The integration of (often quite long) monologues with recognizable characterizations into gameplay through computer terminals was a brilliant way of keeping the story engaging during gameplay--you never knew whether you'd get smacked in the back of the head while reading your new mission objectives. What's worse, you were more often than not being insulted by some snarky AI. You got the depth of story you wanted--you could play through it without scratching the surface, or you could seek out hidden terminals and try to decipher the bizarre and often garbled stories contained therein, and post with other pale obsessives to the Marathon's Story Page, which still exists at marathon.bungie.org/story. Finally, consider that this game was going up against Doom. Same genre, same era, profoundly different attitude towards story. 'Nuff said.
Even the smallest of quests in Baldur's Gate II seemed to have a huge impact on the inhabitants of the world around you. You don't just clear trolls out of a castle, you go into the castle and rebuild an heirloom artifact, rescue hiding servants, discover some of the castle's hidden treasures and ally with the castle's young heiress. And after that's done, you can inhabit the castle and help manage its assets, all with the aid of those whom you rescued in the process. Rarely in this game do you go clear out a dungeon, then go back to town and sell your loot and forget it ever happened. This game has done a fantastic job of making each of the player's actions have a lasting impact on the game's characters.
If there's one thing that makes a story great, it's the characters. Baldur's Gate II had tons of unique characters, all with very fleshed out personalities. But one thing that made it a "Quantum Leap" was the integration of these personalities into different situations. Your stoic Paladin buddy may react differently to the horrors of a sinister cult compared to your brooding Drow cleric. And better yet, they may just react to one another, leaving it up to the player to settle their dispute. On the other hand, the game also offers the player a chance to romance with certain characters in the game, a relationship that grows over the course of the adventure, so subtly that the player may not even notice he's in that character's "romance" string.
In a game where the player can choose to be any race, to be good, neutral or evil, and to be any class he wishes, Baldur's Gate II does an amazing job of making the player feel like the story was built just for his character, and that the party he chooses to travel with was hand-picked just for him. Games like Grim Fandango and System Shock 2 have characters, plotlines and deliveries that have really stuck with me, but the fantastic dynamic aspect to Baldur's Gate II give it my vote for the biggest quantum leap in storytelling.
Josiah Colborn, Novo Interactive
Jade Empire had absolutely gorgeous art direction, an incredible original score, and amazing character development. The game had a great plot and excellent pacing. It perfected what Knights of the Old Republic had prototyped with the good/evil character schema, something which was copied by virtually the entire industry. Achieving meaningful play through dramatic decisions and creating situations requiring sacrifices and compromise made the game truly a game and not simply interactive fiction. Few games have ever brought tears to my eyes because of genuine emotion.
Kale Menges, The Guildhall at SMU
What I like about Gabriel Knight is that the characters’own views aren’t forced on you, like in a lot of story driven games. Also, a point that stands out is how Jane Jensen actually gives you the background story in the game if you are interested in it. Overall, the writing in the series is consistent and characters act as you’d expect them to act when they take up their reoccurring roles in the later games. I really believe that the Gabriel Knight series was a quantum leap in terms of story telling.