It’s strange to say that a website has changed your life. In more ways than one, the crew behind Giant Bomb have shaped the direction of my life profoundly. Tomorrow, I leave for a three week trek though Iceland, a trip that in many ways was sparked by Patrick Klepek’s stories of his own trip to Reykjavik; I recently changed my degree after being inspired by the video production work done by Vinny Caravella and Drew Scanlon; Jeff Gerstmann’s enthusiasm and criticism for videogames has kept me interested in the medium, even in times where I felt my interest in them waning; Brad Shoemaker introduced me to the strange, terrifying microbes and insects of the world; and for five years of my life, I, like thousands of others, waited each and every week to hear a funny, exuberant, sincere, and just plain awesome man named Ryan Davis assure us that it was, in fact, Tuesday.
And, like numerous others have said, today I cried over the loss of one of the closest friends I never met.
I can’t imagine what Ryan’s friends, family, and colleagues are going through. While I never had the pleasure of knowing him personally, I did get to spend a few hours each week listening or watching Ryan speak, and it was always a joy. He was someone I respected immensely. To have Ryan be a part of your life personally must have been something truly special, and I am sincerely sorry for the loss his family and friends are facing. If by any chance any of the Giant Bomb crew or extended family are reading this, I feel I speak for all fans of Ryan and of Giantbomb when I say we all loved that big duder and we are all with you in this difficult time. To Jeff, Brad, Patrick, Vinny, Drew, Dave, Matt, Alex, Alexis, and any and all past/current members of Giant Bomb, I hope you know that your work has touched so many of us in ways we can never fully express, and we are all so grateful of how much effort you put into the content you create for us. No other site, podcast, or community is quite like Giant Bomb, and we are sincerely thankful for what you do.
This week it was Halloween! Sadly, I was unable to get any time with my holiday-standby series, Castlevania. However! I still got plenty of Halloween gaming in with DOOM, and DOOM II.
Not much to report; they’re DOOM. If you’ve ever played a game in the series, you know what you’re getting into: frenetic demon blasting, monster closets, and massive guns. I was surprised at just how well the experience holds up. It harkens back to a time where first person shooters were much more goofy, over-the-top, and self aware. They were about gameplay and just being all out nuts rather than linear, overly-cinematic light shows centered around set pieces and “realism.”
Anyway, I beat both Halloween night. Took me a few hours, but was well worth it. I enjoyed it so much, in fact, that I’m considering picking up the recently released Painkiller HD pack from Steam. Very similar in terms of gameplay, atmosphere, and setting. Look for more on that in the weeks to come.
The Elder Scrolls IV: The Shivering Isles
As mentioned last week, I have been feeling the black hole-like pull of Bethesda’s RPGs trying to rope me back in now that I’ve knocked out Dark Souls. To quench this thirst, I re-installed The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion last weekend. Now, I love The Elder Scrolls series, and I love Fallout 3; but Oblivion feels so drab and boring compared to Morrowind and Skyrim. Hell, even Daggerfall feels more dynamic in terms of environments, quests, and things to do and see.
That’s not to say I don’t like Oblivion, it’s a gorgeous game still to this day, and having a PC that can play it on entirely maxed out settings is great. But it’s just one big green forest. There are some planes here and there, some coastal hills and a few big rivers and lakes, but it’s just kinda meh to look at. So instead of wondering around Cyrodiil, I opted to play through The Shivering Isles expansion instead. I have never completed the main quest in Isles, so this felt like an entirely new TES experience for me.
The landscape is far more varied and interesting — at times being very reminiscent of Morrowind at times. The characters and dialogue are FAR more interesting than the somewhat cliche fantasy tropes of Oblivion. I completed the main quest and enjoyed my time in the realm of Sheogorath, but overall the gameplay, music, and world design of Oblivion are nowhere near as good as the other TES games I’ve mentioned. As it stands, it’s probably my least favorite of the series, even with the enhancements from The Shivering Isles. I’m thinking I’ll give Fallout 3 a go sometime over the Holidays, then return to Skyrim once I’ve returned peace the the Wasteland…
But none of the really matters seeing as how Halo 4 comes out in four days, and is getting ridiculously great review scores.
Anyway, that was my week’s worth of gaming. What did you guys play?
Games Played This Week: DOOM; DOOM II: Hell on Earth; The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion/The Shivering Isles
My expectations for Dishonored were set pretty high. Everything I had heard prior to playing the game was positive and everything that I had seen before release was exciting. As soon as I put the disc in and started the game I was hooked on the experience.
