What compelled me to love and laud these games above many others? Diablo II had a term (and I can't remember if it was official, or player coined) that there was normal Diablo II and then there was Hardcore. In Hardcore mode, if you died once, you died forever. That same rule applied to your level 8 rogue who was trying to grind too fast or to your level 70 paladin who got caught in a bad mob of monsters or was doomed only because of a sudden surge of network lag. And the Trese Brothers Software lost a lot of level 70 characters back in the day. But, we kept coming back for more punishment.
Star Traders RPG is built on the same principles. You are a heroic or infamous captain, cruising the Quadrant and executing daring, crazy, or cunning moves to get rich, famous. But, as I saw on the forum once, "the world will grind you down and then you will die." You will eventually die. It's going to happen, just like in Diablo II, you can keep climbing but you will eventually end up in a bloody pile in the dust.
For me, the hook was this: your story, your suffering, and your trials are epic and compelling. You have never died, your story is a single running thread. Letting the computer kill you, and then respawning strips all that legendary away. I'd rather die a legend, I'd rather know I was going to die and keep pushing through and striking mighty blows until the end comes. It smacks of Norse mythology as well, in which the gods were told of the end of the world, in which man recognized death was inevitable, and both chose to stride forward with courage, for that was all that could be done.
As a game, without the Hardcore mode, I would never have gotten into Diablo II multi-player. But, hardcore hooked me just like so many other harsh worlds, genres, books and games. In the same way that I love my pen-and-paper RPGs to be brutal, realistic and unforgiving, I find that aspect undeniably addictive in computer games. Read George RR Martin, Melaine Rawn, go back and find a copy of Diablo II (Battlenet is still running!!!) or try your hand as a captain in Star Traders RPG, and get ready to have your heart ripped out as your characters triumph and fall. But oh how you will love it!
But that is what makes a legend. Legends are written in blood.