The return of the old-school RPG

Oh hey look — Brendan’s talking about RPG’s again. I can’t help it, there’s just too much to be excited about these day. Thanks to things like free 2 play, indie development, and Kickstarter, the gaming industry has seen an influx of fresh, creative minds as well as the return of legendary game creators, able to finally create the worlds they’ve been wanting to for years, but that have been pushed aside in favor of the cash-cow, AAA first person shooters and action games we’ve been buried under for the past couple console generations.

Look I know: RPG’s have been around for ages and have evolved with the times to remain relevant while still providing the types of experiences people have come to expect from the genre…

…err, sort of. I’m a huge fan of the Mass Effect series — arguably the biggest RPG franchise of the current console generation — but it’s not really an RPG. It’s a great, great series — truly — but compared to even some of its contemporaries it’s not much of an RPG. It’s also not the only series shifting away from role playing game’s origins.

While I’m not a big fan of JRPG’s, I can’t deny that the Final Fantasy XIII series (that sounds weird) has been a major departure not only from the roots of past FF games, but from JRPGs in general. And I recently vented my frustration with Blizzard, but it’s worth noting that Diablo III, despite remaining true to much of what’s great about the Diablo series, is missing that “RPG” quality. When I say “RPG’s are coming back,” I mean the old-school, hardcore RPG’s of yore.

Ishar 3

To be fair, there’s still a fair amount of Old-School RPG DNA in some of the biggest games today. Besides the few games still adhering to the old school formulas (Dungeons of Dredmor, The Dark Spire, Etrian Odyssey series), there are several titles that appeal to those who were gaming in the 80’s/90’s, or appreciate their legacy. The Witcher 2 is a great example of a game that balances the cinematic, character-based story of games like Mass Effect, with deep combat, skill systems, and character building of true old-school RPGs; Bethesda’s games offer massive worlds filled with quests, dungeons, and NPCs to create your own story — not to mention games like Fallout 3 and Skyrim prove you can evolve character building without sacrificing depth. And, of course, it wouldn’t be an article about RPGs if I didn’t mention Dark Souls, and it’s predecessor Demon’s Souls: truly hardcore RPGs of the modern era.

But when it comes to real old-school RPGs utilizing the same design of classic titles like Wizardry and Ultima, the industry has been in a bit of a drought. There’s always been a small, cult following around a few underground niche titles, but now there are a few projects brewing that will hopefully usher in a new surge of old-school RPGs.

Legend of Grimrock
Developer: Almost Human
Released: April 11, 2012
Website

We reviewed this game back when it was released earlier this year. It remains one of my favorite indie games of the year. Despite middling reviews from some critics, for many gamers like myself Legend of Grimrock was a great throwback to the dungeon crawlers of the 19980’s/90’s, tweaked and modernized for more accessibility. More importantly, it set the ground work for future sequels, and opened the door for new games in the genre to flourish.

Shaker
Developer: Loot Drop
Estimated Release: January 2014
Kickstarter Page

Being developed by Tom Hall (co-founder of id Software), and Brendan Brathwaite (Wizardry, Train, Dungeons & Dragons), Shaker is currently being funded on Kickstarter. The duo started the studio Loot Drop Games, and together with a highly qualified team, are looking to create a game in the same vein as the classic CRPGs of yore a la Wizardry, Lands of Lore, Ishar, etc.. Personally speaking, this is probably one of the few currently funding Kickstarter projects I’m really, really excited about. Check out their Kickstarter page and please back it! We need more games like this.

Project Eternity
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Estimated Release Date: April 2014
Website

Obsidian games are a studio well known to any RPG fan. Recently, the company was able to fully fund a brand new party-based RPG in the vein of Icewind Dale and Baldur’s Gate. This is another project I’m super excited for, and I’m really happy to see that they exceeded their goal and will be making this game. There is quite an impressive pedigree here, and some of the ideas being talked about remind me a lot of Planescape: Torment, one of my personal favorite games of all time. The success of this project gives me high hopes for the future of the genre.

Wasteland 2
Developer: InXile Entertainment

Estimated Release Date: Oct. 2013
Website

Before there was Fallout, there was Wasteland. In the wake of the massive success of Tim Schafer’s Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter, Brian Fargo decided to reboot his post-apocalyptic RPG Wasteland, and launched the Wasteland 2 Kickstarter. The project has been fully funded, and work is underway. Check out the video above for a small glimpse of what we can expect from this project. I never got a chance to play the original Wasteland, but as a huge fan of Fallout and Fallout 2 (games directly inspired by Wasteland) the footage has me jonesin for some top-down, post-apocalyptic roleplaying insanity.

Ultima Forever
Developer: Bioware,
Estimated Release Date: Winter 2012
Website

Speaking of well known developers, Bioware is resurrecting one of the oldest and most influencial Role Playing series with Ultima Forever. Essentially a remake of Ultima IV, this new title is going to be entirely free to play (or, as Bioware calls it “Play4Free”) and will be playable on PC, as well as iPad. According to Bioware, the game will feature many of the old mechanics of the Ultima series, while combat will be positional and action-oriented, comparing it to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Definitely on my list of need-to-play games —  I mean c’mon, free Ultima!

That list almost sounds too good to be true. So many great names and developers are behind these projects, and my hopes are high. And these are just classic RPG’s; we’re also seeing the return of point and click adventure games (thanks to Tim Schaefer and Double Fine’s highly successful Kickstarter campaign), mech games (MechWarrior Online, Hawken), turn-based strategy (The Banner Saga, XCOM: Enemy Unknown), and of course Chris Robert’s return to gaming and the long-forgotten space-combat sim with Squardron 42. It’s almost too much to handle! With such bright prospects like these, it’s hard to argue we’re not in a new golden-age of videogames. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a basement to return to.

