don't let ultima intimidate you. ultima 7 at least may seem like a chore to get into, but it is a very fun game once you get the basics of gameplay down. i can't recommend it enough for someone looking for a good rpg. also you might want to try some of the infinity engine games like baldurs gate 1/2, planescape, etc. if you have not already.
Also don't i need to play all of the previous Ultima games to know the story?
eh, not so much. it will help fill in the back story of the land and get you acquainted with the world of ultima and whatnot, but it's not necessarily essential. though if you really want to play through the entire series then go for it, it's just that the only game i can vouch for is 7
System Shock 2 - story told reflectively thru recordings, very interesting and quite haunting
Deus Ex - story spurs on play, is very interesting and player has choice in outcomes
Planescape: Torment - very deep story-telling, lots of reading but top-tier writing and characterizations
Fallout 1/2 - not story-driven because they're too awesome for that, putting them here cuz they're numbers 1 and 2 top RPGs all-time
Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura - here for the same reason of Fallout 1/2, too good to leave out of any PC RPG list.
Baldur's Gate series - the 2nd is more story-driven than the first. Nothing special, but doesn't do too much wrong either.
Vampire Bloodlines - more about questing and deep dialogue. story is bad, i put it here because it's dialogue is so good and its a really interesting setting
Gothic series - basic driven stories, simple and easy to understand what's going on
KotOR series - 2nd has better writing and dialogue, 1st has the better story
Hordes of the Underdark - driven story, easy to understand.
Mask of the Betrayer - excellent dialogue, story, setting, characters (Kaelyn, Myrkul). rivals Planescape: Torment in quality of writing and inwardness of story despite being set in a truly epic world with earth shattering stuff going on.
Icewind Dale series - cliche story, very driven, Salvatorish in style. expert narrative voice and beautiful music
Ok, does if HAVE to be a PC game? If not, go try Dragon Quest V. Your heart will melt more than once in this game...
melt in what way? im such a sap for sad storys. bittersweet is my favorite genre. as reference, clannad after story - episode: white darkness.
DQ5 has a very emotional and bittersweet storyline that spans MANY years of your main characters' life. I can't say much without spoiling it to you though. ;)
Just don't expect very detailed human emotions though. DQ games don't have very well written dialogues. But it IS an emotional storyline (and very sad in some moments...), specially if you have a good imagination. IF you can find the PS2 version, anc knows how to apply a translation patch, go for it. Else, the NDS version is good enough.
BTW, The Ends of the Earth (Clannad - After Story episode 18) makes me cry like a little baby... When Ushio says: "Sanae-san told me the places I can cry are in the bathroom... and in daddy's arms...", my heart explodes! ;)
:3 Brazil, country where the World Cup is more important than a basic health system...