Best Narrative 2021: Sable

Game of the Year 2021
(Image credit: Future)

Sable earns our Best Narrative award for 2021. For more of our game of the year picks, visit our GOTY 2021 hub.

Nat Clayton, Features Producer: Sable doesn't save the world. There's no existential threat, no looming war or ancient MacGuffin to recover. In fact, Sable doesn't really have much of a plot at all—and yet, within an hour of firing up the game, a passing conversation brought me to the brink of tears.

Sable is a coming-of-age story, a rite of passage that sees you leaving your family behind to explore the world and figure out who, exactly, you want to be. Every quest, every conversation, every mask and piece of clothing is there in service of finding an identity for Sable. You'll be choosing conversation options and outfitting your bike not because you need to optimise stats or grind reputations, but because it's what feels right for your Sable at that moment. Every mask you acquire is quite literally another face to try on.

There is simply such an earnest warmth to Sable's writing. Almost every conversation you have is fleeting and incidental, but penned with such absolute earnestness that it's hard not to well up. You'll meet an old guard who's chosen to embark on her own journey of discovery late in life, and even the most sour-faced shopkeep meets you with the understanding that your gliding is an important moment. It resonates hard with my own brief experience of travelling after high school, experimenting with identity as I floated haphazardly between volunteer gigs across Europe.

Most telling of all is that Sable is happy to let you wrap things up on your own terms, whenever you feel ready. This isn't a game that wants you to rinse it of content—rather, you're free to return to your clan whenever your Sable feels she's found the mask that's right for her. It's a game about the joy of self-discovery, encouraging you to reflect during those long desert rides, best summed up in a tear-jerking line from one of your clanmates at the very beginning of your journey.

"Try to have fun. There's a lot to be said about ritual and independence and all of that out there, but the world's an easier place if you put joy first."

Jody Macgregor, AU/Weekend Editor: The story that stuck with me was Eliisabet's. She's the old guard you keep meeting in different places who is repeating the rite of passage you're on, only her version is more like a retiree caravanning across the country than a student on a gap year. 

When I met her in wasteland stations and on top of a broken bridge decorated by two warring giant statues, she sent me on errands that happened to involve cool-looking places. One involved finding out what was inside a mysterious plant that only grows in the Petrified Forest, another retrieving glowing mushrooms that were, like so many videogame treasures, hidden behind a waterfall—only this was a waterfall of psychedelic sulphur. She was absolutely going to get high off those mushrooms.

Eliisabet's journey parallels your own, traveling to the same places, always just ahead. She's there to remind you that, as momentous as this voyage and the decision you make at its end seem, it's not the last you'll undertake. It might not even be the most important one. When you're young, choices feel impossibly important, all these decisions and grades and judgments. But in a few years they hardly matter. Things that are life-and-death in school are meaningless to every adult outside it.

Befriending Eliisabet felt more significant than solving arcane puzzles or platforming challenges, or getting the bike to travel any distance without flipping onto its nose. At the end of her gliding, my Sable picked the guard's feather-topped mask to wear. It's not what I'd choose, but you can always change your mind later.

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