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20 Best Video Game Soundtracks of 2018

Part Two

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Following the first half of this list from twenty to eleven, we’re now counting down from number ten to the number one best video game soundtrack of the year. These soundtracks were the best of the best this year and I can’t wait to talk about them, so let’s get started.

10- Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom

It’s impossible to not include a soundtrack created by Studio Ghibli composer and general musical genius Joe Hisaishi, so of course the Ni no Kuni II score was going to make this list. Performed once again by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, the music maintains the same sweeping orchestrations from the first game whilst including enough new material to keep the soundtrack fresh.

The Ni no Kuni series is a JRPG developed by Japanese company Level 5 with influence from the Studio Ghibli films, such as the art design and of course the music. As with his work on the Ghibli films, Hisaishi is able to perfectly capture the essence of the game world. Hisaishi worked with the President and CEO of Level 5 games Akihiro Hino on the sequel’s music. In a video released by PlayStation Europe focusing on Ni no Kuni II’s music, Hisaishi discussed how he went into the sequel with the idea of creating a more intelligent soundtrack that was tough on the orchestra to perform. This is apparent in a lot of the game’s music and again mirrors a good portion of Hisaishi’s work for Studio Ghibli such as My Neighbour Totoro, Howls Moving Castle, and Princess Mononoke. His work has a certain bright and complex nature which echoes throughout and represents the situations in the narrative perfectly. When the main theme of Ni no Kuni II plays, you can sense the adventure. You can tell what kind of story this will be.  The ability to convey this so easily makes this soundtrack a worthy listen.

There are all the usual tropes here that can be found in the soundtracks of the JRPG genre, boss battles, themes for different areas, character themes etc. The quirky spin that is put on them makes each fight and each level feel a little bit more unique. The music truly brings the world of Ni no Kuni to life.

Top Track: “Theme from Ni no Kuni II”

The main theme of the game is the same as the first Ni no Kuni but it is a little bit bigger and bolder than the original, adding to its already epic nature. The song wouldn’t be out of place in an animated film and is probably the piece most reminiscent to Hisaishi’s Studio Ghibli work. He brilliantly builds on the pre-existing Ni no Kuni theme and makes it even more enjoyable than it was in the first game.

9- Frostpunk

11-bit studios, developer of This War of Mine and publisher of the previously mentioned Moonlighter, created a fun, thrilling and engaging city building and survival management PC game with Frostpunk. Set in dystopian England in a world engulfed by frost and snow, the player becomes the leader of a small city built around a heat generator. After choosing a scenario to start the game, the player must make difficult choices and govern in the way they feel is fit in an attempt to keep the civilians from freezing, starving or revolting against you.

The music of Frostpunk is incredibly impressive and completely immerses you within the frozen world that you must take control of. Composer Piotr Musial chooses to use a fair amount of string-based tracks, with violins and the cello playing a large role throughout. These particular instruments are very good at producing a mournful sound and the sorrowful tones echo through Frostpunk’s main themes. It fully convinces the player of the terrible situation that they are in and the dire consequences of their actions if they cannot lead the city in an effective way.

Musial is also successful in using the musical themes of the game to mirror the cold nature of the setting. The low and solemn mood of the soundtrack reflects the misery of the icy wasteland that the characters find themselves in. The music manages to convey frozen tundra of a world with relative ease.  While listening, I was reminded of Marco Beltrami’s score for the film Snowpiercer, also set in a frozen world.  Musial captures the melancholic tones that Beltrami also achieves, but Musial does this within the confines of a PC game. Musial’s work on Frostpunk is brilliant work as he has created an incredibly immersive soundtrack.

Top Track: “The City Must Survive”

As the title suggests, this track is all about survival. The music plays during the game when a huge ice storm hits that the player has been preparing for. You can’t escape the feeling of dread and that the last semblance of hope is fleeting. “The City Must Survive” is the true sound of dystopia and, in my opinion, Piotr Musial has created a track which stands up equally against popular end of the world scores such as “In the House, In a Heartbeat” by John Murphy or the “Fallout Theme” by Inon Zur.

8- Far Cry 5

When you think of the Far Cry franchise, the music isn’t exactly what you would consider first. Initial thoughts usually consist of explosions, car chases and enough weaponry to last a lifetime. This is why the music of Far Cry 5 was such a pleasant surprise to me when I played the game for the first time. There is a great selection of licensed music which is heard on the radio during the game, but my main reason for choosing Far Cry 5 for this list is due to the strength of its original score and songs.

