Inspired by this post about the music throughout the Mass Effect series, I started thinking about all of the excellent soundtracks that I’ve enjoyed while playing games. This is by no means an exhaustive list; please comment and share some of your favorite video game soundtracks too! I’d love to listen to more.
Mass Effect 3 – It was highlighted in the article I linked to above, but it does make my personal list of favorite soundtracks. The compilation overall takes you through a range of emotions, but there are some individual tracks that can take you from elation to heartbreak to resolve within a four minute space of time. Definitely worth a listen through, if you’re looking for a well-rounded, very orchestral driven experience. Not to mention, it makes you feel like whatever you’re doing within your cubicle is contributing to saving the galaxy!
Red Dead Redemption – The soundtrack of RDR made a huge chunk of the atmosphere of this game. When the genre “western” enters most people’s heads, they think of hackneyed banjo music with a clanky washboard accompaniment. How refreshing then that the music used to great the bring depth to the western theme in RDR wasn’t twangy or cliche at all. Some of these tracks are unnerving, most are energizing, and a few (particularly the song through the credits “Deadman’s Gun” by Ashtar Command) can bring you to tears. Although the songs with lyrics are closer to the end of the game, the three of them are my favorites on the album. Do yourself a favor, get lost in the old west by listening to this soundtrack.
Splice – You can read in the game title link that I’ve already highlighted this incredible soundtrack. Ethereal and stirring, it brings you along a ride you didn’t think possible with a protagonist-less puzzler. The movement that takes the audience on a journey is the incredible strength in every song on this soundtrack. You’ll be doing a disservice to yourself if you don’t check out this soundtrack (free to preview in its entirety on bandcamp).
Bastion – This . . . this soundtrack is perfection. I saved the best for last. I’ve heard this soundtrack be compared to the Firefly soundtrack, which I thought was fitting. It gives off a non-western (hemisphere) vibe, mixed with a few, very subtle western (cowboy) themes. A diverse range of instruments orchestrate every track, and the songs with vocalists are . . . haunting, but in the best most moving way possible. I realize all of these descriptions sound very hyperbolic, but seriously, this one . . . the money soundtrack, undoubtedly.
Like I said, there are lots of other game soundtracks I love (Catch-22, Braid, Super Meat Boy, Cave Story, Chrono Trigger, Donkey Kong, etc.) but these are really some of the cream of the crop. I’ll also take this chance to give a shoutout to a YouTube artist who does incredible acapella covers of video game songs. He hits some of the most popular jams (e.g. Guile’s Theme from Super Street Fighter 2) as well as a few more obscure hits that are just great songs (e.g. DuckTales’ Moon Theme). His username is Smooth McGroove and if you love raw talent recreating your favorite video game tracks, you have to go and subscribe!
So everyone is talking about Torchlight 2, but being the really up-to-date gamer that I am (/sarcasm), I just finished Torchlight 1. I repeat, you’re about to read about Torchlight 1. If you’re not interested, I understand completely. Here are some thoughts:
A) I’m a sucker for cartoon-y artwork. So even though it might make the game “less hardcore” (what does that even mean?) it is fun and I enjoy it. I will also say, all of the armor looked good! How often does that happen? I hate having to pick between form and functionality in games like Mass Effect, where great armor looks disgusting. Thanks, Torchlight artists. You done good.
B) If you haven’t played this game yet, be sure to carefully read and believe the descriptors for the difficulty settings. Not only did I not read them carefully but when I selected a difficulty, I kind of did see the descriptors telling me that “Normal” was for new adventure game players, and I didn’t believe it. Subsequently I died about a handful of times throughout the whole game. I’m not sure how many hours it took me, I didn’t do much side-questing, and I do love to dominate in wicked sweet equipment, but come on . . . I gotta die a little! That makes it more interesting! Anyway, bottom line: not really a Runic Games problem, more of a reading comprehension and dumb person problem. Don’t play on normal unless you’re a child.
C) The game play and the story were . . . straight forward and uninspiring. But tried and true, I suppose, and therefore had some base appeal. Don’t get me wrong, I had a good time, but it felt tedious at times, simply clicking and walloping baddies and doing nothing else. There was no real “world” exploration, just dungeon exploration, which doesn’t hack it for me. I don’t love open worlds like the Elder Scrolls series because I get overwhelmed, but I want a bit more than just going through dungeon level after dungeon level, which is all you do in Torchlight. To the game’s credit, the dungeons do not have the same layout every time, but . . . same feel; got bored.