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Shootin’ the Shit — October 12, 2012

Yuuuuuup! I’m doin’ this! I got some good feedback on the first entry, and had a lot of fun putting it together, so I think I’ll make this a regular thing for the foreseeable future.

You may have noticed that the content was skewed heavily towards the latter half of the week and there was sadly no new episode of The Low Down, but hey, it was better than nothing. We’ve pretty much worked out the major kinks we’ve be hit with in the past couple weeks, so at the very least you’ll be getting plenty more content from myself here on out.

ANYWAY! Here’s what matter to me on the internet this week:

Stuff I said

Sadly, I’ve found myself parted from my beloved Dark Souls for a few days. To fill the massive void, I did a double review of a couple hardcore dungeon crawler RPGs, The Dark Spire, and Etrian Odyssey II.  

After years of devotion, I think I’m done with Blizzard’s games now…

You know what sucks? Videogame graphics.

Stuff I read

Proving once again to be one of my favorite voices at my personal favorite gaming site, Giant Bomb’s Patrick Klepick interviews the modders who took Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition from busted PC port to fully-featured masterpiece.

Speaking of the hey-day of Blizzard, apparently there was almost a Diablo prequel on the Gameboy.

In the biggest bummer of the week, scientists confirm they cannot currently clone dinosaurs

…but in order to make up for it, are now performing experiments to find out if we are, in fact, in The Matrix!

Stuff I watched

The Mega64 guys do it again, this time providing October scares with their Alan Wake video:

While he may no longer be developing games at Epic, Cliffy B’s still got his finger on the pulse of game development, Tweeting out this awesome video of a first person shooter using all physics-based movement — no animations at all. Very impressive, and shows off where games may be headed:

Awesome games that came out this week:

Three really awesome games came out this week. I hope to get some hands-on time with each in the future:

Dishonored — an open-ended stealth FPS; Theif, Half Life 2, and Bioshock blended into one sick Bethesda game.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown – a reboot of sorts of the classic turn-based strategy game. Enemy Unknown keeps with tradition in that it’s hard as hell.

Retro City Rampage – an indie game modeled after the early Grand Theft Autos and bursting at the seams with retro-gaming references.

Misc.

I reviewed Enslaved’s new record, RIITIIR for Beard Rock. At this point, it’s the best album I’ve heard all year.

Finally, a few quick notes: first and foremost, there WILL be a new episode of The Low Down next week, so keep an eye out for that. In addition, as I mentioned on monday, we will be recording a new episode of The Power Cast as well! Next week is shaping up to be pretty crazy.

That’s it for this week. We’ll be back on Monday to give you plenty of stuff to waste your time on. I’m out!

I think I’m done with Blizzard.

Growing up as a PC gamer, there was always one developer you could count on for absolutely amazing games: Blizzard Entertainment. Starting out with 2D sidescrollers like Lost Vikings and Blackthorne on the SNES, the studio unleashed their groundbreaking hit in 1994, Warcraft: Orcs and Humans. Throughout the remainder of the ’90’s they released classic after classic: Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness, Diablo, Starcraft, and the expansions Warcraft II: Beyond the Dark Portal and Starcraft: Broodwar, and in the early 00’s Diablo II, Warcraft III, and their expansions.

Then, finally, in 2004, Blizzard unveiled what is arguably the most successful game ever made, the MMORPG landmark, World of Warcraft. Now, 8 years and a few million subscribers later, Blizzard has cemented itself as one of the greatest game developers of all time thanks to WoW’s success.

And I’m totally done playing their games.

“Why?” you may ask. Well, in order to explain myself, let’s take this one franchise at a time.

Starcraft

Admittedly the one of three major Blizzard series I played the least, but still and extremely important series, both to myself and to PC gaming as a whole. The original Starcraft is widely regarded as one of the best-balanced games ever. While the single player campaign was a compelling sci-fi story about humanity struggling against and two hostile alien races, it was the multiplayer where the game’s brilliance shone. It was so well made in fact, that in South Korea it was (and probably still is) the most played game in the country, and probably the widest spread activity amongst the country’s youth.

But for me, it never really stuck. I beat the campaigns, played a some multiplayer, but I never really got into it. Instead, I found my home with another Blizzard franchise, but more on that in a bit.

In my opinion, Starcraft II is probably the only modern Blizzard game deserving of anyone’s time. There’s a big expansion on the way (practically another game entirely) which is sure to reignite interest in the game. But I’m going to skip it, not because of the quality of the game, but because as I said, Starcraft never really stuck with me. I have Warhammer 40k for that instead.

Warcraft

I loved the Warcraft series. To this day, I still consider it the best RTS franchise, and hold up Warcraft 3 as one of my favorite games of all time. Unlike Starcraft, I really got into the multiplayer of Warcraft, and not just the matchmaking, but the custom games especially. This is where games like League of Legends and DotA 2 were born, in the custom maps of WC3. It’s also where I first entered the land of map creation and modding. I have fond memories of spending hours playing online matches, creating custom maps and game types, and even my own campaigns. Back when I was a youngling in private school, I and a buddy of mine would install WC3 on the school computers, getting in a game or two between rounds of Unreal Tournament 2003.  But it wasn’t just the multiplayer, it was the story of Warcraft 3 that really hooked me.

