Help Me Get Back Into Video Games After A Decade Off


I love video games.  My parents were pretty dubious about the whole idea, but I do remember that convincing them to get me a Nintendo 64 for Christmas was a huge victory.  When I got it, there was some kind of condition about number of hours per day, or homework, or something.  Ha, ha.  Ooh, hello Ocarina of Time, why yes I will play you until my eyeballs bleed, mmm, that’s nice.

For something that I once got so much happiness out of, it still kind of surprises me that I haven’t played (seriously) video games for almost 10 years.  It’s been a combination of things – college, work, friends, other interests, and finances have played a role.  Mainly it’s been hardware.  I needed a laptop when I went to New Zealand (long story) to study abroad (oh wait, I guess it wasn’t), and I haven’t looked back.  My state-of-the-art 2002 gaming PC became a relic, and though I love my MacBook Pro, it’s not exactly gaming-friendly.  I moved around a lot after college, so it never seemed like a good idea to buy a nice TV and a console or another gaming PC.

Which brings us to today.  I find myself with a stable enough job, and no plans to move.  While I won’t be buying a sports car anytime soon, I have a bit of disposable income and a deep, yearning desire to find out what I missed in the gaming world in the last 10 years.  So, I need your help, Unreality readers.

With the PS4 and Xbox One recently released, and Cyber Monday just around the corner, (or post-Christmas clearances after that), I feel like now is the time to jump back in.  But I’m completely overwhelmed.  It’s option paralysis – the seventeen different kinds of peanut butter; I just stare at them.

Skippy Peanut Butter

It’s all a bit much.  There are so many games out there I’ve only obliquely heard of.  I’m alive and on the internet, so I’ve obviously heard of them and know something about them, but I’ve never actually played: BioShock, any GTA past Vice City, any Halo past II, any Elder Scrolls past Oblivion  (Oblivion was the last game I can remember buying, the last game my old gaming rig could actually run), Portal, any of the Mass Effect games, any Gears of War game, any Fallout game, any Call of Duty game, basically anything released in the last 4 years.  So yeah, I have a lot of catching up to do.  It’s hard to know where to start.  I guess that brings me to question number one, the big one:

Console vs. PC

I have no bias.  I loved my old gaming rig that ran Windows XP; I love my MacBook Pro.  I had a Nintendo 64 and enjoyed the hell out of it.  I had an original Xbox that I played the hell out of.  I never owned a PlayStation but I did have a girlfriend at one point who got me addicted to Final Fantasy X on her PS2, and I sank many, many hours into that.  So, which way to go?

That’s why I need your help.  With so much to catch up on, do I just dive right in with one of the new consoles?  Considering their age, I could probably get a PS3/Xbox360 and a bunch of games for a roll of quarters – or is that not true?  Or do I choose perhaps the most expensive option and buy a top-of-the-line computer?  I’ve heard PC gaming is kind of dying – is that the case?  Help me, Unreality readers.  You’re my only hope.

To give you an idea of what I’m into, I’ll tell you briefly about some games that I remember fondly / sucked down months of my life.


EverQuest – Oh, yes, I was well and truly aware of how massively EverCrack was a timesink and manipulated you into grinding, but accomplishment is accomplishment.  Being in high demand as a high-level cleric felt awesome, and being good enough to raid elemental planes/Time back when Planes of Power was the latest thing took skill, dammit.  Back in my day, you didn’t go so some fancy-shmancy graveyard to find your corpse and equipment all convenient-like, you ran NAKED through 14 ZONES and you LOST 2 WEEKS WORTH OF EXP and you LIKED IT.  I stopped playing when I realized that I, in fact, did not like it.


Diablo II – I saw a screen like this maybe 5,000 times.  That’s not bragging –  I know for serious players, 5,000 Hell Mephisto runs was also known as “a weekend.” There are gamers and then there are gamers. I’m not exactly a casual gamer; it’s definitely a part of my personality that I want to get all the items, all the skills, all the levels.  I’m a completionist.  And that’s kind of problematic when a game doesn’t end.  It’s also kind of awesome, because the question of “how high can I go?” is answered with “how high can I imagine?”


