Alex Hajdasz lists a personal best video game for each year since 1994. The only rule is that he must have played an entry in the same year it was released.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion …For 2006

Played on: Xbox 360

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion PAL Xbox 360 box art

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

By the time the PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii released in November 2006, the Xbox 360 had already been out for a year. Within that time its initially weak game library had expanded to include hits like Gears of War, Dead Rising, and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which gets the nod here.

Oblivion took Bethesda’s epic role-playing series truly multiplatform, setting the groundwork for the monumental success and staying power of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim years later.

Much like Morrowind before it, Oblivion is not a game I ever see myself returning to, but neither can I discount the many hours of entertainment it’s brought me since release. Oblivion was the perfect game at the perfect time, with its vast fantasy world offering hours of role-playing goodness to a console that was in dire need of longevity.

Oblivion raised the bar for console RPGs whilst maintaining its healthy fanbase on PC also. It impacted gaming culture with its infamous horse armour DLC, which despite looking quaint against the standard model of microtransactions today, has lived on as a meme in its own right.


Halo 3 …For 2007

Played on: Xbox 360

Halo 3 NTSC-U Xbox 360 box art

Halo 3

Not many seasoned gamers will have trouble choosing a best game from 2007 because this was a bona fide golden year for the medium.

It was a good time for the FPS genre as well. The Orange Box and BioShock got released, with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare selling millions of copies and reinvigorating its entire franchise in the process.

My nod for 2007 goes to Halo 3 whose launch would be among the biggest events of that year. Its plot was fairly impenetrable, but the shooter action was sharper than ever, with level and encounter design showing remarkable improvement over Halo 2. I completed my first campaign alongside friends and family over Xbox Live; such was the game’s incredible evolution in cooperative design.

Whether it was via the marketing, the grandeur of the concluding trilogy, that Legendary Edition helmet, or the memorable teaser trailer that started it all, Halo 3 remains the perfect exclamation point on an incredible year.


Soulcalibur IV …For 2008

Played on: Xbox 360

Soulcalibur IV NTSC-U Xbox 360 box art

Soulcalibur IV

Soulcalibur IV presents a curious duality. Although I enjoyed playing it more than anything else in 2008, it did mark the beginning of my declining interest in fighting games.

At the time I was an avid player of a collectable card game called Universal Fighting System. UFS is a CCG that brings together various fighting game franchises under one gaming system, with Street Fighter and Soulcalibur being its two biggest names.

For a time there, UFS was so consuming it led me to rediscover fighting games from Street Fighter, Fatal Fury and Vampire Savior, as I strove to sample as many genre favourites as I could.

Soulcalibur IV capitalised on this obsession, though I was happy to come back into the fold considering I’d mostly missed Soulcalibur III due to PlayStation 2 exclusivity. I was an Xbox owner, after all.

No doubt many players were attracted to this new entry by the Star Wars guest characters, but not me. I wanted to play a Soulcalibur game online for the first time and pretty soon my win rate was somewhat respectable. Happy memories indeed!

Crucially though, the developers had shifted their focus away from my preferred single player content and into the online space. It was this shift, as well as the monetization tactics of modern fighters which would cool my burning fandom from then on.


Dragon Age: Origins …For 2009

Played on: Xbox 360

Dragon Age: Origins Collector's Edition box art showing a bloody sword

Dragon Age: Origins

Looking back on it now, 2009 was a reasonably competitive year for a list like this. Champions Online and Halo ODST are my honourable mentions here, with Street Fighter IV and Blood Bowl also worthy of consideration for various reasons.

Champions Online did originally get my pick, but after recalling how rocky its launch period was, I’ll give the nod to Dragon Age: Origins instead. Whilst BioWare isn’t riding a hot streak in 2022, this generation of yesteryear definitely saw them pushing the boundaries of RPG design.

Their return to the fantasy genre promised an epic tale similar to Neverwinter Nights and that did get me very excited. The marketing was really strong in this sense. The multiple preorder bonuses (Red Dragon Armour, anyone?); the Collector’s Edition with awesome artwork (pictured!); and even the extensive companion game on Facebook called Dragon Age Journeys. Electronic Arts spared no expense in making this new IP feel immediately special.

Dragon Age largely made good on the promise and it remains a purist’s dream to this day. The party management, combat logic and companion-driven storytelling make a bold impression and even with such a massive campaign, players were encouraged to start it again, if only to experience every origin chapter containing exclusive maps and remixed events depending on which race was chosen at character creation.

The graphics are unimpressive and the overtly violent, sexist, and “edgy” narrative elements have aged poorly, but overall, Dragon Age: Origins still deserves its place here as an RPG of distinction.

Continue to Part 5 »