Set in the fictional Hope County, Montana, Far Cry 5 is centered on a doomsday cult that has taken control of the area and are terrorizing the locals. The soundtrack is very much influenced by the cult and consists of several hymns that reflect their doomsday message and act almost like propaganda to the inhabitants of Hope County. Producer and composer Dan Romer is responsible for writing the songs and he and his team do such a good job with them that it feels like the music wouldn’t be out of place for a real-life radical group attempting to recruit members. The songs manage to be inspirational whilst also containing their true message. The chorus of the most prominent hymn contains the lyrics, “When the world falls into the flames, we will rise again.” Throughout the game, you learn the teachings of the cult and their belief that our world will end and the new world will be a paradise for their chosen people. Their brainwashing methods, extremist beliefs and militant ways of converting the public to their way of thinking are all perfectly summed up in the hymns that Romer has created.

There has been significant effort put in to the Far Cry 5 soundtrack with multiple albums released alongside the game. There is the Far Cry 5 Presents series which focuses on the original songs for the game as well as various covers of them. Into the Flames consists of all the original hymns and songs by Dan Romer,  “When the World Falls” is the same song covered by the Hope County Choir (who are in fact the Nashville Choir in reality) and “We Will Rise Again” is the song reinterpreted by Nashville based ambient rock band Hammock. An article from Ubisoft Montreal shows how each variation of the song reflected each of the villains and their areas in the game, “The music in Far Cry 5 is ample, and represented geographically. The Nashville choir versions can be heard in John’s region. Bluegrass-country versions of the songs, produced by Dan Romer himself, are the soundtrack to Jacob’s region. Finally, in Faith’s psychedelic region, the post-rock band Hammock interprets the songs.”

Whilst each region represents a villain, as you liberate areas and traverse places that haven’t been converted by the cult, you tend to hear a soft country style of music, perfectly encapsulating rural Montana. Of course, you still get the more energetic tunes for the action sequences, but they still maintain the country twang that represents Hope County. The work that has been put into creating a strong correlation between the games narrative and the music should certainly be acknowledged and I believe it makes Far Cry 5 one of the strongest soundtracks this year.

Top Track: “When the Morning Light Shines In”

My pick isn’t one of the hymns or variations of them, but instead a quiet piece of the musical score. This track is what plays when you load up the Hope County map and admittedly, I would often bring up the map just to sit and listen to this. You can really feel and hear the rural Montana countryside as you listen. Ubisoft and Dan Romer nailed the atmosphere with the whole soundtrack, but this particular song is what stuck with me after playing.

7- Super Smash Brothers Ultimate

When it comes to sheer content, the Super Smash Brothers soundtracks always go above and beyond what we expect from a video game soundtrack in general. With hundreds of tracks that span across multiple game properties as well as new music and remixes, Super Smash Brothers Ultimate succeeds in creating one of the most notable soundtracks of the year.

The tagline that Nintendo was heavily promoting upon the release of Ultimate was “Everyone is Here” as they brought together all of the fighters from the previous Smash games to create one huge roster. The same can be said for the music, as each character’s music from their own franchise is brought into Ultimate to create a colossal soundtrack of over 1000 tracks. Music from the original Super Smash Brothers, Brawl and Melee are all brought in as well as the new music created just for Ultimate. Each franchise has at least an hour or so of music to themselves and new fighters such as Simon and Richter Belmont from Castlevania and the Inklings from Splatoon bring their own music too which offers some fresh material. It was difficult to actually get hold of the whole soundtrack due to the number of songs, the different franchises, and the new and old music combined. I listened to as much as I could but with so many songs and so much to choose from, I couldn’t listen to the whole thing. The care and hard work that has gone into crafting such a monumental soundtrack is testament to how Nintendo wanted each character to be represented with their own music across the generations of their games.

As well as creating all new scores for the characters and remixing some already well-known themes, Ultimate also has its own theme song. The song, called “Lifelight”, acts as the underlying theme for a good deal of the new Ultimate music and it fits the series perfectly. Epically orchestral and fantastically arranged, the song has both an English and Japanese version and it’s as strong as it is catchy. For such a big game with multiple characters across many franchises, it would have been a difficult task to construct a theme song that can be used for the game as a whole which could represent everyone from every property. “Lifelight” manages this though and, although it mainly reflects the World of Light single player story mode, it acts as a guiding song that every character can rally under as well as having their own music.

Super Smash Brothers Ultimate certainly has the largest soundtrack this year but somehow it doesn’t favour quantity over quality. Each new song and remix is a brilliant and creative addition whilst the old music that remains has been specifically chosen and works well. The quality remains whilst the quantity is pushed to the limits, making it a unique soundtrack with enough music to last for a long time to come.

