Yesterday's roundtable piece looked at our picks for the best games of the last generation, but there's a difference between games that we reckon have been the best, and games that are simply our favourites. Sometimes, as you'll see, they can certainly be one and the same, but for these picks it's all about games we've come back to time and time again, mainstays in disc trays, and comfort games we can keep returning to time and time again.
Matt - Halo Series
I'm cheating here, naming a series rather than a game, but the truth is that the Halo games have been the mainstay in my disc drive of this generation. I've bought every single one, and played them to death.
I never had an original Xbox, so Halo 3 was my introduction to the series, and indeed to my shiny new Xbox 360. I could talk for hours on the strength of that game's singleplayer component (a couple of Flood levels aside), but it was the multiplayer that truly grabbed me. I'd long been sceptical of online gaming on anything other than Counter-Strike or Unreal Tournament, and this was new territory.
But I never looked back.
The sheer number of hours I've sunk into the Halo games with friends over this generation are testament to the accessibility, the fantastic balancing, the exceptional map design, and the addictive ranks and unlocks with which the Halo brand has become synonymous. The highlight reel is full of weird and wonderful anecdotes, from totalling a wounded Banshee with a kamikaze jump in a Mongoose (so many Mongoose fun times) to getting a last-second goal in the tightest Grifball game ever after jumping the length of the court. There are so many jammy shots, perfect bunny hop kills, and little vignettes that we could shoot and save.
When I look back on this generation, I'll remember the characters I called friends in Mass Effect, I'll think of the weeks I sunk into Skyrim and Oblivion and Fallout, but most of all I'll remember the crazy shenanigans in Halo. I'll recall taking down two Scarabs at the same time in Halo 3, look back on the Firefly love-in and setpiece-stuffed brilliance of ODST, remember the awesomeness of jetpacks in Halo Reach, and probably still be playing epic Grifball matches with my Dealspwn fellows and running Jon and Carl over on Exile.
It's why I know I'm definitely buying an Xbox One down the line. I can't miss out on that.
Jonathan - Fallout 3
If you were to strand me on a desert island with a single seventh-generation game to play for the rest of eternity, while supping coconut milk and wondering exactly why there's a plug socket and widescreen telly on a far-flung beach, I'd pick Fallout 3 every time.
For me, the key is that every Fallout 3 playthrough is unquestionably my story. And your story. I've lost track of the hours spent gassing with fellow players about how they approached the game and its characters, how they dealt with each big decision and the little details, compared to my numerous very different experiences. Every action, every decision, even just deciding to run away from an encounter and do something else, builds up a narrative that's uniquely yours. Bethesda's masterpiece is rich, dense, unpredictable and enormous; utterly stuffed with interesting content that still reveals new secrets after the third marathon run.
Sometimes I destroyed an entire town for fun. Occasionally I'd discover a town full of cannibals or venture in to an area that was too powerful for my character, returning with an inventory full of ill-gotten gains, having waxed lyrical with a legendary violin player and met a long-lost old friend with a tree growing out of his back, or assassinated an old woman down by the docks for a can of cram and some ammo. And always, always, I'd tarry and dally with my old man Liam Neeson, enjoying every moment spent in good company.
Fallout 3 started a flame in my heart. I hope that desert island has a decent Wi-Fi connection, though, so I can download Broken Steel.
Chris - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
You know a game is good when the hours simply while away whilst you’re playing, and you simply don’t care – you don’t want them back because you’ve enjoyed yourself that much. I’ve easily put over 200 hours into Bethesda’s epic since I got my PS3 and with very good reason.
Skyrim is a game, more than most this past generation that captured my imagination. When I was growing up, I had plenty of ideas about what would be my perfect game, and if I’m honest Skyrim probably comes closest to achieving that. I always imagined a vast sprawling medieval fantasy land, with a myriad of dungeons to explore. There would be magic too and various weapons to use as well of loads of NPCs that would provide the bedrock of the community, but also the context for the game and its quests. Throw in dragons, a secret assassin group, and the ability to literally shout people off of cliffs, and as you can imagine I was hooked.