Final Fantasy X – this bring back any memories for anyone?  If you’re getting a handle on my personality, then you’ll known that of course I dodged 200 lightning bolts.  My girlfriend looked at me, shook her head, and went to bed after the first 30 or so.  This was my one and only experience with PlayStation and Final Fantasy as a series (yes, I tried FF7 and couldn’t get past the graphics.  Before you jump all over me, ask yourself this: if you’d never played any of the FF series, and picked up FF7 today, so you had no attachment or nostalgia, could you get past the way it looks?)


Knights of the Old Republic – You’ll notice a trend – roleplaying games, especially turn-based.  Yeah, I like them.  I like to be deliberate, methodical.  We’ll get to some non-RPGs in a moment, but I wanted to point out an Xbox title I really, really liked, and KotOR was a blast.  Bonus points for having one of the best twists in any video game, ever.  I was playing this while I was in high school, and when I got to the part on the Leviathan (you know the one), I literally woke my brother up to tell him about it, I was so blown away.  So yeah.  Roleplaying games with either lots and lots of loot/XP/skills, or a good story, or preferably both.


Ninja Gaiden – Does this count as an RPG?  I guess.  It’s fast, and action-oriented though.  I liked Sands of Time, too.  But it’s more intense, like a first-person shooter.  I mean, I loved Halo, too.  And GoldenEye.  And we haven’t even gotten in to RTS yet – Warcraft III and Starcraft got a lot of playing time.  And I haven’t even mentioned spaceship games, oh my god, FreeSpace 2 and  X-Wing.  Or regular flying games.  Crimson Skies, Falcon 4.0 – you know what?  This is going to be a long list.  Oh right, I love baseball games, too.  The last one I played still had Jamie Moyer on the Mariners, so…

(Oh yeah, I also completely immersed myself in story-centric, one-click interaction games like Grim Fandango, Myst, and The Longest Journey)

You know what the crazy thing is?  I haven’t even mentioned the game I’ve probably put more time into than any other: Baldur’s Gate II.  That game was just THE BEST.  When I was 15.

Anyway, you see my problem?  I don’t really have  a niche game that I want to focus on, and I don’t have a medium/console preference.

That’s why I need your thoughts.  I’m lost in the woods.  There’s so much out there.  I don’t need a detailed plan, but a nudge in the right direction would be amazing.  A few articles to read, a site to check out, a Getting Back Into Video Games For Dummies, something.

I have massive holes in my gaming lexicon.  I knew nothing about video games until 1995.  I stopped playing altogether in 2005.  Everything before and after is a pretty big blank.

So, give me a hand, modern gamers.  Game recommendations, console vs. PC thoughts, what kind of TV/monitor to pair with the console/PC, current gaming trends, things to avoid, things I should avoid saying/doing as a modern gamer – everything would be helpful.

I want back in.  I have the means, I have the desire, all I need is a nudge in the right direction.

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  1. To me it looks like you need some “Mass Effect” in your life. Also you may want to get a Wii on the cheap and play 2 of the best JRPG’s of the last generation in “The Last Story” and “Xenoblade Chronicles”.

    I wouldn’t go diving into a Xbox One or PS4 just yet.

    1. Thanks for the tip. Yeah, getting a new console probably doesn’t make sense at this point, not when there’s so much backlog. You know, I hadn’t even considered a Wii. I played some in college and never quite got the hang of the controller, but it’s definitely a possibility. Great, one more thing to check out. Thanks Caleb 🙂

      1. I have a ps3, a wii, and a gamecube (one of these things is not like the other…). My most memorable and profound gaming experiences came at the hands of the ps3, but by far I have had the most FUN on the wii. The hours I have spent playing Mario Galaxy or Donkey Kong Country or Skyward Sword… Nothing brings out the inner kid in you like a wii.

        1. I probably wouldn’t want a Wii alone, as there are too many kinds of games that it doesn’t have, but I did have a blast playing with friends in college. They’re probably super-cheap now, so if I go the console route picking one up wouldn’t be a problem. Thanks for the suggestion!

  2. Agreed with Caleb K: you need a ps3 or xbox 360 and the Mass Effect trilogy. I was not at all a gamer when I grew up, but later after getting a good job, marrying, settling down etc. I found the desire to get in to it, to see what I was missing. Holy crap. Nothing will make you believe in gaming as a proper, immersive storytelling experience like the Mass Effect games. Play them now.