I immediately felt at home playing the game because the graphics and the setting were very similar to a trilogy I really enjoyed–the Fable series. The story is a pretty simple one but engaging nonetheless. You play as Corvo Attano, Lord Protector of the Empire, and end up being framed for the murder of the Empress and the kidnapping of her daughter and the game takes off from there. A sea of calm while you get acquainted with the controls and then it throws you into the action and jump starts the story.
The game is similar to Assassin’s Creed in that it’s a stealth and assassination oriented style of play. Yes, you can go full on assault and barrage your enemies with bullets and grenades and crossbow bolts, but that’s an optional route. This game can be completed in a multitude of ways with different endings for each different style. It’s even possible to complete the game without killing anyone! This option presents a much larger challenge than the usual route of stealth killing everyone as you go along.
Each mission that you go on is a step towards finding out that age old question of “who dunnit?”. There are collectibles throughout each mission as well as side-quests that may unlock alternate endings to each mission. Among the different ways that you can finish the mission, there are also different routes on each map to get to the end destination.
The powers and upgrades available all help with the ease of completion of each mission. And depending on which powers and gadgets you choose to take and upgrade–it can change how you play Corvo throughout the game. Some abilities make it easier to avoid contact, while others drive you to engage the enemy–the same can be said for gadgets–some are not necessary if you don’t plan on killing anyone, while others will make killing and surviving melee combat much easier.
There were few things I didn’t like about the game, so few in fact that I find it hard to call them to mind and put down on the proverbial paper. I enjoyed playing the game, and the replay factor is pretty high considering the different ways with which you can go about each mission–as well as whether or not you plan on gathering every artifact and collectible. Let me know what you thought of the game. As of right now, I fully suggest the game!
Hey guys. So in an effort to give myself something else to post about, I’m going to start keeping a weekly gaming journal. At this point, I’m gonna aim for Fridays, same day as Shootin’ runs as well. I’m figuring I’ll have updates to make in between each regular Friday post when something important happens or a complete a game, etc. I’m going to keep a tally for the game’s I played that week, and how many games I’ve completed each month. I’ve got a pretty long list of games to get through, most of which are rather lengthy, so there will be plenty of content each week. Any way, without further ado, here’s what I played this week.
Games played this week: Dark Souls; Legend of Grim Rock; Dungeons of Dredmor; Doom 3: BFG
I made some good progress in Dark Souls this week. Took out Nito and Seath the Scaleless, as well as went back and downed the Stray Demon. Currently making my way through the New Londo Ruins to take down the Four Kings. I’ve found these past few bosses to be relatively easy, especially post-Ornstein/Smough. It might just be because my character’s build is getting solid and I’ve got a wide range of armor and rings for pretty much any occasion, but I’m not struggling against the bosses and in fact, I can’t recall many who gave me any real trouble besides the Capra Demon, Ornstein and Smough, and my early attempts against Sif. At any rate, I’m stoked I’m nearing the end of this bad boy after taking several months off. I’ll keep you updated as I near to the close.
For those who are interested, I’m rolling a Pyromancer, currently using Leeroy’s Paladin armor set but swapping for the Black Iron gloves and helm; Havel’s Ring and Ring of Steel Protection; Zweihander +7 and Knight Sheild +7.
Besides Dark Souls, I also got in some RPG goodness with Legend of Grimrock and Dungeons of Dredmor. Like Dark Souls, I took some time off from Grimrock after playing it quite a bit earlier this year, but I was able to pick up right where I left off and cleared a couple more floors this week (now on level 9). Dredmor is just a fun diversion. I have no idea if there’s an end-game, and even if there is, I die so often (and play so casually) I’ll probably never see it.
The other big game I played this week was DOOM 3: BFG Edition. I’m a Doom 3 fan (some might say apologist, but I say there’s nothing to be sorry for), being the first game I ever upgraded my PC for and I was happy to see it plays just the same it is did years ago. Sure, it’s just monster closet after monster closet, but dammit IT’S FUN! I got in about an hour and a half with Doom 3, but seeing as how the collection includes the entire DOOM trilogy, I have plenty of demon blasting in my future. Will I complete all three games? I’m not entirely sure. But I plan on at least seeing Doom 3 and the Ressurection of Evil expansion through to completion.
