In Game Informer issue 224, we ran an essential list of the games from this generation that every gamer absolutely needs to play. While that list was fairly encompassing, it was also just a list. To give context to that list, a few Game Informer editors highlight some of their personal essentials.

You will have to ask me again in a few years to see if I feel the same way, but right now I have no problem proclaiming Limbo as one of my favorite games of all time. With its absolutely absorbing art style, engaging ambiguous story, and terrifying consequences at every turn, Limbo immediately grabbed me, and did not let go until I was flying through the glass during its final moments.

Without a single prompt guiding the player, Limbo was able to create discovery and fear at every turn. The minimalist score and presentation allows the player to devote their entire attention on the game. No hud, no explanation of what buttons perform what action, no prologue, no nothing. Every moment is full of discovery and rewarded curiosity.

Limbo is easily one of the best games of this generation, and one of the purest examples of simple game design leading to a brilliant experience. It's a must play for all gamers, and non-gamers, too.—Kyle Hilliard

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
The whole city practically shut down a few years ago during an intensely powerful snowstorm. Schools and businesses closed as snowplows tried in vein to clear the byways. I barely noticed. I had just moved into a new apartment, my fridge was stocked full with Mountain Dew and frozen pizza, and an unexplored world sat spinning in my Xbox 360.

For several months of my life Oblivion was an obsession. I had started the game on PC, played it for about thirty hours, and then decided that I would rather play it on a console, so I happily put another 100+ hours into the game while sitting in front of my TV. I loved the game’s rich atmosphere and seemingly endless supply of side quests. Oblivion didn’t feel like a video game; it felt like a near-real experience.

With Skyrim on the horizon, I can’t wait to lose myself in another open world action/RPG, but I’ll never forget my time in Cyrodiil. I feel like I made a life for myself there – like it was a kind of second home.—Ben Reeves

The Beatles: Rock Band
While thinking of the essential games from this generation, my mind combed through the most blissful gaming experiences I’ve had in the last five years. Watching the sun rise in Red Dead Redemption was up there, as was seeing the Normandy dock at the Citadel for the first time in Mass Effect, but I came to the conclusion that playing The Beatles: Rock Band for the first time is unbeatable.

I was at an office Christmas party for my last job when somebody popped in their copy of the game. We were halfway through Twist and Shout when we all realized that it was going to be a long night. For the next five hours we had a rotating band that consisted of everything from 18-year-old IT guys to 65-year-old secretaries, toothy smiles never left a face. I went out and bought a full copy immediately, and it remains one of my favorite games from this generation.
Never trust somebody that doesn’t like The Beatles. They are either lying or have such a wildly distorted view of reality that you’ll be lucky if they don’t physically assault you while proclaiming their right to dominance as the lizard queen. While some might argue that the song variety from any of the numbered Rock Band games makes them a better fit for an essentials list, I’d argue that The Beatles: Rock Band’s shorter song list provides a richer experience – kind of like having a beautifully sculpted chocolate cake is better than a plate filled with 3 Doritos, 5 peas, 2 Laffy Taffys, and a half-eaten chicken wing.

I’m in love with this game’s cohesive presentation – if the opening cinematic doesn’t drop your jaw then you need to check your pulse. As you play through the story mode, you absorb a sense of the band’s evolution, which every fan of popular culture should know. This experience, coupled with the unlockable facts, pictures, and videos, makes The Beatles: Rock Band the greatest interactive documentary ever made.—Ben Hanson

Next: The Orange Box, Fallout 3, and Demon Souls [PageBreak]

The Orange Box
I was relatively late upgrading to this generation of hardware, having bought my Xbox 360 well over a year after it had been released. This provided me with the supremely satisfying experience of being able to walk into a video game store and pick up several heavy hitters all at once, including Oblivion, Mass Effect, and GTA IV. The game at the top of my list, however, was The Orange Box.
Leave it to Valve to release what is probably the best deal gamers have ever gotten out of a single purchase. The Orange Box contained five critically acclaimed games in one package. As if getting Half-Life 2, Episode One, and Episode Two together on one disc wasn’t enough, The Orange Box also introduced fans to Team Fortress 2 (it’s a pity the 360 version never got the copious updates from the PC version, but you can blame Microsoft for that), and the surprise hit Portal. The Orange Box seemingly had something for everyone: A narrative-driven single-player campaign, intense multiplayer action, brain wracking puzzles, and hilarious dialogue from one of gaming’s most memorable antagonists. Many gamers have grown impatient waiting for Episode 3, but if Valve wants to top the offerings of The Orange Box, the studio will need all the development time it can get.—Jeff Marchiafava

Fallout 3
You know that piece you just read from Ben about Oblivion? I loved Oblivion too, but for me Fallout 3 was the game that really put me through those nights and weeks of blurry-eyed, no-sleep, just-one-more-quest gameplay. The post-apocalyptic wasteland of Washington D.C. may have been bleak, and the game may have had its share of bugs, but nothing else this generation has pulled me into a world in quite the same way.

The very structure of Fallout 3 is deviously designed to keep players addicted and wanting to continue exploring every inch of the desolate desert in front of them. Where Oblivion’s sidequests focused on world-spanning factions whose stories stretched out for hours, Fallout 3 had more tightly-contained tales. A normal session would include wandering upon a new settlement, meeting the strange people within, and finding out what weird problems they needed your help working out in this near-dead world.

Although many players lament that the gunplay is not as good as your average first-person shooter, it’s a huge step up for Bethesda. The V.A.T.S. system, which pauses combat for targeting specific body parts, allows for a much more strategic and interesting approach than the mindless hack-and-slashing of their previous games. And the overabundance of weapons, armor, and random useless items to loot, hoard, and sell is as overwhelming as any of the best RPGs.

Even with a depressing setting and stories that weren’t much more uplifting, Fallout 3 remained a place I wanted to return to over and over again through hundreds of hours and several DLC packs. It really is a must-play for fans of post-apocalyptic media, Western RPGs, or pure addictive game design.—Phil Kollar

Demon Souls

“Demon’s Souls is one of the greatest games ever made.” That’s what I said to myself when the credits started to scroll after completing my first play through. I’ve found out, however, that trying to explain why Demon’s Souls is so amazing to someone else is nearly impossible.

I’ve tried telling my friends and co-workers about how brilliant the combat system is or why the game’s harsh and dirty atmosphere makes me want to take a shower after every play session. But ultimately people seemed turned off by Demon’s Souls difficulty. They hear all the horror stories about how you die over and over again or how the instruction manual doesn’t make any sense. I’ll agree this isn’t a game for everybody; it takes persistence to really master what developer FromSoftware throws at you. There were actually points where I got frustrated and quit, thinking I’d never go back to Demon’s Souls. But I did.

To this day I’ve completed the game 16 times and got a Platinum Trophy twice, both the North America and Chinese versions of the game. I plan on going back a third time with a European version so I can say I triple Platinumed Demon’s Souls.—Jim Reilly