The fantasy tale Warcraft wove was very compelling to me, and the unique take on classic fantasy races like Orcs and Elves gave an identity to the world of Azeroth that few fantasy settings ever achieve.

So, when Blizzard announced they were making an MMORPG set in this amazing universe, I was ecstatic. After a few years of waiting, my younger brother and I finally got our hands on World of Warcraft one snowy Christmas morning. For the next few months, we ground away at our characters, trying to ascend to the mystical level 60, join guilds, and start raids. I never made it to level 60. Ever. As my brother was sucked deeper and deeper into the land of Azeroth, I found myself less and less interested. The first expansion the Burning Crusade brought me back to the fold, but after I hit a wall too steep to grind, I never went back.

All that time, what I really wanted was a Warcraft 4. But as the stories of Thrall, Arthas, and Illadan were furthered and transformed (and, frankly, ruined) in the rather meaningless narrative of the MMO, my hopes were dashed and my interest extinguished. I don’t think we’ll ever see a Warcraft 4, and that’s fine by me, because if their recent track record is any indication, I probably wouldn’t care for it much anyway. Which brings me to the big one…

Diablo 

If you had asked me in between 2002 and 2004 what my favorite game was, I would have answered with a resounding and unquestioned “Diablo II.”

I don’t know why. I was not a huge fan of the original, though I did certainly enjoy it. But something about Diablo II, whether it was the loot, the art, the music, the community — or perhaps all of combined — whatever it was, it resonated with me in a way that not many games had done before. In fact, up until then, it was maybe the n64 Zeldas, Warcraft, and maybe a few of the classic Mario and Rayman games that really spoke to me in that way.

I spent a lot of time with Diablo II. The randomly generated maps; mounds of loot and gold; dark storyline… it’s all still so fresh in my mind.

So after years of waiting, being let down by WoW, and hearing about a Starcraft sequel, when Diablo III was finally announced, I might as well had done back flips out of my chair. Finally, a return to the world of Diablo! As details began to pour out, I got more excited. Then less excited. The more. Then Less. It went like this right up until the last few months before the open beta. I resigned myself to Blizzard’s will, deciding to give them the benefit of the doubt and keep my faith in what was sure to be a faithful sequel to one of my most beloved games.

And it was!

Diablo III fixed and changed so much about what was wrong with Diablo II (even stuff I didn’t know was wrong), while still keeping the spirit of the series intact and sticking to the fundamental design principles fans expected. Blizzard also redesigned Battle.net, so that online play was smoother and playing with your friends was as simple as clicking a single button.

Oh and they made the story a bigger part, but don’t worry, even though it was horrible, it didn’t matter much. Oh, and they borrowed a lot from WoW’s aesthetic. Oh, and the loot has been scaled back so players will utilize crafting and the auction house instead. Oh, and character building has been altered so that, despite vastly improving the skill system, your character’s stats were customized for you. OH! and now, all that random map generation that kept the previous games fresh and new, that’s all been gutted and is practically non existent.

After getting about halfway through the second difficulty, Nightmare, I stopped playing, dead cold. My first play through was great! But as I joined more online games and found myself replaying the exact same parts of the game, over and over again, with little to no change in the set of the environments, I lost interest almost immediately.

Now, I know they’re changing and adding a lot of new features, many of which address some of the issues I have with Diablo III. But that just makes me wonder “Why didn’t you just delay the game until it was complete?” I mean, they are BLIZZARD after all, the kings of “it’s done when its done” alongside Valve.

It makes little difference. I’m sure I’ll hop back in one day. Well, actually, no I’m not. I might, but at this point I have no desire to.

An alleged screenshot of Blizzard’s next project.

There was a time, years ago, when I had every Blizzard game installed on my PC. I’d hop between Warcraft III, Diablo II, and Broodwar on a whim. I thought of Blizzard’s games as masterpieces and regarded Blizz as the top game developer around. But now, with so many of the designers and creators that made those games possible having moved on to new studios and projects years ago, the company that once was no longer remains. Blizzard have stated publicly on several occasions that after the next expansions for Diablo III, Starcraft II, and Wow are completed, they plan on moving to new IPs, including a new MMO that I’m sure will turn the genre on it’s ear, so maybe we’ll see something new that will make me a believer again. But I doubt it.

It’s sad, but that’s the way life works. In their place, numerous AAA and indie developers alike have come in to offer the same type of top-shelf PC gaming I desire. But there will always be a part of me the pines for the glory days of Blizzard Entertainment.

The Dark Spire versus Etrian Odyssey II: Hardcore RPG face-off

Blah blah blah Skyrim. Blah blah blah Dark SoulsBlah blah blah Diablo. Blah blah blah Mass Effect.

We’ve probably beaten  it into your heads by now, but here at Power Cords, we like RPGs. Personally speaking I love RPGs; but unlike many gamers (and even some of the writers here at Power Cords), I prefer a specific type of experience from my RPGs. While some pine for loot and others eat up story lines and dialogue, I prefer immersion and exploration.

There are different definitions of exploration. For example, the fantasy setting of The Elder Scrolls series offer massive lands to traverse and are the perfect settings for exploration; while games like Dark Souls, Legend of Grimrock, and Dungeons of Dredmor allow players to explore and experiment with the game mechanics through trial and error (and a fair bit of luck). I love that sort of hands-off design that encourages the player to try new things — even if the ultimately end in failure. as I mentioned earlier this week, I’m still playing Dark Souls for that very reason. Unfortunately, I’ve found myself away from my Xbox — and therefore Dark Souls — this weekend. Not to be melodramatic, but in an effort to stave off the bumming, I took a look at two relatively unknown RPGs for the Nintendo DS with similar design concepts and old-school sensibilities: The Dark Spire and Etrian Odyssey II. 

