'Firewatch’ Showcases the Power of Dialogue in Video Games

In a short summer journey with little to do, communication via walkie-talkie becomes the key to survival.

Nicholas Bashore

Welcome to Firewatch, a video game filled with jaw-dropping visuals and a wonderfully emotional soundtrack. Created by Campo Santo, Firewatch is easily one of the best indie experiences gamers will have the chance to play though this year and it’s not for the reason many of you might assume.

Set in the Wyoming wilderness of 1989, players control Henry — a man looking to escape from some bad memories by taking a job as a fire lookout for the summer. After getting acquainted with his tower in the Shoshone National Forest, Henry ends up being lost in a mystery around him and works to uncover the truth behind all of the secrets spread throughout the forest. His partner is a fellow fire watcher, Delilah, who players will develop a relationship with throughout the game through a series of dialogue choices over their walkie-talkie — and she’s the reason Firewatch is so damn enjoyable.

Like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Firewatch puts a heavy emphasis on choice from the very beginning, putting decisions on your shoulders within the opening scene. You’ll start Henry’s relationship with the love of his life, you’ll get a dog as the happy couple and you’ll shape how your life ends up when he first meets Delilah after hiking up to his tower.

From the very first line of dialogue, every conversation with Delilah on your walkie-talkie feels natural, and that’s no small feat to accomplish in a video game. Every line of dialogue Henry shares with Delilah feels like a real conversation; organic, emotionally loaded at times and filled with sarcastic humor in the right places. For the first time in a long time, I actually felt like I was learning who Delilah’s character was through conversation within a video game — and that’s a rare occurrence these days.

Nicholas Bashore

What was more interesting, though, is how Campo Santo shaped these conversations into a relationship that Henry and Delilah develop over the course of the game through dialogue. Whenever you encounter a plot point, object, or location worth a damn, you can choose to share it with Delilah over the walkie-talkie or remain silent. Depending on your choice, you’ll get a response from Delilah — typically she’ll respond with a bit of insight or humor, but nearly every word she says has a hidden tone or message behind it like you might experience in a real conversation.

Much like an actual relationship with another individual, your conversations with Delilah will slowly allow you to pull back the layers she’s tucked herself behind. You’ll learn more about her past, the reason she’s out in the forest and the various elements that shape her personality; and if you choose not to respond or miss an important question she asks you via walkie? It’ll end up affecting your relationship with her for the rest of the game — but not in the simple “good or bad” way many other video games like Mass Effect and Fallout seem to lean toward.

Nicholas Bashore

But it’s honestly a refreshing change of pace that I hope many other development studios follow in the near future. Why? Well, because for the first time in a while I walked away from a video game completely satisfied with my experience.

Typically, with most single-player games, we, as players, tend to discuss our decisions, choices, engagements, and encounters; sharing them with fellow gamers to compare our experiences. Like many of you, I follow this practice (especially when it comes to Mass Effect playthroughs) because I have a desire to share my experience with a fellow gamer and compare our adventures. But with Firewatch? I didn’t have the desire to do so, because I already shared my experience with another human being: Delilah. We spent days hunting down bears, cracking jokes at each other, and uncovering the secrets of the forest — and that’s an experience that I hope every developer can integrate into their projects in the coming future.

Firewatch is now available on PlayStation 4 and PC.

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