At the end of the day, I had a good time playing it, for sure. I bought it awhile back as a bundle: pre-order Torchlight 2, get Torchlight 1, so I’ll be playing 2 . . . soon. I think I need a break from this point-and-click adventure genre after pushing through Torchlight 1 this week, but the series overall does good things, even if the things they do are unoriginal.
HA. I made a deliberate effort to not mention Diablo even once in this post. Mission accomplished! That sentence doesn’t count. Why does it matter at all? I guess it doesn’t, but I think it’d be nice if a game could just stand on its own for once, instead of always being second chair to a predecessor.
Noob Alert! I originally said I watched Team Digitas as one of the first teams to play in the LoL championship. That should read Team Dignitas. My mistake, and if you like LoL and haven’t given up on me yet, sorry for the typo.
1) On Thursday night we pulled into Seattle to meet up with my friends’ Minecraft server buddies for dinner. They turned out to be a twenty-five year old woman who was the community manager and a man in his late thirties with his nine year old son. All three were so incredibly nice and so passionate about Minecraft that even though I didn’t really know what was going on (I have still never played Minecraft, and I know that makes me a bad person), I was grinning like a kid as the table bantered about Minecraft then Magic then tabletop games. After the meal, the father invited us all to play Risk in the lobby of his hotel with other people. After wandering the convention center for awhile to just check everything out before the influx of people the next morning, we wandered into one of the hotel lobbies and I saw every table and chair occupied by fellow gamers playing all kinds of board games and card games. I started smiling like a kid and when I tried to explain it later to family and friends, I got choked up. People all together for the same purpose doing the same thing. Incredible.
It’s worth noting that while wandering around the convention center Thursday night, I saw a troupe of Mass Effect cosplayers who were perfect. In particular there was a guy dressed in the best geth suit I’ve ever seen. He proceeded to moonwalk in his suit as people were taking pictures of him and then I knew: my life was complete.
2) We got up early to get in line by eight for getting into the exhibition hall as soon as the doors opened at ten. After seeing some amazing cosplay that kept a smile on my face for two hours, the doors officially opened and I wandered the floor in a crowd of people, playing a few games (Hitman: Absolution, Sleeping Dogs) here and there, but mainly feeling a little overwhelmed, and not wanting to wait in line for any demos. Eventually I wound up on the sixth floor and watching the North American regionals for League of Legends. I’ve played the game a few times, I’m really bad at it, and I know there is strategy but I’m not sure what it is. However, I knew the tournament was a huge deal this weekend so I wanted to at least see a little bit of it. And as the teams started the game and Team Dynamic drew first blood and Team Dignitas got revenge a few minutes later, I felt my involvement and excitement rising. Despite not knowing how these players were great I could tell they were great, and the energy in the room was almost palpable. That was the moment I realized PAX was so much bigger than I fathomed initially and I was a part of it and my life is awesome because of that.
3) I was waiting in line for the Destructoid panel as a Fallout cosplaying couple behind me were talking to a few people behind them. I then heard the boyfriend say that his girlfriend got some great swag earlier that morning, and the girlfriend promptly burst into tears. Unable to abate my curiosity, I turned around to see her show off a sparkling (and quite massive) engagement ring to the interested parties. My joy for them (and I’m sure the joy of everyone else in the line) was overwhelming and it struck me how gamer or non-gamer, we’re all so much the same. Beautiful things happen at PAX.
4) There are a few remote locations for panels and events outside of the convention center itself, within a few blocks of it to the north and west. As I walked from one hotel meeting room to another for the next writing panel I was attending, I realized the sun was shining and I was walking around sans jacket. I looked up in the cloudless sky and noted its absolutely perfect shade of cerulean blue. I was at a gaming convention where beautiful things happened like moon walking geth, cosplay marriage proposals, getting career advice from Chris Kohler of Wired, telling Evan Lahti of PCGamer.com that I would send him writing samples, and too many other great things to mention. The location was also beautiful. It has been an unbeatable weekend.
So far I’ve received incredible writing and career advice, I’ve laughed a lot, I’ve played some games (not nearly enough), I bought Containment for $3, and I’ve made a long list of blog topics that I should be posting faster than I’ll be able to. My brain and notebook are at full capacity with more topics I want to write about and more topics I want to get back to the convention center to cover as quickly as possible tomorrow morning for the final day of the expo. PAX has been phenomenal, more posts are coming, and thanks for sticking around.