Top Track: “Gang-Plank Galleon” (Donkey Kong Country Remix)

Whilst “Lifelight” is a strong theme song for Ultimate, “Gang-Plank Galleon” is a perfect example of how well the remixes in the game are done. A remix of the song from Donkey Kong Country, “Gang-Plank Galleon” is a highly energetic interpretation that has been stuck in my head since my first listen. It encapsulates King K Rool and his introduction to Super Smash whilst still keeping the main theme from the original song.  “Gang-Plank Galleon” is a perfect remix, and, from all the music I managed to listen to, one of the best tracks in Ultimate.

6- Shadow of the Tomb Raider

The 2013 reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise was largely a success and introduced us to a Lara Croft who was far more vulnerable than her previous incarnations. There was an air of reality about her due to her wariness and uncertainty as opposed to her cocksure confidence in earlier games. With a change of character also came a complete change in many other aspects of Tomb Raider, one of which is the music. Jason Graves gave her an epic score with a new character theme in 2013 for Tomb Raider whilst Bobby Tahouri took over for the 2015 Rise of the Tomb Raider theme which expanded on the original with new pieces that subtly entwined with the 2013 theme. This year, we got another new composer for Lara’s third installment Shadow of the Tomb Raider, that being Brian D’Oliveira, and it is arguably the best Tomb Raider soundtrack yet.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is set in South America and centers on Lara accidentally releasing the Mayan apocalypse whilst attempting to stop the organization Trinity and her efforts to stop it before it is too late. The music adjusts to the tone of the game, growing with Lara as she matures. It also changes to suit her new environment, as she now finds herself deep in the harsh jungle. The director of audio and music for the game, Rob Bridgett, explains the need for the music to change as she does, “ As Lara is in a much darker place emotionally, and a more dangerous place physically, the music needs to represent both of these things.”  You can definitely tell that this growth and danger is a key element of the soundtrack. There is a darkness to it that wasn’t as prominent even in her first adventure where she had to adapt and learn to survive. D’Oliveira is able to convey the maturation of her as a character by building on the music from the previous two games and adding his own unique sound. He keeps her main theme from 2013 but seamlessly connects it to a new and darker sound. Lara’s troubles, both in her sense of self and in her dangerous surroundings, are perfectly portrayed through the music.

As well as being a more mature soundtrack for Lara, the composer also captures the essence of the jungle and South American culture in his music.  D’Oliveira is known for his strength with South American instruments and his ability to utilize them in his music. He worked alongside native musicians and also travelled to Mexico to obtain the instruments he would need to create the most authentic atmosphere possible. Again, Rob Bridgett commented on D’Oliveria’s talents and abilities with this specific culture and music, “Brian has a mind-blowing collection of pre-Columbian and South-American instruments… He has also spent a lot of time working with musicians from specific regions in South America to understand how and why the music would be performed on those instruments. It all brings a completely unique colour and authenticity to the score.”  This dedication to creating an authentic soundtrack well and truly pays off as whilst playing the game, you’re transported to the deep and muggy jungle alongside Lara. You can almost feel the uncomfortable heat, the sticky mud, and the dangerous foliage which could be housing a creepy creature. You are in the jungle, and the music is easily able to convince you of it.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider was a well-executed game and one of the best ones this year but some argued that it didn’t change its usual formula enough. The music, however, did exactly that. It changed, matured and grew into its own individual piece of work, growing from the past two soundtracks but still keeping the best parts from both. D’Oliveria manages to convey both Lara’s change as a person as well as her change of surroundings in a score that entices you to delve as deep into the dark jungle as you can possibly go.

Top Track: “Lara’s Dream”

This track isn’t actually related to Lara’s jungle environment, nor does it contain any of her original 2013 themes. This piece was a surprising addition to me, but a very pleasant one. As Lara sleeps, she dreams of her life in Croft Manor as a child and you get to play as her as she explores her garden, leading to her climbing to the roof of the manor. It’s surprising due to the gentle nature of it, considering the harsh jungle tones that most of the score is comprised of. It’s sweet and playful with a hint of sadness. The player knows the tragedy that will befall Lara, so to play as her just before she is subjected to it is bittersweet. D’Oliveria shows his range and ability to portray Lara both as an adult and a child through his music in this sweet and somber track.

5- Celeste

Indie 2-D platformer Celeste was created by developers Matt Thorson and Noel Berry and focuses on Madeline, a girl who is scaling a fictional mountain called Celeste Mountain. The game is inspired by Super Nintendo styled platformers and the music does reflect this inspiration but also has its own unique combination of piano and electronic elements which creates a truly fantastic soundtrack with a lot of personality and style.

The soundtrack for Celeste was composed by Lena Raine who captures the spirit of the 2-D platformer while remaining true to the story of the game and the character of Madeline. The electronic, synth style is reminiscent of older Nintendo titles but the soft piano tones represent Madeline and her struggle with depression well. Other instruments are included later, such as the guitar, which is utilized to represent certain characters. In an interview about the Celeste soundtrack, Raine stated that “All of the main characters in Celeste have their own instrument: Madeline has the piano, Theo has a guitar, and Mr. Oshiro has a theremin-like synth.” This is an interesting way to go about composing the music as it allows each character to have their own musical interludes which reflect their position in the narrative.