The Dark Spire

Developed by Success and published by Atlus, The Dark Spire is a dark, dreadfully difficult hardcore dungeon crawler that is essentially a throwback to the CRPGs of yore like Wizardry and A Bard’s Tale. The basic scenario for The Dark Spire revolves around a single, massive tower with several floors to explore. Hidden atop the tower is a sorcerer who has stolen a necklace from the royal family. You create a party of adventurers to scale the tower, defeat the sorcerer, and return the necklace. That’s it.  Some quests and dialogue flesh out the background and setting a bit more, but that’s about it. The story doesn’t get any deeper than that; climbing the tower and scouring each of its floors is a story in itself, and is far more compelling than any hackneyed fantasy tale would be.

I haven’t had too much time with the game yet, but so far I like what I’ve seen. The art is wonderful — it has a dark, comic-book-ish feel (large hand drawn “BOOM’s” will flash across the screen when a character scores a critical hit). Despite having essentially zero animation, the art still manages to draw you in and create a strong sense of place. The music is also great, often times sounding like Castlevania crossed with the early Elder Scrolls games. But the art is just the surface of the extremely deep game.

In The Dark Spire, you control a 4-man party, exploring grid-based dungeons in first person, a la Legends of Grimrock. Character stats are rolled randomly in the creation process, making each one you create unique from the rest. In terms of gameplay, very little is explained to the player. New items do little to explain how they will affect your characters’ stats, instead requiring trial and error to find out what work best. Certain game mechanics, such as character alignment, praying, quests, or learning new spells, exist without tutorial or explanation. There seems to be quite a bit here that could easily be overlooked if you jump in impatiently; try to mash the A button to get through the random battles, and you’ll quickly find yourself at the game over screen. I’ve even read there are hidden classes that can be unlocked through a class combination system and unlockable races. How do I go about discovering this stuff? No clue, but I look forward to delving into this game to find just how deep these mechanics go.

Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard

Etrian Odyssey is another Atlus joint, this time being both developed and published by the Japanese company (it’s worth noting that Atlus also published Demon’s Souls, of which Dark Souls is the spiritual sequel). EO II is very similar to The Dark Spire: first person dungeon crawling, random monster encounters, minimal story, and interfacing with towns mainly through menu navigation. However, EO II features a few gameplay hooks that set it apart. First is the map system. Instead of slowly uncovering a map as you explore, your tasked with drawing and completing your own via the stylus screen on the DS. This adds another layer of depth to exploration, but also another way for you to completely screw yourself over; draw an incorrect map, and you may jeopardize the success of your quest.

The second change is the class/guild system. In Etrian Odyssey II, the world of Lagaard is filled with guilds of adventurers attempting to uncover ancient secrets about their world. At the outset of your adventure, you create your own guild. You can then fill out your ranks with up to 30 characters. While the stat rolling isn’t random like in The Dark Spire, the number of classes available to you is far greater, each one filling slightly different rolls than the others. You may then select up to 5 of your guild members to join your party and enter the labyrinthine forests of the Yggdrasil tree.

Equipment and stats are more transparent in EO II than The Dark Spire, but the added depth of the class system means you must experiment with class synergy to find effective formations, provide both deeply challenging yet highly rewarding gameplay.

I also really like the art design of the Etrian Odyssey games. It’s almost like an lighter, anime-inspired Dark Souls, and very reminiscent of the Disgaea series. The character portraits and art design makes EO II a very pretty game, despite the majority of the game being handled through static 2D sprites and menus.

Closing thoughts

Both games are excellent examples of hardcore dungeon crawling. Their depth and difficulty scratch the Dark Souls itch — well, as closely they can, at least. I enjoy and appreciate their design philosophies, choosing to let the player explore the game mechanics and dungeons to find their own paths and strategies instead of hand-holding or restricting experimentation. While that can lead to failure and frustration, it also leads to high levels of reward and progression. I haven’t had enough time with the games to say which I prefer over the other but at this point, despite having seemingly more aspects of the gameplay unexplained and hidden initially, I’ve found The Dark Spire more conducive to pick up and play, simply due to the meticulous map drawing of Etrian Odyssey II being a hassle at times (it doesn’t help I’m not playing the games on their original platform *ehem*). That being said, I do find Etrian Odyssey’s class mechanics and presentations slightly more appealing.

The Dark Spire

Despite being very similar in gameplay and design, Etrian Odyseey II and The Dark Spire offer different dungeon crawling experiences: one is a mythical adventure inspired by manga and anime; the other is a dark medieval quest. They’re hard games that require patience, planning, and dedication, but the payoff is immense. If you’re in the market for a heavy duty RPG experience, then both of these games are perfect for you. Personally, I’d recommend both equally; picking one or the other essentially just comes down to aesthetic taste. But hey, why not pick up both? It’s always good to have options. And kudos for Atlus for bringing these and many more excellent RPGs to the states.

