I saw a thread like this on another forum last night and it got me thinking. As I got to sleep I settled on what I thought was a fairly definitive list, so I'm bumping this for my thoughts.
#1 - The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
It's hard for me to decide between this and Freespace, but as time goes by, I've come to realize how special this game really is. It was the first RPG I really enjoyed, and ever since then I've been trying to find games that have recaptured the same feeling of wonder I felt upon playing Morrowind for the first time.
Like many games, it took me 3 years to complete the main quest. The difference is, I barely ever quit playing in that time. I've easily logged more hours into this game than probably all other games I've ever played, combined. And that is no exaggeration. When I first picked up the game, I was simply in awe of the diversity of things that fill this vast sandbox world. There are a multitude of factions and characters with their own quest lines. With 4 political factions, 5 professional guilds, 2 religious factions, and a multitude of other questlines, you can truly create your ideal character. This truly is the most immersive world in gaming, with a great variety of terrain and cultures to explore.
At the outset, the story may seem a bit cliche, but things progress into one of the most unique storylines I've ever seen. If the player endeavors to look into the immense details and backstory provided by books and NPCs, the story becomes even more enriched. Sometimes I still like to stop by the Elder Scrolls wiki and read some of the ingame books.
#2 - Freespace 2
The original Freespace was the first 3D game I had. It was really something amazing, and I played nearly every day after school for some years. Freespace 2 kicked things up a notch in every regard. Plot, mission structure, scale. Oh, and beams. Seeing as I was 7-8 years old when these games came out, I didn't fully appreciate the darker, more intricate storyline of FS2. I preferred the original game, on the basis of the ship design and the soundtrack. Luckily for me, FS2 is a game with infinite replayability.
Freespace doesn't require the same time investment as RPGs like Morrowind, so I've been able to reinstall the game on a whim many times, sit down with my trusty joystick, and shoot some red dots. Every time I feel the urge to fly into the void once more, there are a multitude of new and exciting campaigns for me to experience for the first time, courtesy of the amazing community. The community is what really made the game, and why it was the first game where I became invested in multiplayer. I have FS2 to thank for my presence here in SSX, something which has profoundly shaped my gaming time through the years, as well as my experience of the internet in general. Freespace is the only game on this list that still has a lasting place in my life, and I hope it stays that way for many more years to come.
#3 – Medieval 2: Total War
When I got this game in late 2009, it single-handedly revitalized my interest in RTS games. Over the years I had grown tired of what I used to consider my favorite genre. I was never a huge fan of resource gathering, build orders, or many of the other old conventions. Medieval 2 was my first Total War game, and its emphasis on tactics and actual strategy allows you to focus your attention on the only resource that ultimately matters: manpower. After a few hours of play it becomes fairly easy to keep your economy in check. The campaign is really about managing the makeup and positions of your armies on the Civ-style world map.
When armies finally clash, you're treated to the finest experience in all of strategy gaming. Place your armies in an initial formation, and shuffle around to counter the enemy's maneuvers. Guard your flanks and hold your line at all costs as hundreds of men are caught in the midst of chaos. The game's morale system is ingenious, and I've won many of my finest battles on the back of superior morale management. There is nothing in gaming quite as sweet as turning the tide of a losing battle after killing the enemy general and watching his forces flee back out of your city gates.
#4 – Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne
As I just mentioned, I'm not a huge fan of traditional base-building RTS games. I was never any good at that bit, to be honest. Warcraft III had great lore and a great campaign to tell the story, but I often had to resort to cheats to get through. In multiplayer, I lost almost every single ladder game I played over the years.
Despite these shortcomings, I never quit playing the game. I stuck with it as a go-to game for 3 or 4 years. This was due mostly to the game's incredible map editor, which allowed for easy, light-weight modding. Multiplayer became a world of infinite possibilities as total conversions could be easily transferred P2P as map files. Tower defense and DotA got their start here, along with countless other mods spanning every conceivable genre and play style. Now that I think about it, the only reason I quit playing was because my GPU died.
#5 – Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3
The actual intro is just a collection of RL footage, so I picked a video which highlighted why the game is great.
Some people may knock me for this choice, but the Tony Hawk games were a huge time sink for me growing up, and a passion that I shared with many of my friends. Indeed, many of my friends today bring up Tony Hawk whenever the discussion turns to video games. My obsession with these games led to a couple years of horrible RL skating, which got me meeting people who would in turn introduce me to things that would have a big impact on my life.
The third game was the best in the series. Some features were added, but they didn't go overboard like in later games. Everything that was there was perfectly implemented, and it boasts the best maps in the series. There's not a single THPS3 map that I don't love. What more is there to say? It wasn't the most hardcore game ever, and it had no story whatsoever, but damn, was it fun. I think it may in fact be responsible for my love of open-world games. I strongly preferred the Free Skate mode to the two minute challenges.
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines
– The best linear, dialogue-driven RPG out there. It really got me immersed, and I really cared about my favorite characters. This is also the only game I've played where you can truly have whatever skill combination you want without gimping your character at all. Truly one of the best games of all time. It's a shame that the development process was hell, and that the game was rushed and released in such a poor state.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
– The worthy successor to Morrowind. Interesting setting, great faction dynamics, much-improved AI, and most importantly, a diverse and engaging world. I had my doubts after Oblivion and Fallout 3, but Bethesda really brought home the bacon with this one. That Thanksgiving holiday, I spent an alarming amount of time on this epic journey. It was such a pleasure returning to Tamriel that I didn't want to leave! I still haven't come close to seeing all there is to see. I'm very excited for the DLC (the only time I'll ever say this), but I'm waiting for the GOTY Edition.
– When the GPU died on my old PC, I dropped Warcraft for this. Before CN, I had always thought browser games sucked. It didn't change my mind. The political meta-game was one hell of a trip, though. It became a daily addiction for three straight years, and I paid on and off attention to my nation for another two. I never thought I would find anything quite like it again...
– ...Until I played EVE, anyway. It has the meta-game insanity of CN, the hardcore clan-based PVP of Neocron, and the player-driven economy of...EVE. Truly no other game in existence is such an amazing and complete multiplayer sandbox. In EVE, the players really do craft the world. The definitive MMO. Perhaps the best endorsement I can offer is that Neocron felt like half-baked crap after playing EVE.
The Longest Journey
– This past year I've been having the best gaming experiences I've had in a long time, as I visit the classics of the adventure genre, which so unfortunately passed me by when I was young. I am only now playing through this game, but I can already tell you that it is the best. This is the first non-first person game where I feel deeply immersed in the world. Despite April being an "non-embodied" character with a set appearance and personality, I still feel a deep connection with her. It's definitely different from how I usually feel playing RPGs, though. This is more akin to reading a good book where you really feel for one of the characters.