    1. Yeah, Mass Effect is definitely at the top of my list. Being out of the loop for so long makes it pretty cheap to be back in.. looks like I can get the trilogy for PC for like $30. That’s pretty tempting.

      I’ve heard so many good things about that series; really looking forward to it.

      1. I always push Mass Effect on people asking for gaming recommendations. I’ve played through the trilogy six times in the past year and a half.

        Don’t skimp on the DLC for Mass Effect, by the way. With the exception of maybe Pinnacle Station on ME1, the DLC missions add a lot to the story and are just plain fun to play.

          1. That’s one the “new” trends I’ll have to get with. I’ve never played a game with DLC (I think KotOR had some, but it was very minimal), and it seems to be a huge part of games these days. I’m kind of viserally against games nickel and diming you for “special” items after you’ve already paid for what I feel like should be a complete product, but my inner “must complete everything” personality will probably win out.

            Does DLC really put a hurt on your wallet? I mean are we talking a couple bucks for extra content, or are there many, many things can can double the price of the game?

          2. For the most part, we’re talking a couple extra bucks for extra content. Item packs and character outfit bundles are really stupid and shouldn’t be encouraged. However, major story missions (like ME2’s Kasumi, Overlord, Arrival, and Lair of the Shadow Broker and ME3’s From Ashes, Citadel, Leviathan, Extended Cut, and Omega) are generally just a few bucks and extend the game (and expand the story) by many hours.

            A lot of games these days are offering “season passes,” which basically means for a slightly higher price you get the game and a voucher for future DLC releases. I personally wouldn’t recommend buying DLC until it’s actually released and critiqued.

          3. I’m actually a console guy, myself. Don’t know much about the PC scene. You’ll have to ask Rob J about that.

          4. That completely depends on the game. I didn’t have to shell out too much for the Mass Effect DLC; most of it is included in the PS3 versions of the game. I did pay $15 for Citadel, but my god that was worth it.

            Really, you just do your research. Read what people are saying. Yes, there are some ridiculous ones, and yes, they can be absurdly expensive. I usually buy games used a few years after they come out anyway though (got quite the back catalog I’m working on), so my out of pocket isn’t any more than someone buying just the game on release day, but I get all the goodies.

  3. Get a gaming PC. No question about it. There are such a great many reasons to do so and you can build one on any budget, for the same price as a “next-gen” console you can build a PC that will play a better selection of games in better quality.

    Every game you listed as feeling the need to check out is available on the PC with the exception of Gears of War and Halo (3 and onwards). All of the games you list as having poured countless hours into all seem to be PC games with the exception of Oracina of Time and FFX, both of which can be played through and emulator on a $400 gaming PC at a higher quality than you have ever experienced them in.

    As someone who has been out of the gaming loop for quite a while, options are what you need and PC’s are all about options.

    1. That’s an excellent point. Some games you just need a mouse for, and a PC is certainly more flexible. I was thinking that a console would be less expensive, but when you factor in the cost of a better TV (the one I have right now is the size of a decent computer monitor), it’s probably a wash. (Although a good PC monitor is still pretty expensive, yeah?)

      It’s been a long time since I built my gaming PC, and I had help when I did. Can you recommend a good site or article that could get me up to speed, recommend components, give tips on the process itself?

  4. As others said you should really get into Mass Effect. What I would recommend on top – or even before that – is to get a few games that are more interactive movies than action games, to get you back into the feeling of gaming, and because they tell awesome interactive stories. Games like the Walking Dead and Beyond Two Souls.

    1. Hmm, see I was thinking I’d just go YOLO and start with Dark Souls.

      Seriously though, that’s a good point. I’ve heard the Walking Dead game is pretty solid.

      1. I would definitely NOT start with Dark Souls. It’s just too unforgiving and punishing. But yeah, the Walking Dead is REALLY good, it won numerous game of the year awards last year. And I personally found Beyond Two Souls even better.

        1. I was just joking about Dark Souls; I don’t know much about it but I always see it referenced in articles about horrifically difficult games. I like a challenge, but I don’t like beating my head against the wall.

