This was a great year for games with deep, involving worlds. Games that you could sink dozens of hours into and enjoy every second of it. Sure, these games have a lot of activities and collectibles to consume your time, but activities alone aren't what make them so great. These games have interesting characters, well-written stories, and tons of little details that sell their respective worlds. These are the worlds I got lost in this year.
Mass Effect 2
The World: Mass Effect is an epic space opera filled with political and racial tension, exciting gunplay, and intriguing characters. As commander Shepard you're free to explore the galaxy, take on jobs, and romance aliens, oh also, it's up to you to save the galaxy. With a rich and complex history the world of Mass Effect is as fully developed as any blockbuster sci-fi experience. It's the Star Wars of video games.
When I got lost: Somewhere between scanning planets for hidden minerals and going on missions to help crew members settle personal vendettas. The decisions you make as Shepard have real consequences--characters live or die, missions fail or succeed, and loyalties are won or lost--which bonds you to the characters and gives you a vested interest in what happens next.
Red Dead Redemption
The World: A western tale with a twist. The world is changing, moving on; the days of the wild west are numbered. You play as reformed outlaw John Marston, tasked with corralling your old gang members for the authorities. To bring in the bad guys, you'll make friends, break wild horses, lasso bounties and so much more. The sprawling western wilderness is so rich with detail it's hard not to just stop and marvel at it sometimes.
When I got lost: I was gone right from the beginning. Marston is an oddly charismatic character; a gruff family man at heart that doesn't shy away from getting his hands dirty when the situation calls for it. As you roam the west on your horse--hunting wild animals, picking flowers, capturing bounties, and saving damsels --you'll start to feel like a real cowboy. Several hours in, I had a weird desire to bond with, own, and ride a horse around Charlotte.
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood
The World: AC Brotherhood is about an ancient war between two warring factions: the Assassins and the Templars. The overarching story takes place in present day Italy, but the meat of the game is set in Renaissance Rome. There, you control assassin Ezio Auditore, ancestor of the present day character Desmond Miles. As Ezio, you must take back Rome from the corrupt Borgia family by building and running your own Assassin's Guild. Like the Assassin's Creed games before it, AC Brotherhood twists fictional stories into historical events to create an intriguing helix of fact and fiction.
When I got lost: The Assassin's Creed games have an extreme attention to detail in the worlds they build, and this one is no different. As you run across rooftops, buy and renovate buildings, and grow your influence, you'll really feel like you're making an impact on the lives on the virtual people that inhabit the world. Having spent several days in Rome earlier this year, I had a lot of fun running around this 16th century recreation--especially visiting landmarks like the Coliseum. Although I played the game with the English voice acting on (because they do a great job), it is fun to switch the voices to Italian. You'll feel even more immersed in the world as you run around Rome, picking up bits of Italian conversation from passersby.