Scores

The Dark Spire: 4/5

Etrian Odyssey: Heroes of Lagaard: 4/5

Brendan’s Top 10 Best Videogame Soundtracks

My two favorite forms of media entertainment are videogames and music. Obviously, I enjoy to occasional TV show or movie, listen to quite a few podcasts, and I actually read quite a bit as well. But when push comes to shove, if I’ve got time to space I’d almost always prefer spending with a controller in my hand or headphones over my ears. Luckily enough, videogames are a pretty great source of good music. And to be clear, I don’t mean themes — there are tons of great videogame themes The Elder Scrolls, Final Fantasy, Halo, Uncharted, etc. I mean full on soundtracks. Granted, as games try harder and harder to be movies, we’re left with far less memorable, overly “epic” orchestrated scores that begin to blend together. But there are still some that manage to be impactful and memorable, not to mention the myriad of retro games whose 8- and 16-bit soundtracks went on to inspire an entire genre of music.. Anyway, enough blathering — here are my 10 favorite videogame soundtracks.

10. Brutal Legend

Is it unfair of me to include this game? Probably, but I’m doing it anyway because I love metal. Brutal Legend is a metal-as-fuck game about metal that uses over 100 awesome metal songs in some of the most metal ways ever. The end.

Not only that, but there was a bunch of original music composed for the game as well.

9. Rayman: Origins

Rayman is near and dear to me. While others were picking mushrooms some fat plumber in a pedo stache and suspenders, I was off exploring the magical dreamland of Rayman. The music in the series has always been important. Often, entire sections of the games would be centered around musical notes and timing. But no matter if the music was integral to the gameplay, or just background to it, the dream-like world of Rayman was brought to life by its music. Rayman: Origins is by far my favorite game in the series, and it also features without a doubt the series’ best music.

8. Castlevania 2

Halloween is my favorite Holiday. Many of my favorite death metal and doom metal bands are that way because they sound like Halloween. Every time I pop in a band like Hooded Menace or Graveyard, I feel like it’s Halloween. Castlevania 2 sounds like Halloween. It’s a bit dark, slightly creepy due to minor chord melodies (that are incredibly catchy). Castlevania 2 has probably my favorite NES soundtrack, and is the perfect example of 8-Bit chiptunes music.

7. Metal gear solid 3

Big Boss makes Chuck Norris look like a chump, and James Bond like a pansey. Hideo Kojima’s complex commentary on the future of war began with electro-symphonic rock, but when the series took us back in time, to delve into the inanity and insanity of the Cold War, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater took a page from 007, switching things up with funky, 60-era spy flick grooves, complete with it’s very own “Bond Song.” It’s one of my favorite theme songs to any piece of media ever.

6. Metroid Prime

Metroid always had spacey, strange sci-fi songs that offered an ominous sense of being alone on an alien planet. But Metroid Prime added another element: wonder. The beauty and detail of Tallon IV created a strong sense of place. It was lived in, there was history in every crevice and brick. Metroid Prime certainly made you feel alone, and the soundtrack is appropriately alien and sci-fi, but the wonder you feel when entering Chozo Ruins or Phendrana Drifts for the first time compel you to explore this planet in a way few other settings do, and a large part of that is due to the wonderful soundtrack, punctuating every new secret and discovery.

5. Dark Souls

For the most part, Dark Souls is silent. Often, the only soundtrack to your demise is the ambiance of you environment, and the menacing sounds of the enemies that hunt you. When music does kick in, it is usually understated, dark, melancholic — like the game itself. But when you find yourself face-to-face with the morbid and terrifying bosses of the game, the ordeals are scored by massive sections of brass horns and woodwinds, gothic choirs, piercing string instruments, and pummeling drums. Despite the overwhelming obstacles and depressing atmosphere, Dark Souls provides some of the strongest feelings of reward and accomplishment of any game, and the soundtrack underscores that struggle perfectly.

4. Shadow of the Colossus

Much like Dark Souls, Shadow of the Colossus is a quiet and understated game, for the most part. Traversing this empty land is a lonely and bleak affair; but felling the 16 hulking, majestic beasts that roam the land is daunting and terrifying. Each boss fight  is (again, much like Dark Souls) scored by songs as epic and awe-inspiring as the beasts themselves. And like Dark Souls, there is a sense of accomplishment with each victory. But unlike Dark Souls, you don’t feel like a hero — you feel like a monster. As you watch these beings die, you feel as if you’ve betrayed them of something for more important than just their life. And every note drives the tendrils of guilt deeper into you.

3. The Legend of Zelda (series)

I don’t have to say much here. There’s probably only one other series with as well know and iconic music in the world of videogames (and I didn’t even mention it on this list. GASP!). The Legend of Zelda is the music of my childhood; It’s music I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

2. Doom

C’mon.

1. Mass Effect

Mass Effect’s music is astounding. The synthetic elements of the songs meld into the organic sounds of tangible instruments. This creates and entirely unique sound — you know when you’re listening to a Mass Effect song. But it’s not just the fact that the songs are good, or memorable, or that they give the universe an identity, but that they make you feel something. The mysterious galaxy map song fills you with curiosity and wonder at the immensity of space; Mass Effect 3’s theme weighs down on you as you’re face with an inescapable fate; and the theme for Mass Effect 2’s Suicide Mission may be the most inspiring piece of music I’ve ever heard. Not matter what the final game did or did not do for you is irrelevant because no matter what, when the final moment comes you feel something.

Runner Ups:

Red Dead Redemption

Pokemon

Diablo series

Final Fantasy XII

The Elder Scrolls series

What are you favorite videogame soundtracks? Think I’m insane for including/forgetting something? Sound off in the comments! Also, suggest some other list ideas to me. I realize that they’ve been mostly broad topics, and thus result in a lot of cross over and feature similar games on each, and to be honest I’m running out of things to say about a lot of these games/series, but I still love doing lists. So if there’s a topic or idea you’ve got for a list, let me know in the comments as well, or email us at askpowercords@gmail.com!