There is an essence of individuality surrounding the soundtrack, not only due to each character having their own instrument but also due to the combination of these instruments with the electronic aspects. It creates an almost futuristic, sci-fi tone and the mixture of this along with the traditional music makes for a unique sound which not only represents the characters but also their journey and struggles.  The track “Scattered and Lost” is a good example of this, sounding almost alien with its frantic techno vibes. It’s a contradiction to pieces like “Awake”, an entirely piano based tune which focuses on Madeline. Though both are very different in style, they both represent the same character. The traditional piano themes are used in quieter moments whilst the electronic components come into play more so during Madeline’s ascent of the Celeste Mountain. Raine creates two differing styles that flow throughout the soundtrack but still manage to work together to build on the narrative of the story as well as the platforming gameplay elements. There is no need to sacrifice one for the other, as Raine manages to meld them perfectly.

Celeste is incredibly individual in terms of its soundtrack, featuring Super Nintendo style retro riffs, sorrowful piano pieces, sci-fi sounds and techno titbits throughout. Lena Raine brings all of these elements together and makes them work in terms of narrative and gameplay, which is no easy feat. The music builds as Madeline continues her climb and as she faces setbacks and difficulties and calms during quieter personal moments. Raine creates a meaningful and heartfelt soundtrack all within the frame of a 2-D indie platformer. Celeste is an achievement in every sense of the word, including its soundtrack.

Top Track: “Resurrections”

This track is a favourite among Celeste fans and for good reason. Lasting almost 10 minutes, the track features both electronic, retro and piano elements that run throughout to create a song that represents both Madeline as a character and Celeste as a game. Lena Raine said that the track is “almost like a full suite of music by itself” and it certainly feels like you are getting a lot from this one brilliant piece of music.

4- Marvel’s Spider-Man

Spider-Man is a character who had several incarnations in video games, some better than others. From the well-received Spider-Man 2 game in 2004 to the not so great The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in 2014, the web slinger has been hanging around (pun intended) for a good long while. His latest video game instalment, Marvel’s Spider-Man, exceeded expectations in every way and was one of the best games of the year but the soundtrack is a superhero score in a league of its own which truly captured what it is to be Spider-Man.

What strikes me the most when listening to the soundtrack is how closely it resembles it other musical scores from Marvel films. It fits in so well that it wouldn’t be out of place as a score from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is not hugely surprising as composer John Paesano is not a stranger to Marvel properties. He has worked on the Netflix series Daredevil and The Defenders as well as having several other credits such as the Maze Runner film series and Markus’s soundtrack from Detroit: Become Human. His score is a largely orchestral affair with a prominent main theme for our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, arguably one of the characters best themes to date. The theme plays a key role throughout but is at its best at the beginning of the game, when Peter Parker first leaps from his apartment window and begins swinging through the streets of New York. As I took control of Spider-Man and his theme played, I felt like a real superhero. And this was only the start of the game. Paesano’s work reflects the tagline of the game “Be Greater” with a swooping and heroic sound that travels with the player as the soar and web swing through the world. You want to be the greatest Spider-Man you can be, and the music is a significant factor in this feeling.

Paesano not only succeeds in the big, heroic moments of the game, he also is able to capture the smaller moments with finesse and a more mature tone. When discussing how he wanted the music to reflect Peter Parker’s older portrayal in an interview, Paesano said, “Spider-Man music has always been very bright and fun. It’s always had a wink and a smile with it. And I really wanted to kind of give him a more grown up approach. I wanted to kind of give him a little bit more weight, give him a little bit more gravitas as far as his character went.”  This is apparent throughout the score as there isn’t as much of the bubbliness that is used in other musical takes on Spider-Man, such as Michael Giacchino’s score for the Marvel Cinematic Universes version of Spider-Man. There is a maturity that runs throughout, including in the action, the themes used for when the player is conducting science experiments and the more sorrowful moments. The change in style doesn’t lose the essence of the character, but it makes for a more established and poignant score that suggests Spider-Man’s growth and development from what we normally see him as. The track “Responsibility” is a perfect example of this. The track plays towards the end of the game during a particularly sorrowful moment where Spider-Man has to make a difficult choice. The music encapsulates his character whilst also conveying the weightiness of his decision and his maturity in knowing what choice he has to make. It is one of the best pieces from the soundtrack and shows Paesano’s firm grasp on what kind of Spider-Man Insomniac Games wanted to craft with their interpretation.

