Probably the three that I consider managed to succeed in this the most, at least conventionally, are Shadowrun Dragonfall, Hong Kong, and DA:I. Shadowrun Dragonfall’s Kreuzbasar and Heoi in Hong Kong succeed for very similar reasons. You return to them repeatedly, talk with the individuals (and not always get along with them). The world from the top down perspective is littered with details, particularly creative ways of finding spaces to grow crops. These merchants, random members, they become like neighbors that you talk to between doing jobs. DA:I is a bit different in that what I think helps it is how there’s scenes where your companions actually engage with one another and at times you even have scenes where everyone in your crew has a card game gambling contest which really gives a sense of community that’s rather restrained in most other places.
MMOs succeed in a different way but I think a part of the appeal is very much a sense of familiarity, home, and companionship… and being an asshole to other people for some. For me the mmos I spent the most time with were Runescape and Maplestory. For Runescape, it was Varrock. For Maplestory, it was Henesys. Frankly it really wasn’t the in game content as much as the people that spent time there. The folks lounging on digital seats at Henesys just chatting, the people selling merch, committing scams, chopping trees, and just chatting with one another. It was unpleasant at times but I also remember just chilling online in these places talking with folks I only knew on those games.
Finally, I want to mention New Vegas. It’s peculiar because in a lot of ways it doesn’t seem to fit into this question. Your character is a drifter, your companions are drifters, and once you are done with quests in a location there’s not much of a reason to stay there or even return at a future point. For example, once you are done with the early game quests related to Goodpsrings, you are mostly done with it as a location. The only place you will return to frequently is Freeside and The Strip that involve numerous loading screens and in general feels underpopulated. Then there’s the problem that in many ways the NPCs of Bethesda rpgs feels off, puppeteering as though the thin strands holding them up could be cut at any moment.
Despite all that I mention above, and I certainly think those are things that make this a peculiar place to posit this. I can’t help but feel a deep fondness for the Mohave. I visited Las Vegas recently and, one of the things I wanted to do the most, was do the “loop” that exists in the game. To drive to Sloan, Goodsprings, Primm, Nipton, what Novac is based on, Searchlight, Boulder City, Hoover Dam, return to Vegas. To go to Freemont (which is what Freeside is supposedly), to visit the Red Rock Canyon, etc. Ultimately I only went to Vegas, Goodpsrings, Red Rock, Boulder City, and the Hoover Dam (on an unrelated note if you ever want to go to a really beautiful natural park the Valley of Fire is beautiful). But what I was hit by was this fondness for the Mohave at large. This peculiar sense of nostalgia and familiarity with these places in the real world that I have never been to only experiencing a digital approximation, and a drastically downscaled version of it at that. Even the airport had me feeling almost embarassed at the giddiness at it. If I were to dig deeper, it is a game that also just came at the right time. A time where I was in a dark place and also coming to terms with the fact that I was queer, and the game has a surprising amount of non-straight characters. So it’s not really a neighborhood. It’s not really a city. But in a strange way the entire Mohave has a warm familiarity to it and I am fond of returning to the game, starting up in the little town of Goodpsrings, to talk to the kindly doctor and the other inhabitants before taking the road to New Vegas again.