  5. This is going to be a pretty generic suggestion, but Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite are both, plain and simple, works of art. Whenever anyone asks for game recommendations, those two games are always on my list regardless of what genre the person favors. Bioshock 2 is fun to play, and you can buy it bundled with Bioshock pretty cheap these days, but it doesn’t have quite the same impact as the other two and feels more like a long piece of Bioshock DLC.

    Unrelated question: The games you mentioned liking are mostly more structured and linear. How do you feel about big open overworlds with a crapton of things to do besides the main story?

    1. Yep, BioShock is definitely on the list.

      As to your question: Love ’em. I played GTA 3 as well as Vice City and really enjoyed them. I sunk into Elder Scrolls (3, I think?) Morrowinnd – that game throws you in the deep end with the entire map open from the get-go and not many signposts, but after a learning curve I had a blast. “Sandbox” games are super fun, as long as there’s the “spine” of an overarching plot.

      1. Red Dead Redemption is an amazing sandbox game with a great atmosphere, protagonist, and story (although the dialogue can leave a little to be desired at times), and the Undead Nightmare expansion/DLC alone is better than most zombie games out there.

        There are now 6 Assassin’s Creed games, and everyone has their opinions about which one is the best and worst, but you can’t go wrong with the series if you like big, epic adventures.

  6. Skyrim seems like a logical 1st step for you (coming from an Oblivion background). But another vote for the Mass Effect trilogy.

    Your Final Fantasy nostalgia may want you to pick up FFXIII. Don’t.

    I agree with others here, you probably don’t need a next-gen console yet, but a 360 or PS3 you can pick up for bugger all and you’ll have access to a massive catalogue of great games. And since you don’t really sound like a online/shooter kinda guy, I’d have to recommend PS3.

    Not really related to your history, but a few other games I really recommend:

    The Last of Us, Borderlands, Uncharted, Far Cry 3 (as much RPG as shooter) and we can’t enough good things about the Bioshock trilogy.

    1. Thanks, Nick. I’ll add those to the list. Yeah, online/shooter games I have nothing against, but they’re not really my cup of tea. I enjoyed Halo a lot, but mainly the campaign and playing split-screen with actual people I know. I would rather play by myself, at my own pace, most of the time.

      Thanks for the game recs; I’ve heard really good things about the Far Cry series – would it be worth it to go back and start with the first one, or just jump to the latest?

  7. As others have said, definitely start with Mass Effect. I’d also toss in anything that Bethesda has put out for the current gen (Skyrim, Fallout 3, Dishonored, Oblivion). I feel you for the FFX lighting bolt dodge thing, I gave myself a facial tic for a few years because of that challenge.

    1. Hah yeah, that was definitely the hardest of the – I actually forget what they were called. Epic weapons? That’s from Everquest. Celestial weapons? Can’t remember. But yeah, lightning dodging was the worst. I actually didn’t have much trouble with the others. Except the butterfly hunt. That one almost gave me a rage stroke.

  8. I could repeat a lot of stuff on here, but I didn’t see anybody mention Limbo so I feel that’s what I need to bring up the most. I’ve actually really enjoyed the indie/downloadable market so far; it’s a good crop to look through if you want something that doesn’t fit into the usual mold of blockbuster titles. Most of them are available on multiple platforms.

    Journey is also amazing.

    1. Thanks, David. I’ll look into those. I’ve heard that about Journey; unfortunately the review I read spoiled the “twist” for me. Still worth playing?

      1. I didn’t realize there was a twist? Must be referring to the “climax” of the piece. Knowing it won’t impede your ability to enjoy the game, I don’t think.

  9. I’m not the first, but regardless of how you choose to play your game, you need the Mass Effect Trilogy.

    I’d also recommend, the Uncharted Series and Infamous 1 & 2.

    And I’m sure I’ll be disagreeing with someone here, but pick up FFXIII. With the understanding that it is not like the previous generations. If go in expecting a FFVII or FFX you’re going to be dissappointed, because it’s built entirely different. I actually enjoyed playing it, because the story element was so different from previous versions. Final Fanatasy is never going back to the way it was (which does make me sad), but if they don’t innovate, they will stagnate.

    1. Yep, from all the comments, Mass Effect is most definitely #1 on my list. Sounds like it’s an option no matter the route I go with device, so that’s good. I’ve heard of Uncharted; I’ll give that a look as well.