Want more video game music? be sure to check out the latest episode of the Power Cast!

Diablo III: Still Hacking and Looting, 2 Months in.

Diablo 3 was the fastest selling game of all time and it has been 2 months since it was released. I have logged in around 150 hours of play time. That’s not as much as some people have, but it is a good chunk of time. I have had a first-hand experience at a handful of good things and a plethora of bad things. This includes a few things such as; glitches, gear and the auction house, and lastly repetitiveness of the end game.

The day the game was released there were plenty of glitches that were game breaking. The first one that comes to mind is trading your equip shield with your Templars equipped shield, this would crash your game and not allow you to do anything that was one of the worst. Another glitch not as bad as the first but it would still be extremely difficult to overcome is in Act 4 if you skipped the cinematic leading into the Izual fight there was a chance to spawn 2 Izuals making the fight a lot harder than intended. I read that on multiple occasions that there would be an elite monster that would be un-killable. Due to its randomly chosen abilities it would be able to take so much damage and keep healing so that you couldn’t kill it. That one is a little easier to fix just leave and make a new game or simply run past him. There were also some glitches that weren’t harmful like during the boss fight Zultan Kulle you were able to trap him on one side of where the bridge would spawn and you could make it to the other side and he would be trapped there making it easy for you to use your range skills to kill him. The last glitch I wanted to mention in this article was my personal favorite; it was the wizards healing hydra glitch. Now I never got a chance to abuse this glitch but when I found out about it I was extremely bummed that they removed it because in all technicality the way the skills were worded it wasn’t a “glitch”. It worked by having a high amount of “life on kill” and just spamming your hydra. The game recognized that when you spawned a new hydra it “killed” the old hydra which was 3 individual hydra heads therefore healing you for 3 times the amount of your “life on kill” (These are all the glitches I am going to cover in this article but if you want more let me know down below in the comments.)

Now to touch a bit on gear drops, and the Auction House (AH). This game is supposed to be about grinding to find the best gear, which it is, but if the best gear in the game has an extremely low drop rate and no one wants to spend days upon days to farm for it they will just farm for gold. Farming for gold allows the players to just buy the best gear in the game from other players off the AH. Now don’t get me wrong I love the AH and what it allows players to do but if you take away the “end game” players are going to get bored and stop playing. I have seen this first hand, during the first few weeks of launch there were tons of players online and when I log in nowadays all I hear in the chat rooms are crickets. Now I can’t say I’m not going to use the AH because I already have and I love it, but I am going to use it with caution. I am not going to buy best in slot items for my characters because it gives me nothing to do if I want to play the game. Unlike Diablo 2 where even if you had the best gear in the game you could always level a new character with a different spec.

If players are even more lazy and don’t want to farm for anything they can just spend their hard earned money in the Real Money Auction House (RMAH). The RMAH is a bit outrages right now with prices for a single items at $250 bucks. I don’t know a single person that would spend $250 on a single virtual item. If you wanted to spend world money to buy in game items than be my guest, but to be completely honest I think that Blizzard should only allow players to spend real world money on various amounts of gold and scrap buying items. Even though you would still technically be able to buy items with the gold you spent real world money on .This will make it so that the AH isn’t spread between 2 different Auction Houses and all the focus would be on just the one AH. This would mean finding a specific item would be much easier and that there would be competition for similar items making it so people would undercut each other and prices wouldn’t be outrageous.

Wizard Tank Spec

I touched just a tad on this but I wanted to say a few more words about Diablo 3’s “End Game”. Diablo as a game has never had a true end game. It was all about farming for hours either to get that perfect item that had perfect maxed stats or grinding to make it to level 99. Well since the level cap is set to 60 that was easy to achieve. The only real end game in D3 is to grind gear. We all knew that going into the game but I think we were also all hoping for it to be more entertaining because I seem to be hearing a lot of complaining about it being repetitive and boring. If you are getting bored with the game start toying with your spec. I am just now looking into playing my wizard as a tank and not a glass cannon and it has sparked a new interest in the game for me, because I have to go through the gear grind again since I need different stats than what my glass cannon spec needs.

I think in my personal opinion even with all the flaws and fixes that are going on I am really enjoying the game how it is. Yes it could be a bit more polished and more of an objective for an end game but I love it just the way it is. I feel like I am playing Diablo.

Diablo 3 review

Amidst all this Diablo news today, it might be worth something to actually review the game, wouldn’t it?

Let’s get the basics out of the way, in case you’re unfamiliar: Diablo 3 is an action-RPG made by Blizzard. The main point of Diablo 3’s gameplay is to continually fight hordes of demons to unlock new abilities, and most of all, discover new items and better gear — all in order to fight stronger monsters, who drop even better equipment. It’s an absurdly simple feedback loop so elegant and fun it becomes the very definition of addiction. But more on that later.

