1. Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness
This was the first game that I really lost myself in, I spent hours just watching the title screen ( Which to be fair, was an awesome set piece battle between orc and human forces with no pre-determined outcome). I was real young when I started playing this game so I found it really challenging - maybe I still would now if my childhood memories are anything to go by.
The care put into this game stood out immediately - the compelling story, the unparalleled cinematics, the humorous anecdotes revealed following harassment level repeat unit clicking - everything screamed polish.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
This was the first game that made me feel something - It stirred real emotion in me. Playing through now, I find it harder and harder to see how it did that - the storyline is pretty skeletal for the most part, but I guess my standards have just gotten a lot higher as I've grown up. Still, walking away from those ending credits still hits me a bit , sort of how finishing a great novel does - it has that staying power.
In all things this game was satisfying to play - and that's including the water temple which caused me to walk away from the game for nearly a year. Even the most frustrating parts of playing this game were in no way contrived, the answer to all the parts that trip you up are ultimately staring you right in the face - it's a matter of patience, perspective, and extreme perseverance.
And man, when you finish parts like the water temple - you feel elation. Match that with unparalleled game mechanics (for its time) ,damn catchy music and memorable characters and you have a perfect storm of video gaming greatness.
3. Donkey Kong 64
This one's a bit different from the others on the list. Which is to say, the others I all feel deserved 80 hours of my life whereas Donkey Kong 64 definitely did not. Don't get me wrong, I had a lot of fun with this game - I just don't think it's of the same caliber as the other games on this list.
So why over 80 hours you ask? Stubbornness and bad luck.
I spent the vast majority of those 80 hours replaying the same boss, over and over. For those that have played the game, you might recall that Tiny Kong's boss is a giant freak of a jack in the box type character and you spend the boss battle using Tiny's pony tail fly/glide ability to jump around on a series of pillars - avoiding the jumping jack monsters path at the same time.
If at any point you are knocked from the pillar, it's game over. This was fine for the first stage of the boss, but at some point after you damage the boss enough he changes up. The jack in the box does a ground pound on his platform and (to me it seemed) random pillars were struck in kind - so if one were on such a random platform, one got knocked off and had to start all over. I could discern no pattern, or reason to why certain platforms were harmful at which points and which were not - trial and error and easily 40 hours of game spread out over about 6 months later I beat that boss (I'm quite certain the experience will be the chief reason I get arthritis in in my wrists by 30)
Eventually, years later I came back to the game and got back to that exact part - I beat the boss in minutes. The definition, ,colour or something on my previous tv had left me unable to discern any difference in the colour of the platforms....There were whitish light blue ones and dark blue ones, obvious on my then semi-modernized television. When jack in the box jumped, you simply had to be off the colour he was on. I cursed and never finished that second play through.
4. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
I rate every RPG experience I have ever had on the gold standard of my experience with Morrowind. Daunting, alien, complex, - it is certainly not for everyone.
I shudder to think how many hours I have put into this game, it very well might eclipse all the others on this list combined.
5. Deus Ex
Deus Ex was so good when I first played it, it made me excited for the future of first person shooters.
Years later, even the best first person shooters still struggle to emulate the better aspects of the original Deus Ex - which is both a testament to the quality of the game, and a sad thing to note about the lack of innovation in FPS/RPGs over the last decade or so.
Deus Ex wasn't the best shooter, and it wasn't the best rpg - but the way it combined these two genres so seamlessly was astounding. It was totally immersive, never broke it's own internal logic (Something most modern games are guilty of), had a compelling story, and was long. I mean really, really long - maybe even too long, whenever I replay it now I generally burn out somewhere after Hong Kong.
6. Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos
In my entire life I have never anticipated any game more than this one.
With that amount of build up, imagine my surprise when the game met and greatly surpassed all my expectations.
These developers just...Got it.
7. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
I'd always liked Star Wars a bit I guess - but this game totally pulled me into that universe and sold me on it. Even though some of the rpg aspects were simplified from some previous bioware works like, obviously, the Baldur's Gate series, I was totally hooked. Everything you do in the game world feels significant and suitably epic - I was never a big fan of the black and white version of morality the game pushed on you but that hardly detracted from the overall experience.
And dude, talk about story head fakes - I was blown away.