Spider-Man’s soundtrack soars as the webhead himself and is an incredible take on an iconic character and his theme music. John Paesano created a soundtrack that slots perfectly into all other Marvel properties and their music, and in my opinion is one of the best scores for any Marvel property to date.

Top Track: “Spider-Man”

I really wanted to give some of the other tracks a mention here, but I found myself returning to this main theme again and again. Upon first opening the game, I was immediately blown away by this music as it was part of the PlayStation 4 theme that I got with the game. I would leave my main home menu up just so I could listen to it again and again. It’s heroic, it’s big and it’s bold but it also has the real feel of Spider-Man within it as it slows down to a softer piano theme towards the end. It’s great to see Spidey receive an incredible theme for one of his best video game outings.

3- Octopath Traveler

JRPG games always have a tendency to be full of colourful and orchestral music designed to be appealing due to the long length of time that the player will be spending with it. The score for Octopath Traveler not only does this, it does this so well that the music is one of the most enticing aspects of the game. It builds the world, introduces the characters and intensifies the battles with ease and grace,  easily being one of the best soundtracks this year.

Released by Square Enix for the Nintendo Switch in July of 2018, Octopath Traveler is a turn based JRPG that has reflections of previous JRPG titles within both its graphical HD 16-bit style and its music. The music has elements reminiscent of the old school titles such as Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VII but composer Yasunori Nishiki puts his own spin on the formula to create a modern day classic. When discussing his work on Nintendo’s official website, Nishiki explains his desire to bring the element of nostalgia into the world of Octopath Traveler but not to entirely rely on it, “My goal was to create a soundtrack that would bring back the feelings from our childhood frozen deep inside us…At the same time, I didn’t want to just recreate the past, so I applied a great deal of heated passion to “defrost” these feelings in an even more real and dynamic form befitting the modern era.” . Nishiki is entirely successful in his attempt to combine nostalgic trends in JRPG music with contemporary and new themes. He has managed to create an instant classic with the Octopath Traveler soundtrack by doing this.

The music for Octopath Traveler is focused mainly on character themes, area themes, and battle themes, arguably the staples of most JRPG soundtracks. The eight main characters each have their own individual theme that represents their profession and personality. For example, Primrose the Dancers theme is upbeat to an extent as you would expect from a musical score for a dancing character but it also carries some weight with its string section. Primrose is a character with a tragic past and you can sense the solemn undertones under the perky tunes. Another example would be Tressa the Merchant’s theme which is rife with a sense of adventure and exploration, as she yearns to set out on her own adventure despite her merchant background. Nishiki’s individual themes for each character imbue the game with a sense of personality, blending the characters with their own music for an experience that has more depth. The later battle themes also blend with the character themes but have their own sense of individuality.

Octopath Traveler has such an impressive soundtrack that it stayed with me long after my first listen. There was obvious inspiration from older JRPG games but enough creativity and originality that it still remains its own creation. There is a wide range of orchestral arrangements and instruments, from a mellow saxophone in Alfyn the Apothecary’s theme to the soft guitar that hides beneath the wind instrument arrangements of Therion’s theme. Octopath Traveler has a varied and beautiful soundtrack that is sure to be remembered as one of the best JRPG soundtracks of our time.

Top Track: “Octopath Traveler Main Theme”

Again, I just couldn’t resist choosing the main theme of the game for my top pick due to the sheer wonder of it. A short but brilliant theme that portrays the spirit of adventure and the JRPG genre as a whole, Nishiki perfects the concept of an introductory theme that prepares the player for the game and gives an idea of what to expect music-wise. It’s amazing and I strongly recommend giving it a listen, though it’s such an inviting tune that you may be tempted to give the rest of a soundtrack a try afterward.

2- Red Dead Redemption II

We waited years for a follow up game to Rockstars 2010 hit Red Dead Redemption and when we finally received Red Dead Redemption II in October of this year, it was definitely worth the wait. The game is a prequel to the original game, set during John Marstons time running with Dutch Van der Linde and his gang. As well as having a superb story and fun gameplay, the game has an incredible soundtrack. I’ll include the link to Rockstars official statement released about their music and those involved here as there are just too many involved for me to list but Woody Jackson, the composer for the original game (and several other Rockstar titles) returns to create the score. With so many talented artists, producers and musicians involved, it’s no surprise that Red Dead Redemption II has an absolutely stellar soundtrack.