Diablo 3 is set in a hostile, dark fantasy world known as Sanctuary. The world is home to human kind, and some outlandish beast creatures, for the most part. However, in the dimensions of Heaven and Hell, Angels have been locked in an eternal battle with the Prime Evils — the greatest and most powerful demons of Hell. The greatest of these demons is Diablo, Lord of Terror who took the war to the world of humans after being summoned there by a dubious human clergyman. He was defeated in Diablo 2, along with several other Prime Evils, and now his brother Azmodan, Lord of Sin has begun his assualt on sanctuary to become the ruler of Hell and destroy the world…

Look, I’m going to level with you here. The world is gritty and dark, and it lends to some great art direction, but for the most part the lore is a bit goofy. This really comes to a head in the game’s exposition. It’s silly and campy and even though I enjoyed the story in a nutshell, it was simplistic and predictable, and the dialogue was laughable. The most iconic character of the Diablo series, Deackard Cain, has a far diminished role in this installment of the franchise as well. The story also builds as if there will be a massive, climactic ending, but in reality it’s a (gorgeously rendered) CG cutscene with narration over it (sounds a bit like another threequel’s ending…). I get the feeling Blizzard knew that 99.99% of players are in it for the gameplay, and even though Diablo 3 has a more cinematic feel, the story is easily glossed over once you’ve had your fill.

The setting does provide some positives, though. The areas and dungeons are dark and bleak, and even though they’re randomly generated, they feel seamless and organic. There are a few “static” areas, and a lot of the randomization is centered around events more so than layout in some places, but it still all looks phenominal, and the game’s soundtrack — while not quite as good as the previous games’ — fits the mood perfectly.

As I said before, the setting is bleak and the art direction certainly show it. Enemies loose limbs and splatter pints of blood, and even explode their guts everywhere; you descend dark abyssal pits and Gothic architecture; beastly demons mob you, many of which sport gruesome forms and outlandish weapons that look very,very painful. My only complaint here is the world is a bit too well-lit. Diablo 3 no longer uses the light radius mechanic of the past games in the series, instead having light come from candles, lamp posts, fires, and even the sun. But instead of dark shadows, the world is mostly always visible, save for a few areas and dungeons. Still, overall the game looks amazing, and what the setting lacks in story, it makes up for it visually.

Graphically, Diablo 3 is great. It looks fantastic, even at lower settings, the particle effects are dazzling, and the colors and lighting give everything an eerie atmoshphere. The animations are fluid and the physics engine makes breaking down walls and swing an axe at monsters visually gratifying.

But how does swinging that axe actually feel? Damn-near perfect.

Backing up a bit, Diablo 3 features 5 playable classes: Barbarian, Wizard, Witch Doctor, Demon Hunter, and Monk. Each have their own sets of abilities, and each can fill numerous rolls within a group. Each class also has their own resource the build during combat which is then used to unleash powerful attacks and skills.

The Barbarian builds Fury while in combat, and focuses on dealing massive amounts of damage, as well as boosting stats; The Wizard uses mana, which regenerates over time, and is used to perform spells that can damage enemies and cause status ailments; The Witchdoctor uses Mojo to summon beasts and deliver poisons; The Demon Hunter builds both Hatred and Discipline, which are used for offenseive and defensive abilities respectively; and the Monk build Spirit through lightning-fast attacks which damage enemies, and heal others.

Unlike the previous Diablo games, in Diablo 3 you do not gain skill points or utilize skills trees. As you progress with your character, you’ll unlock new skills, and further down the line you unlock runes. Runes offer bonuses and tweaks to different skills, such as increasing a spell’s duration, or boosting the damage dealt. Runes offer a deep level of customization, and because every skill and rune is open once you’ve unlocked it, there are numerous builds possible for each class. I found this change to be extremely beneficial, as I could swap out my skills on the fly, and if need be, completely change my play style just by changing a few abilities and items. It negates the need for rolling new characters to try out new builds, and makes character creation far less rigid.

Another change to character progression is the removal of stat points. Your class’ stats will increase on their own as you level up, so instead of min/maxing your character each level, you increase strength, vitality, dexterity, etc. through gear and gems you equip on your character. It goes hand in hand with the new skill system as a way to make class building and progression more open-ended and fun.

Using those skills is extremely fun, too. You use your left and right mouse buttons to perform attack skills, and numbers 1-4 act as your skills bar. You’ll use all those skills in combat, and figuring out new strategies is almost as exciting as the loot enemies drop. This works well, but you’ll be locked into using only certain skills per slot until you go into the options menu and select “elective mode” which allows for full hoykey customization. In fact, in order to see “advanced” tool tips like what percentage an ability boosts weapon damage, you must also enable advanced tooltips from the options menu. Similarly, detailed character stats are not readily available in the character menu, but in a separate tab. However, once these options are enabled, the issues are alleviated.

On top of abilities, health potions have also been changed. Potions are relegated to a single, dedication spot on your hotbar (defaults to Q) and now have a rather long cool down between uses, and mana potions are gone entirely (mostly because each class uses separate resources). This cooldown time is partially negated though health drops that drop from some enemies, and wells that dot each map. They dropped frequently enough, however there have been several times I’d desperately need to heal and my potion is cooling down, and no health drops were near by.

But even that hasn’t stopped my enjoyment of the game. The random loot the drops off each enemy has me feverishly clicking for more. And even though the always online connection has caused some hitches in player’s ability to access the game at times, the Battle.net features are a boon the the multiplayer. Even when playing alone, I still feel connected to my friends and fellow questers, and at any time can join their games or open up mine so others can join without a hitch. The in-game Auction House and robust crafting makes gold a needed resource, and gives each item the potential for profit, and making your private stash and gold universal between all characters is brilliant.

Diablo 3 may lack the deep story that some gamers have come to expect from their games, but as a person who prefers gameplay over story, Diablo 3 is a triumph — proving that in order to be successful, all it takes is a simple, albeit impeccably polished, gameplay design to draw players in and keep them playing. The dopamine-inducing promise of loot, experience, and harder enemies masks the intrinsic repetition of Diablo 3’s gameplay so well that it’s sure to be played for years to come.