Just as a quick reference, here’s my list of games I plan on playing through; some are games I’ve played through before and want to go back to, others I haven’t completed, and other still are future games I plan on playing once they’re released. More will be added, and I’ll keep a running tally as I complete them. In no particular order:
Dark Souls Legend of Grimrock Doom 3: BFG Halo 4 Hawken MechWarrior Online Dishonored Far Cry 3 The Banner Saga Ultima Forever The Dark Spire Morrowind Fallout 3 Planescape: Torment Skyrim Artorias Abyss DLC Muramasa: The Demon Blade Odin Sphere
Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia
Okay, that’s it for me this week, but I want to know you you guys are playing too! Post a comment, let’s get a discussion going!
Let’s have a quick nibble of the retro-shroom and take a trip to nostalgia-land.
You’re a young gamer, holding in your hands the Nintendo 64’s tri-pronged controller, eyes glued to the curved, glowing surface of the CRT television. Your green tunic wearing hero has just crossed the massive green field of Hyrule, and are approaching the massive stone walls of the city. Suddenly, the skies turn black, and from the arched entryway a white horse with two riders — The Princess Zelda and her guardian Impa — gallop across the bridge and off into the distance. The look on Zelda’s face is one of fear and sadness as she turns to look at Link. They’re running from something — or someone. Standing in the pouring rain, Link turns to see their pursuer: the massive desert warrior Ganndorf with fire-like hair sitting atop an armored horse. He cracks a smile, lifts his hand, and sends Link flying with a magical shock from his fingertips.
That was one of the most awe-inspiring moments of not just my young gaming life, but many others’. It’s one of those event you hold on to and remember; the way it felt, sounded, and of course, the way it looked.
Well, as I’m sure many have done, going back to the game today, it looks like shit. No I’m serious. It’s muddy, smeary textures wrapped around sharp polygonal models in flimsy, bare environments. Now, compare that against the Zelda of the SNES era, A Link to the past: vibrant colored sprites, intricately designed maps, and charming (albeit simple) animations. It looks just a good as the first time you laid eyes on it.
Why is that? Because 2D graphics don’t depreciate in quality. They may not be quite as impressive as 3D graphics, but games like Super Metroid, Yoshi’s Island, Super CastleVania IV,Street Fighter, and the early Square RPGs look exactly the same as they did when they were the height of game design and graphical power.
But 3D games? Pop in an N64, Ps2 — or hell, even an early game from the current generation — and you’ll find the experience hampered by the now-archaic graphics. Some times, games will even be unplayable. Don’t get me wrong here, I enjoy gorgeous graphics as much as the next guy. Games like Uncharted, Skyrim, and at the time Doom 3 and Half Life 2 left me floored by how gorgeous they looked. But in a few years time? They’ll be eclipsed by the next cutting-edge engine, and their experiences diminished due to a major reliance on the visual components of these games (if they haven’t been already).
I’m not advocating a return to 2D game design here. Many of my favorite genres and favorite moments happened thanks to the evolution of 3D gaming. Instead, I’m trying to point out a very common misconception: powerful, more realistic graphics do little to heighten an experience. Instead, its art design and atmosphere. In the past I’ve discussed several games I feel have great art design, most of which are 3D games. It’s their art design that make them so memorable. Metroid Prime, Mass Effect, Shadow of the Colossus, and — the Bilbo Baggins of 3D games — Wind Waker, are all memorable because of how they looked. I use the Ocarina of Time example specifically because it was recently re-released with updated graphics — everything from the textures, to the models, to the animation and lighting has been overhauled, and it looks great, mostly due to the art direction being better realized on the new engine.
As we begin to see graphical leaps diminish, it’s really only a matter of time before we reach a plateau. My concern though is that I don’t want that plateau to be filled with games stretching for “realism;” I want games with unique and impactful art design. I don’t need any more Call of Duties, but I could certainly use more Bastions and Dust Forces. AAA development seems to be crumbling, and many developers — indie and otherwise — seem to be flocking to creative game design. Hopefully, this will mean less emphasis on graphic power, and more attention being given to gameplay, art, and atmosphere. We could full well be moving into a new golden age of video games — that is, just as long as we give up these notions of “realism” and “powerhouse graphics,” and focus on what matters and what makes this medium is so unique.
Blah blah blah Skyrim. Blah blah blah Dark Souls. Blah 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com!
Want more video game music? be sure to check out the latest episode of the Power Cast!