The end truly came. I played the Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut DLC last night, and watched all the possible endings. Before starting the final mission, I thought about the finality of what I was about to do. I love the Mass Effect series so, so much, and now it was about to be completely and finally done. I mean, I suppose there could be another spin-off game or something, but I think it would be cheap of Bioware to do that. I hope they’re smart enough not to. Despite what people think of them now, after the ME3 ending fiasco, I think they have enough integrity to walk away gracefully from the series.
I’m torn how to approach this post because I have a lot bouncing around my mindgrapes about the original Mass Effect 3 endings, the game as a whole, the series, and the DLC. Anyway, as I work my way through this: spoilers to come. Feel free to stop reading if you haven’t finished the game or the DLC yet, and want to experience it on your own.
I’ll start at the beginning of the turmoil: the original Mass Effect 3 endings. When I finished the first ending (I believe I chose to destroy the reapers [i.e. the “renegade” red option]) I sat there in stunned disbelief. Did I really just hear three options that all had essentially the same consequences? As I played through the next two endings, my disgust grew. All three endings were next to identical, with a few minor animation differences, and a big ball of light changing from blue, to red, to green, depending on your choice. I could probably have swallowed the actual conversation from the spirit child douche, and his patchy explanations, but I couldn’t take that Bioware had so lazily slapped together some ending sequences.
To be completely honest, I was disappointed, but not mortified like so many other Mass Effect series lovers. I thought “Hm, this is a poor ending, but whatever.” What bothers me more about the ending as a whole are the inconsistencies. How is your crew on the Normandy when they were all making the frakking assault on Earth with you? How the HELL is Anderson on the Citadel with you? “Oh, I was right behind you.” B.S. sir. B. freaking. S. Those are my two biggest gripes, although if really pressed, I could think of some more.
And that’s why this DLC was still disappointing to me. I actually appreciate the gesture from Bioware, to try to appease fans at all. And some of the extra explanation from the spirit child devil was helpful, but overall the DLC was still kind of a patch job which took away from its value. Like why did we need a cut scene of Admiral Hackett recognizing that Shepard made it into the Citadel? And back to one of my biggest gripes, why couldn’t he tell two people went through the beam!? Perhaps to prove that it wasn’t a dream, like the indoctrination theorists were claiming.
My first wish would’ve been for Bioware to confirm the indoctrination theory, just for those fans that put so much thought and time into it, despite the flaws in the theory. My second wish would’ve been for the company to just put out a Q&A of the leader writer and designer, or whoever else was responsible for the holes in the plot and the inconsistencies, to address questions from fans. They said they were surprised by the fan outrage, which to me implies that they thought their ending was perfectly reasonable. Explain to me how it was; defend your case. Maybe you’ll convince me.
At the end of the day, it felt as if Bioware was handing out buckets to scoop water out of the bottom of the boat, instead of patching holes. But that might be the best we could hope for, without too much overhaul that would’ve proven cost prohibitive for the company. You know what, though? Despite all of my gripes and grievances, I started my second run through of the game as soon as I finished the first. I plan on playing tonight, even though I finished all the DLC endings last night.
The real bottom line is this: I love this game. I love the gameplay mechanics, I love the voice acting, I love the dialogue, I love all the characters, I love the terrible decisions you have to make, I love that even on my third run through, I get choked up when Thessia falls to the Reapers. I still get choked up when Mordin sacrifices himself to cure the genophage. And I still cheer like a kid when I run and butt slide over a box while I’m running to and from cover (because seriously, it’s so bad-a). I love modding the weapons and I love getting new powers with every run through. I love the cut scenes, like watching the mother of all thresher maws, Kalros, choking out that Reaper on Tuchanka like a boss.
Mass Effect 2 was where I started this series, after a co-worker highly recommended it to me. It was the first series I started on my brand new Xbox, the first system I had purchased without my brother, and the first series I had tried without him. Don’t get me wrong, I wish he played so we could dominate multiplayer and we could have more immersive discussions about the series (although he patiently hears all my ramblings about it without playing it), but for the first time, I have a little bit of ownership with Mass Effect, and that makes it a pretty special series to me.
I heard one fan say she could never play Mass Effect ever again because the endings had soured her opinion much. I don’t think an ending of a series as epic as Mass Effect could ever erase all the wonderful moments from all three games that have created such an immersive and beautiful universe to explore and save, again and again and again.