Pros: Near-perfect gameplay; addicting loot system; ability and class building is dynamic and fun; the art direction is beautiful; excellent Battle.net features

Cons: Shallow, cliche story that doesn’t matter to the gameplay much; repetition may turn some off; some odd design choices; static areas can get boring; online issues makes single-player difficult

Power Cords on Diablo 3’s record-breaking success.

Last week’s release of Diablo 3 was a milestone for PC gaming. Not only did it mark the series’ return after nearly 12 years, it also set the record for being the fastest selling PC game to-date, selling over 3.5 million copies in its first day, breaking Amazon’s pre-order record, and has now gone on to sell nearly 6.3 million within its first week. After factoring in online sales, there is a total of about 7.7 million people playing Diablo 3 (that’s nearly half of WoW’s subcriber base at its peak numbers).

And these numbers don’t even include Korean sales, where the game is reportedly the most played game in the country right now, with about 39 percent of the nation’s gamer population logging in daily. That’s a huge number.

We’re no Korea, but I can say Diablo 3’s certainly been one of the most played games by the Power Cords/Powercast team.

This is obviously a massive achievement for Blizzard. Not only do they have the most played MMO — strike that, most currently played PC game period — World of Warcraft, and the highly successful RTS Starcraft 2, but they now also have the fastest selling PC game ever and undoubtedly the most played action RPG with Diablo 3.

It’s clear Blizzard have talent and eye for quality games. In fact, with the sole exception of Valve, Blizzard is the one development studio pushing PC games forward, despite the fact a small, vocal minority seems to have taken offense to the game’s online features.

I’m very curious to see how the game will persist over time (considering Diablo 2 was played for almost 12 years), especially with the inclusion of the real-money auction house soon. It’s off to an incredibly strong start, so who knows just how many copies Diablo 3 will sell in its lifetime.

What are you thoughts on Diablo 3’s record-breaking sales? Are you one of the millions currently clicking away? Let us know in the comments, or email us at askpowercords@gmail.com

ps. If you’d like to play with me (Brendan) you can find me at EyeAmAhab#1247 on battle.net

Thoughts on Diablo 3 launch.

After nearly 12 years, Diablo 3 finally arrived last Tuesday, May 15th, returning players to the dark land of Sanctuary on an eternal quest for better loot.

But Diablo 3’s release certainly was not without bumps and errors. Players stayed up all night, ready to push play at 12:01 a.m. , only the be shut out of the servers and unable to play for hours. These server maintanance periods lasted throughout the day, and even now some players still have connecton errors. If you’ve followed gaming in any capacity, this is old news.

But for many gamers, Blizzard’s handling of Diablo 3’s online-only infrastructure is an inexcusable crime. Players took to Metacritic, giving the game poor ratings despite its high level of polish and well crafted gameplay. The online functions were too much for them, and the Metacritic score for Diablo 3 now sits at a 4.1/10 user score.

Videogame Critic and Industry commentator Jim Sterling supported this mindset in his most recent episode of his webshow The Jimquisition. In the episode, he backed up angry gamers, saying since Diablo is an intrinsically single player experience, Blizzard should not have required a constant internet connection. Sterling beleives gamers are fully justified in their anger, and in fact suggested they should continue to express their discontent to prevent future games from utilizing the same sort of online functionality as Diablo 3.

This may be one of the few times I disagree with Sterling. The defense of the online features is simple: Blizzard has an auction house where players may use real money to buy and sell gear they find in the game. In order to prevent people from hacking items and duplicating them (things we all knew how to do in Diablo 2) to then sell on the auction house unfairly, Blizzard implemented an always-online system. But Sterling believe it goes even further than that, positing that this is just DRM to prevent piracy.

The bane of every Diablo player’s existence.

I’m sure that’s a part of it, but to suggest that Blizzard is doing it to save themselves from piracy is incorrect; they’re doing it to insure players who utitlze the auction house will do so honestly, and without worry of being duped. Diablo 2 was played for nearly 12 years, if Diablo 3 lasts even half as long, Blizzard has given players (and themselves) the ability to make money on the game for as long as it’s being played. Rather ingenious in my opinion.

That being said, I certainly don’t think players should stifle their discontent, but I also think they should try to see the merits in this system. Sure, sometimes the connection issues are annoying, and I certainly have been far luckier than others in terms of latency issues and server errors. But I also oppose the “Diablo is a single player game” argument, simply because for that 12-year life span, Diablo 2 was being played online the overwhelming majority of the time. I will even argue that the online Battle.net functions have enhanced my experience, making playing with friends seamless. And those moments when I want to play on my own, I can still chat with my friends and people I’ve quested with at any time. I’ll take a few hours of down time or lag every once in a while to keep that experience. Because what’s a few hours versus years of potential entertainment?

Have your own opinions on Diablo 3’s launch?  Let us know below in the comments, or email us at askpowercords@gmail.com

Powercast Episode 6: Deaths ‘n Diablo

Hello! Welcome to another episode of the Power Cords POWERCAST!

This week, the crew discusses Marshal’s Top 10 Movie Deaths, and few that just barely missed the list; have a lengthy discussion on the recent Diablo 3 beta; Marshal, Nick, and Kyle get into MTG, and we close out with our thoughts on the most recent episode of Game of Thrones.

Download below, and be sure to leave a comment or send us your questions at askpowercords@gmail.com!

See you next week.

Power Cords Powercast Episode 6: Deaths n’ Diablo

With: Brendan, Nick, Kyle, Marshal

Time: 2:08:59

Download (right click, save as)