1) Amanda Ripley (Alien: Isolation)
Easily one of my favorite characters of any game, Amanda Ripley is the highlight of what might be one of the best games ever made. Alien: Isolation borders on perfect as a beautiful space/horror/survival title, and it owes a good deal of it’s success to its character writers. As the daughter of Ellen Ripley somewhere loosely following the events of the original 1979 Alien movie, Amanda is a skilled engineer whose quest to find out what happened to her mother leads her to take jobs that could one day lead her closer to the mystery surrounding the ill-fated towing ship. As the story progresses and she finds herself hunted as her mother once was, she uses her technical know-how and wits (rather than force) to evade all manner of gruesome death and find critical clues about her mother and her missing crew and the origins of the alien menace. The heart of this sci-fi thriller turns out to be very human, even occasionally touching – and never dull.
2) Cassandra (Dragon Age: Inquisition)
Although Cassandra is not quite a playable character outside of the combat sequences, she is otherwise central to the story in Dragon Age: Inquisition and definitely deserves a spot on a “best of” list of video game heroines. As a complex character defined equally by her flaws, faith, doubts and personal conviction, Cassandra lends a face and voice to a myriad of difficult moral conflicts told in the third Dragon Age. The game as a whole sports some of the best video gaming writing ever penned, and in a story that weaves together many modern issues including religion, war, government, sexuality and individualism, Cassandra’s personal character arc(s) capture more sense of growth and depth than found in any medium, let alone just games. She’s also somewhat of a rare gem, being a strong religious type that narrowly avoids every archetype she might have been compared to – and turns out to be a very likable, believable character that remains true to herself.
3) Max (Life is Strange)
Not quite your literary “everygirl” , the introspective and shy main character Max navigates the perils of high school, family, bullying, drugs and time travel in this unique and stunningly beautiful story-driven game from DONTNOD. We learn more about Max and the other characters in Life is Strange through the choices she makes, questions she asks, and places she explores. No matter if the player opts to make fun of the embarrassed bully or comfort her (among numerous other decision forks), the tale of choice and consequence that develops is far from ordinary.
4) Lara Croft (Tomb Raider 2013)
Unlike the character’s hyper-sexualized prior titles, the reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise in 2013 features the origin story of a much more believable, exceptionally well written young Lara Croft. As a shipwrecked student thrust into an epic, gritty story of survival she must work with the other members of the stranded science team to solve mysteries of the island ruins and escape.
5) Maggie (Evolve)
Even though one could argue that the playable hunter characters in “Evolve” aren’t in the same category of hero as the previously mentioned titles, Turtle Rock and 2K managed to squeeze in a surprising amount of “apparent depth” to the characters, dialog and almost-present plot arc in what is otherwise a pure PvP Battle Arena style game. Admittedly no less of a trope than the British safari guy with a white mustache, the grizzled would-be-at-home-in-the-Louisiana-bayou tracker and her alien pet dog pack some of the most interesting dialog and back story in the game.