It’s a game all about depth, really, with so much crammed onto one disc. Skyrim itself is a large sprawling world, and each location is different and full of things to interact with and quests to undertake. Your character cannot only be created from scratch initially, but their skills and preferences of play are honed as you progress. You’re not locked in from day 1 to a particular “class” or type, you can start off as a sword and shield warrior, and then as the mood takes you practice magic, or perfect your archery skills.
This depth obviously means there is no “right” way to play and the challenge on offer supports different styles. Sure stealth or long ranged attacks may suit particular situations, but you don’t fail quests if you go in all guns blazing with an axe either – unless you die of course. It ultimately means every player’s experience with Skyrim is unique with different players garnering different results. And this happily goes hand in hand with how accessible the game is. Sure initially Skyrim throws a lot at you but once you get the basics you immerse yourself in its bosom and embrace it for what it is. My fiancée doesn’t play much videogames outside of classic Nintendo or Broken Sword, but with Skyrim she has found a kindred spirit and has probably spent as much time as I have hunting Alduin and the million other sidequests available. And that’s proof that this game, despite its design is not just for the number-crunching geeks out there, but really for anyone who just likes planting a mace in a troll’s head.
Carl - World of Warcraft: Wrath Of The Lich King
World of Warcraft has been a juggernaut throughout this generation, with millions upon millions of players exploring the lands of Azeroth and Outland. It’s not often you can say with complete certainty that a game defined a genre, and that’s exactly what Blizzard did with WoW. Now, this choice is as personal as they come, because while I could have just put WoW and have been done with it, I wanted to be very specific because I truly believe the game was at its best during the Wrath Of The Lich King expansion. Or, at the very least, it was the peak of my MMO playing career so far.
It had the perfect mix of storyline, interesting locales, and character progression that came together to create a memorable journey to kill the fallen Prince Arthas. It also introduced the Death Knight – a class I ended up making my main due to its wonderful versatility and complete badass-ness. It also had, quite frankly, the best raid instances the online behemoth has ever had, with the varied encounters in Icecrown Citadel and Ulduar (a tank assault as the first encounter, with motorbikes that fire out flammable oil? Hell yeah) but none of that probably would have meant anything without the guild I was in, and the friends I made along the way (many of whom I still game with to this day.)
WoW may have moved on from the design philosophies of that particular expansion, but my adventures in Northrend are something I could talk about for hours. Fortunately for you, Matt has put a cap on what I can say, so I’ll just end wi[and you’re done. –Ed.]
Brendan - Fallout 3
Nowadays, there’s no way in hell I’d be able to plough over 100 hours into a game, but Fallout 3 used to steal every weekend from me.
Sure, it’s ugly as hell and packed with glitches, but nobody has created an open-world that I wanted to spend more time in, a world that I felt I was having an actual impact on, a world of my own.
After leaving the vault, I loved how you could just choose a direction and go. You’d never be far from stumbling across a random quest, or something that wanted to eat your face. From a distance, I really started to appreciate the game’s post-apocalyptic visuals, it may have been a bit below par graphically, but in terms of designing a familiar -yet shattered- world, Bethesda are the best in the business. The haunting minimalist soundtrack nails the atmosphere perfectly too.
The huge variety of upgradable skills is fantastically empowering and the constant feed of XP for your actions is probably what kept me playing the most. Well, that and a quest to one of the most hard earned Platinum Trophies in my collection.
I had a few laughs playing it too. I’d been hoarding Fat Boy nukes for the whole game and finally tried one on a larger super mutant boss. The problem was, I hadn’t been upgrading the skill to wield them at all, so the first time I fired it, it missed from about ten away and I was smashed out of the town like a home run. And then I kept flying, and flying, and never stopped. Nice view though.
Yep, as we all know, Bethesda’s quality control department all deserve to be fired from a cannon. After reviewing all the painfully broken F3 DLC and trying my best to play Skyrim (all on PS3), I’ve decided when I finally buy New Vegas it’ll be pre-owned and on the 360.
And as for Fallout 4, I’ll be waiting for the reviews on how they handle the PS4’s hardware before giving them any of my money. Honest.
JUST ANNOUNCE IT ALREADY, DAMNIT! Ahem.