The use of music has always been well done in Rockstars games but I found that this is particularly notable for both of the Red Dead Redemption games. In RDR, the use of music is essential. Key moments in the game seamlessly integrate with music to truly immerse the player, such as Jose Gonzalez’s “Far Away” being used when travelling to Mexico for the first time or Jamie Lidell’s “Compass” playing when John Marston rides back to his family. The same tactic is used in RDR2 and once again manages to immerse the player and stir up a fair amount of emotion. A song called “May I? Stand Unshaken” by artist D’Angelo is played during a particularly poignant moment in the narrative and I couldn’t help but feel slightly crushed by the wave of emotion that suddenly hit me as I continued my horseback ride alongside the melancholy song. In contrast, there is also a cheerful and upbeat song which plays as John, Uncle, and Charles work to build John’s house in Beechers Hope. Though ultimately bittersweet due to the events of the original game, it’s a sweet and optimistic moment where the music is implemented to make the player feel part of the moment. There is no jarring awkwardness with the chosen songs, they fit perfectly into the narrative and make the experience feel more cinematic as a whole.

The musical score has a familiar feel to it thanks to the return of Woody Jackson. Jackson is able to once again perfectly convey the spirit of the dying American Old West as he did with the first game. His music permeates throughout the course of the game and enhances the experience with powerful yet subtle music cues. Every gunfight makes you feel like a true gunslinger, every bar fight makes you feel like a rowdy tavern thug and every long horse ride makes you feel like a turn of the century cowboy. His music draws you in to the Red Dead Redemption world and doesn’t let go. Whether it’s a somber moment, a funny drunken scene in a bar or an exciting gunfight with a rival gang, Jackson’s score keeps you firmly planted in the western world.

Red Dead Redemption II was a marvel on many levels including its immersive soundtrack full of great musical scores and songs. Certain songs bestow a great deal of emotion in relation to the narrative and make the player realize just how much they care for the characters. The soundtrack is a total triumph and, although an official release date still hasn’t been announced, I know that I and many others will be purchasing the soundtrack as soon as Rockstar delivers it to us.

Top Track: “See the Fire in Your Eyes”

When a new protagonist was announced to be the star of Red Dead Redemption II, I was unsure as to whether any character could take John Marston’s place. As it would turn out, Arthur Morgan ended up being just as beloved, if not slightly more so, than Marston. This particular song relates strongly to Arthur’s development throughout the game and it’s hard to not feel emotional when listening to it. It tells the tale of a man who has made mistakes, many mistakes, and has not always been a good person but tried to be a better man. As the song states, “You did your worst, you tried your best.” It’s an almost heart-breaking comparison to Arthur, whose attempts at a normal life were thwarted by his relation to the gang and his inability to adapt to normality. He is and always will be an outlaw, but he was a good person with a good heart who gave his all. Arthur is a tragic character and this song is a brilliant representation of his journey.

1- God of War

My number one pick from all of the video game soundtracks released this year has to be God of War. Released in April 2018 from Santa Monica Studios, God of War is the eighth game released in the God of War series but is a huge step away from the formula of the other games. The game is loosely a sequel but entirely reimagined from what it once was. Based loosely on Norse mythology, whereas the other games focused on loose reinterpretation of Greek mythology, the game centres on Kratos and his young son Atreus. After the death of his second wife Faye, Kratos and Atreus set out to achieve her final wish of having her ashes scattered from the highest peak of the nine realms. The game is largely narrative driven with great combat and gameplay that highly differed from previous games but did not lose the essence of what God of War was. The music is one of the elements that went through a complete overhaul and the result is the absolute best game soundtrack of 2018, if not one of the best game soundtracks of all time.

Experienced composer Bear McCreary is the man behind the soundtrack and he was a fan of the series before coming on the project. His understanding of the character and themes of the series shines through in his work. Though his original theme for Kratos is the song that would become “Memories of Mother”, he would go on to compose an epic and superb new theme for Kratos known simply as “God of War”. I was lucky enough to see “God of War” performed live in London in May at the PlayStation Live in Concert show and it was an astonishing performance. Hearing it performed live showed me just how powerful and lasting the theme is as the song reverberated through the Royal Albert Hall. The booming echoes of the voices within the song are indicative of Kratos’s Spartan past and how it constantly follows him. It is inescapable but during the game, as he learns to confront his past rather than run from it, the song becomes more incorporated with the other themes of the soundtrack and not quite as intimidating, though still having a certain strength. As McCreary said in an article for the PlayStation blog, “That melody is more reflective of the qualities one associates with Kratos: masculine, relentless, and badass.”

McCreary introduced new styles of music into the soundtrack whilst keeping certain elements from the previous game’s music into consideration, “I took my memories of that classic God of War soundtrack – the deep choirs, pounding drums, and shrieking brass – and reinvented them for a Norse age. I wrote new themes, and introduced to the music exotic instrumentation and languages from various Northern European folk traditions”. The Norse inspiration flows through the soundtrack and resounds through the key themes. It’s another drastic step away from the original template of the God of War franchise but one that pays off immensely. Although he is in a new realm, the spirit of Kratos as a character is still prominently present in the music. It doesn’t feel like a totally new game with a new protagonist, it is the same rage-filled Spartan that gamers have spent many years with. The music reflects this familiarity whilst keeping in line with the Norse culture of which Kratos now finds himself a part of.

