason. Which is odd in and of itself, because by the time when Warframe takes place Earth doesn’t seem to have a moon. It turns out that’s because the Lotus hid it in a pocket dimension. She had a good reason, though: you, the player, were on the moon the whole time.

The Warframes? It turns out they’re not skin-tight mech suits at all. They’re remote-piloted drones operated by children — the Tenno — who were tortured, mutated, and conscripted by that ancient Earth-y empire as a last-ditch effort to combat the alien invasion. The Lotus was one such alien. Before they all went to sleep millennia ago, her mission was to mind control the Tenno into murdering their masters. Which is exactly what they did, until the Lotus took pity on her surrogate children and put them to sleep after forcing them to wipe out most of humanity.

So, for some players, years of playing the same game under certain assumptions were turned upside down overnight. You were never actually present during any of the missions you played. The Lotus’s good deeds were colored by guilt for her past crimes. You, as a Tenno, were the mystery of why the old empire fell. There was an actual secret sci-fi moon base. That alone is worth mentioning on this list.

4. Dota 2’s Mad Moon on the Rise

Dota 2 is the multiplayer-only sequel to a mod of Warcraft 3 that appropriated a bunch of in-game assets into a vague collection of borderline copyright-infringing original characters. This is not the best basis for a coherent back story. And yet… Well, never underestimate the power of dedicated fans on the internet with hundreds of character and item descriptions to obsess over.

Dota, for those who aren’t down with the super-cool multiplayer online battle arena lingo, is a play on the acronym Dota. Which itself stands for Defense of the Ancients. Dota 2 can’t use that acronym, however, because it’s been deemed actual copyright infringement in a court of law. Go figure… Regardless, the meaning remains in the sequel: players defend important structures called Ancients from waves of non-player enemies and teams of human beings piloting creatures called Heroes.

The Ancients aren’t just abstract goalposts, however. They have their own backstory, for reasons that completely escape the 99.9 percent of Dota 2 players who only care about playing and/or watching other people play for millions of dollars. The warring Ancients — Dire and Radiant — actually used to be a single entity called the Mad Moon (this might actually turn out to be a pretty moon-heavy list, come to think of it).

Said satellite was the rocky embodiment of the “primordial mind” that existed before all creation. Think of it like a sort of god, except that it developed a split personality when the universe sprang into being. Two of these personalities (again, the Radiant and Dire) didn’t like each other very much. So their sibling Zet crumpled them up and threw them like a cosmic curveball at a still-cooling planet called Earth.

The Mad Moon couldn’t be contained forever, however. Primordial god-forces are like that. So it exploded back into disparate parts that fell to the planet like a meteor shower.

The biggest chunks became the so-called Ancients, while the Radiant and Dire’s corrupting energies altered the course of Earth’s evolution, cultural development, and so on. Eventually the whole planet was completely dependent on the two argumentative ores.

Which brings us to “today” in Dota 2 time. The societies that threw their lots in with either Ancient faction slowly mutated further, becoming the mindless “creeps” that make up the endless waves of NPC armies in the game. More strong-willed beings resisted and became Heroes — fighting for their own reasons while drawing power from the Ancients.

All of which has gone almost completely unnoticed by the vast majority of players who play the damn game in the first place.

5. The Big Picture Behind The Witcher III’s Monster Mashing

It’s actually not much of a “secret” that there’s more going on in the Witcher games than the games themselves can show. That’s because the trilogy of games from Polish developer CD Projeckt Red is itself a sequel to novels and short stories by the Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski.

Everything that follows in the Witcher 1, 2, and 3 flows directly from the events of those stories. Which is why even you — yes, you — the person who played Witcher games before it was cool and started with the very first one in 2007 might still feel just the least bit lost. The Witcher games are highly prone to referencing events and characters from the source material. That’s especially necessary since the main character of both media is, well, dead by the end of the last written story.

We’re not so concerned with that interpersonal, character-driven stuff, though. It all mostly gets taken care of during the primary events of the game anyway. Instead, we’re going to focus on the big bang of the Witcher universe — the thing that makes the game world what it is and gave us the fictional profession that gave the games and stories their name.

Specifically, we’re gonna talk about The Conjunction of the Spheres.

Obsessive players might already know about this event, since it’s easily accessible to anyone who spots out and reads certain fictional books within the games… Which are based on real-world books… Which are fiction. Hm.

Anyway, the games describe the Conjunction as a sort of multiversal Rat King. About 1500 years before the games take place a whole load of parallel universes got their tails tied together in an unspecified catastrophe. The result was one world with organisms from many places that were never meant to co-exist. One such race was humanity. Which, since they’re further described as not learning magic until after the Conjunction, might have even come from regular ol’ Earth circa some number of centuries ago in our time.

What’s most interesting about this event is what it means for the titular witchers. Those folks are monster killers in the fiction. Yet “monsters” in that world aren’t just maladies conjured out of air and darkness like some cruel, cosmic jokes.

They’re creatures that were never meant to live and breed in the environments they inhabit. They unnaturally upset the balance of the food chain. Which basically makes Geralt of Rivia, the most famous witcher of them all and the lead character in this game trilogy, an agent of ecological harmony. It’s kind of strange when you consider how many people he kills over the course of these games in pursuit of that goal, though…


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