  10. For getting back into gaming after a long break, I think a console is your best bet. A gaming PC will last longer (and probably have better graphics) but a 360 or a PS3 will be a cheaper intro back into gaming and are much easier to maintain. You can pick one up super cheap during Black Friday or Cyber Monday and then go nuts on cheap new or used games as all the retailers purge stock from the last generation.

    I would pair the system with a decent sized HDTV (think 42″ and up, with 1080 resolution). I have a 51″ 1080p plasma with my PS4 and find it to be the perfect size for gaming.

    Gaming has changed a lot since you were playing a lot. The Internet now touches every game in some way, including single player only games. Things that used to be exclusive to PC’s – patches, downloadable content, online multiplayer, etc. – are now a part of console gaming too. If you have friends who game, ask them what system they play, what their gamertag/ID is and connect with them. You’ll have more fun that way.

    Also, indie gaming is big now. The 360, PS3 and Steam (PC) all made it much easier for indie games to get published and gamers were rewarded with a lot of great games like Journey and Limbo.

    As for mainstream games… Mass Effect is a must. You’ll love it. Other classic games from the last generation include Fallout 3, Skrim, Assassin’s Creed II, Bioshock & Bioshock Infinite, The Last of Us (PS3 Only), GTA V and Red Dead Redemption.

  11. Oh, and if you do get a PC, make sure you get Steam. It’s a gaming store/community/etc. created by Valve and is the primary reason that PC gaming is still alive.

  12. Hey, I know everyone has been pumping Mass Effect, and with good reason, but I’ll add a few recommendations that I haven’t seen mentioned yet. Considering the games you listed for examples of what you’re into, I’d recommend Dragon Age: Origins. I’d stay away from the second one, as it was a letdown, but the first one was one of my favorite games of the last gen. I enjoyed the plot, lore, and character interaction quite a bit and would highly recommend looking into it.

    Also, the Saints Row series. I feel like they peaked with the second one, which looked really dated now, but if you’ve been out of the game for a decade, then it should look cutting edge? It’s basically a sandbox game, that I’d consider GTA, except fun. You play as the leader of a gang, and all the stuff that would entail. The customization is incredible, not to mention, you can get plastic surgery at any time, so you aren’t locked into the character you create at the beginning of the game. I wish more games had that…

    1. Dragon Age, Saints’ Row. Got it. Any thoughts on the PC/console thing? I feel like I have a bunch of great game recs, but still undecided about what system to get.

      1. That’s totally up to you. I always went with a console, because that’s what I grew up with, and I’m slightly computer illiterate. Plus, I like buying a game and knowing that my system is made to play it, and not have to read through a list of system specs while mentally checking what I my computer is capable of. I know pc’s offer a ton of options with mods and all that stuff, but it was never enough of a draw for me to change what I was used to. Most games nowadays can be played on console or computer, anyway so you aren’t really missing out by buying one or another.

  13. If you have the money the best way to go (imo) is to get a pc and ps3, the pc will cover your multiplats and some of the microsoft 360 exclusive titles (as well as those PC only games), you’ll want the ps3 because it is the only place you can play some very good, passionately made exclusives with a wide variety of genres,(GOW3,anything by naughty dog, quantic dreams etc), ni no kuni is a fantastic JRPG made in conjunction with Studio Ghibli so it looks beautiful, worth buying a ps3 just for it(again, IMO), i dont think the 360 warrants a purchase, it’s exclusives tend to mostly be racers and shooters, which you don’t seem to be a fan of. Also in the last ten years there’s been a surge of indie games coming out at the forefront, kinda like those zx spectrum days, and I’ve gotten some of my most emotionally involved experiences just from these little indie games, Braid, Journey fez and Limbo are all worth checking out. Then theres steam on PC, a great platform with amazing sales and some fantastic games made by very passionate designers, tell tale games have also brought back the long lost point and click adventure albeit reworked a little, The Walking Dead video game by Tell Tale is a very engaging piece of interactive fiction, also if you wanna cry man tears, be on the edge of your seat and witness a breakthrough in video game storytelling and character progression, The Last of Us is defintiely worth a look. Even if you can’t play it, watch someone play it online, it’s one of a kind. or you know, you could jsut play baldurs gate 2 forever and ever, thats waht I’d like to do 🙂

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