There have been many brilliant soundtracks this year for video games and it wasn’t easy picking a number one choice but God of War goes above and beyond. New themes and music are present but the spirit of God of War does not get lost on the way. The franchise reinvents itself as does the music, and in doing so, creates a soundtrack that is as beautiful as it is memorable. God of War is, simply put, a musical masterpiece which will be remembered as one of the best that video game music has to offer.

Top Track: “Ashes”

I had a tough time choosing the top track for God of War. The main “God of War” theme reinvents the music for Kratos brilliantly whilst “Memories of Mother”, the favourite track of the composer, is a beautifully sorrowful tune. My choice eventually boiled down to the track which took the best parts of both of these wonderful tracks and inserted it into a crucial and highly emotional moment of the narrative. At the beginning of the game, we see Kratos and Atreus preparing to cremate the body of Faye, Kratos’s second wife, and Atreus’s mother. The sorrow from a child losing a mother and a man losing his love is intense and this track is significant in adding to the heightened emotions. I found myself feeling desperately sad for both Kratos and Atreus, despite only just beginning the game. Kratos’s words to her as he prepares to take her body are incredibly powerful, “Find your way home. You are free”. Not only does it show just how much the series has matured with its audience, it shows how Kratos as a character has also matured. It also shows the strained relationship between a father and his son, a theme that continues throughout. “Ashes” is a powerful and moving piece of music which not only made gamers feel emotional within minutes of the opening of the game, it contributed in introducing a very different Kratos in a very different God of War game.

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Thanks so much for reading my top twenty video game soundtracks list. Here’s hoping that 2019 brings us even more brilliant music from our favourite games!

PART ONE (TOP 20)

Antonia Haynes resides in a small seaside town in England where she has lived her whole life. She's a simple girl with a passion for zombies, writing, film, television, drawing, superheroes, Disney and, of course, video games. Her ideal day would consist of junk food, fluffy pyjamas and video games because quite frankly going outside is overrated. Follow her on Twitter on @RainbowMachete

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Ricky D Fernandes

    January 5, 2019 at 3:27 pm

    I hate to break the bad news but you forgot to include the best soundtrack of 2018 — SEA OF THIEVES.

    Look out for my mixtape of the best soundtracks which I am dropping soon.

    • Antonia Haynes

      January 6, 2019 at 3:46 pm

      I loved it when I had a listen, such a good pirate/adventure soundtrack. I feel bad that I didn’t put it in!
      Also Dead Cells after hearing it in your mix tape, so good.

  2. John Dork

    January 20, 2019 at 3:28 am

    I’m sorry but NO DEATH’S GAMBIT?! 2D Darksouls with amazing soundtrack by ALEX FCKIN ROE?? I can’t take this list seriously without it, since you have soundtracks like celeste and moonlighter but not this one…

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XO19: Top 10 Best Announcements of the Show

Xbox just had their best XO presentation ever, and it wasn’t even close. Here’s a rundown of the best announcements from XO19.

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Microsoft had a lot to prove going into its fifth annual XO showcase. Console launches are on the horizon, cloud competitor Google Stadia is about to ship to early adopters, and Game Pass subscribers are as hungry as ever for new additions to the lineup. Then there’s the fact that XO has always been looked down upon by the gaming community in general as a lackluster, padded presentation.

All of that changed with XO19. This was, by far, the best XO in the event’s history. In fact, it featured more shocking reveals and genuinely impressive announcements than a good deal of Microsoft’s recent E3 press conferences. From new IP reveals, to first-time looks at gameplay, to a couple “I never would’ve believed you a week ago” shockers, it’s clear that Xbox stepped up its game from years past. Here’s our list of the best announcements of the show.

10. Everwild Reveal

It’s not too often that we get to experience a new IP from Rare. Their last attempt, Sea of Thieves, was a fully multiplayer, always-online affair that gradually garnered a cult following thanks to some of the best community engagement and most consistent content updates in the industry.

We don’t know what type of game Everwild is yet, but it’s certainly oozing that same colorful, ambient charm that made players fall in love with Sea of Thieves all those years ago. Seeing as how we only got a cinematic teaser, though, it might be quite some time before we’re running around these gorgeous environments.


9. ID@Xbox Lineup

The ID@Xbox team has pulled it off again. Despite being stuck with an almost insultingly poor time slot in the presentation, several of the indies shown off in this short montage rivaled some of the show’s AAA spotlights. It had everything from high-profile indies like Streets of Rage 4, Touhou Luna Nights, and the Yacht Club Games-published Cyber Shadow, to more modest beauties like SkateBIRD, Haven, Cris Tales, and she dreams elsewhere.

