These are the select few games that entertained me more than any others. Some of them had amazing replay value, that I played again and again for years. Others were shorter but so original and impressive as to make up for the lower value.
The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion (2006) - I remember seeing the first Oblivion screenshots in game magazines and thinking “Wow! This is next-gen!” The graphics were better than even PC games at the time. At the time I was still more of a console gamer, so a gaming PC was out of the question. I knew then Oblivion was a game I had to get, and that meant buying a next-gen console. The game itself was somewhat disappointing. While I loved exploring the world and seeing all the NPCs, the level scaling, randomly generated loot, and tiny voice cast really got to me. It may not have been a perfect game, but it defined what next-gen could be.
Portal 1 (2007) – You cannot talk about the seventh generation without talking about Portal. This game came out of nowhere. No one had heard of it, but just one little video was enough to turn heads. Without an expansive voice cast, fancy graphics, or orchestral score, this game easily became 2007′s most original game. It was just solid game design from start to finish. People will talk about Portal for years to come. There was so much fun to be had in throwing portals around to get through puzzles. There was a lot of freedom in the later levels. Different players had different solutions.
Mass Effect 1 (2007) - This game took some time to grow on me. I do not know what it was, but when I first played it I just could not get into it. A few months later I was obsessed with it. I ended up doing a full playthrough with all 6 classes. I really liked the direction they were going with the series, how each game got more epic. Mass Effect 1 did not have the best game mechanics, but it was a good start. It just needed some polishing to be an amazing game, and I was hopeful Bioware would deliver with Mass Effect 2.
Dragon Age: Origins (2009) – Although I liked the Mass Effect games more, Dragon Age: Origins was still an amazing RPG. It combined the classic Baldur’s Gate-style gameplay with an original world created by Bioware. It was a little too dark for my liking but overall a great experience. I only wish it was bigger. Compared to the Baldur’s Gate games, the maps felt small. I did not get the same sense of exploration as the older games. There seemed to be less NPCs to talk to. Also, the dungeons sometimes lasted too long, with the combat becoming repetitive and dull.
Mass Effect 2 (2010) – I think Mass Effect 2 excelled at the story and character development. Compared to Mass Effect 1, it was night and day. Mass Effect 2 felt like a Hollywood movie. It could have one Oscars if it was a movie. Unfortunately, I did not like the direction they took the game mechanics. Even though the mechanics in Mass Effect 1 were weak, at least there was something to dig into. Bioware pretty much did away with all the potential, the original mechanics had. It was no longer an RPG to me. It was now an interactive movie with shooting galleries in between the story. Still, the movie quality of the game was easily enough to outweigh the bad gameplay decisions.
Starcraft 2 (2010) – Out of all these games, I was probably the most hyped for Starcraft 2. For so long Blizzard had focused on World of Warcraft. I thought they would never go back to their old franchises. I enjoyed WoW immensely, but my interest was waning. Starcraft 2 came at the perfect time. Even better was that I got a beta invite on the very first day of the Closed Beta. I felt like a VIP. Only pro players or a members of the press got invites that early. Everyone wanted a beta key.
I had recently graduated from college and could not find work. Seeing all the tournaments going on, I thought maybe I could make a career out of it. I spent a massive amount of time with this game. When I was not playing it, I was watching pro matches to find ways to improve my play. Ultimately, pro gaming as career was not meant to be for me. I just was not good enough to reach the top and suffered a lot of stress trying to play perfect every game. These days I only play Starcraft 2 occasionally, but I will always remember this game for the impact it had on my life.
Civilization 5 (2010) – This game started out as a dud. Well, I did play it for about a month after launch, but it just did not hold up compared to Civilization 4. The strategy was almost deterministic. There was an easy right answer for every decision in the game. Luckily, Firaxis got their act together and came out with two great expansion packs. Now there are actually “interesting decisions” as Sid Meier calls them. I still prefer how some things work in Civilization 4, but Civilization 5 is now my primary Civilization game. I play at least one game every month. There are always new starting conditions to try out. It never really gets old. It can become tedious but never old.
Portal 2 (2011) – It is impossible to mention the first game without mentioning the second game. Portal 2 pretty much improved the game in every way. Now that Valve knew the concept worked, they put some real money into it. The production value was there with great voice acting, improved graphics, and amazing sound. It was a real treat to explore more of the Aperture Science labs, especially learning about its history. This is one of those few games that anyone can have fun with and understand, whether they are a hardcore gamer or a non-gamer.
The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim (2012) – Skyrim was the game Oblivion should have been. Bethesda Game Studios pretty much fixed all the major problems that Oblivion had. The level scaling was much improved. The loot system still had randomized elements, but there were many hand crafted unique items to find. They also greatly increased the size of the voice cast. There was definitely some repetition after playing the game hundreds of hours but no where near as bad as Oblivion. Skyrim was the first Elder Scrolls game that I discovered and explored every location on the map. I also got all the DLCs, which I felt were far better than Oblivion’s DLCs.
Game of the Generation: Fallout 3 (2008)
Fallout 3 is a strange game. I do not think is has the best gameplay. I do not think its story is that great. I am not even sure the virtual world is that great, but there is something about it that I just love. I think it is just how different it was from any other game I had played before. I had never played a post-apocalyptic game before Fallout 3. There were other games that did this, including Fallout 3′s own predecessors and Wasteland, but none of them caught my attention like Fallout 3.
The first hour or so you are in what feels like a clean-room environment, a hospital really. Everything is neat and orderly. All the people are clean. It is a perfect little world. In the back of your mind, it feels like something is wrong, but you cannot pinpoint it. Slowly as you play and get to explore it becomes clear: there is no freedom here. There are a set of rules that everyone must follow. A man appears at first like a benevolent father taking care of his children, but then you start to see he is more of a dictator. He even has guards to enforce his rules. Finally, you get to rebel and escape to freedom.
I will always remember the stark transition from the tutorial section to the game proper. the blinding white light as your eyes adjust to seeing sunlight for the first time, the vast open expanse before you to explore. At first I felt happy to have escaped. I had my freedom. As I started to see the destruction and lawlessness outside, I started to wonder if maybe the dictator, the leader of the vault, was right. Maybe he did know best, and I should have stayed there. There was no going back there now though. I just had to adjust.
Like the early segments of the game when you are a baby, this game literally made me a baby. To a baby pretty much everything is fresh and new. They are new in the world. They have not experienced much. This is how I felt when playing the game. Sure, there were game mechanics I have seen in other games, but the whole setting, theme, even the retro music was totally new to me in a game. All I can hope is that the next generation will bring a game that feels this fresh to me.
- Other than Fallout 3, the list is in no particular order.
- Even though PC games do not go through generations, I still consider PC releases during this time as part of the seventh generation of video games.
- I must have played the game for it to make the list. (Getting good reviews is not enough.)