The best part? All of these are launching on Game Pass day and date. The worst part? No actual dates were announced for anything shown. Regardless, it’s encouraging that so many high quality indies are continuing to come to Xbox (and that relationships with Devolver Digital and Yacht Club are rock-solid).


8. West of Dead Reveal/Open Beta

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Raw Fury has one of the better eyes in the indie publishing scene. Gems like GoNNER, Dandara, and Bad North have all released under their watch, and West of Dead might be their best acquisition yet. It’s a heavily-stylized twin stick shooter that switches things up by making tactical cover a core part of the experience.

The trailer hinted at roguelike elements being present, and the ever-popular procedurally generated levels should significantly up replayability. How it plays, however, remains to be seen…unless you have an Xbox, in which case you can play the exclusive open beta now before the full game comes to all platforms next year.


7. Halo Reach Release Date

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The Master Chief Collection has long been the one golden goose that endlessly eludes those outside of the Xbox ecosystem. Earlier this year, though, Microsoft made waves when it announced that it was bringing the entire collection over to PC. Reach is the first step in that process, and it’s finally making its way to both PC and Xbox One as part of the MCC on December 3rd.

It’s just a date, but the fact that so many new players get to experience one of Halo‘s most beloved outings at last easily made it one of the highlights of the night.


6. Grounded Reveal

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Who woulda thought? Fresh off releasing one of the best RPGs in years with The Outer Worlds, Obsidian decided to show off a passion project from one of its smaller teams: Grounded. The premise? Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: Survival Edition.

Players take control of kids the size of ants as they fight off actual bugs, cook, craft armor and weapon upgrades, and build shelter to survive in the wilderness of someone’s backyard. As silly as it sounds and looks, and as unexpected a project it is for Obsidian to undertake, it genuinely looks rather promising. The cheerful color palette is a welcome contrast to the dark, brooding aesthetic so many other survival games have adopted. There are plenty of details left to be uncovered, but if early impressions are anything to go by, this is one to keep on your radar early next year.


5. Age of Empires IV Gameplay Reveal

xo19

Age of Empires is one of the most esteemed strategy franchises in history. Despite having this beloved IP in their back pocket, however, Microsoft hasn’t published a new mainline game in the series since 2005. Age of Empires IV was originally announced over two years ago, and after buttering everyone up with the release of Age of Empires II Definitive Edition that afternoon, the first glimpse of gameplay was finally shown at XO19.

Simply put, the game looks gorgeous. Every building is full of detail and the countryside looks surprisingly lush and picturesque. Witnessing hundreds of units charging down the valley towards the stronghold in the trailer was mind-blowing as an old-school fan. They didn’t show off any innovations or moment-to-moment gameplay, but it’s looking more and more like the future of the franchise is safe in Relic’s hands.


4. Final Fantasy Blowout

xo19

Xbox’s success in Japanese markets has become something of a running joke over the years. Though inroads were clearly made with Bandai Namco, many more Japanese publishers won’t go within a mile of the platform. Possibly through working with Square Enix’s western division to put the latest Tomb Raider and Just Cause entries on board, it looks like the main branch has finally decided to give Xbox players a chance.

Starting this holiday, Game Pass subscribers will gradually get every single-player Final Fantasy game since Final Fantasy VII. More shocking still, The Verge reported that the Xbox team is working to get the massively popular MMO Final Fantasy XIV over as well. The sheer value of having every post-Super Nintendo Final Fantasy game included in Game Pass (even XV) is ridiculous. It remains to be seen what the rollout cadence of these ten titles will look like, but considering how long each of these are, one per month wouldn’t shock or disappoint.


3. The Reign of Project xCloud

With Stadia launching just next week, Microsoft had been surprisingly quiet on their cloud gaming front up to this point. The service had gone into preview for those lucky enough to get in and, by most accounts, it had been fairly well-received. The real question came down to what Xbox was going to do to make itself stand out from its competition.

The bombs dropped here felt like the equivalent to the thrashing Sony gave to Microsoft back at E3 2013. Microsoft shadow dropped 40+ new games into Preview for players to test (for free) including Devil May Cry 5, Tekken 7, Bloodstained, and Ace Combat 7. Even better, xCloud will support third-party controllers including the DUALSHOCK 4 and will finally show up on Windows 10 PCs in 2020.

Perhaps the most damning announcement, however, is that xCloud will be integrated with Game Pass starting next year. Only having to pay for a Game Pass subscription to access 100+ games and play them in the cloud (including Halo, Forza, The Outer Worlds, and all those Final Fantasy titles) makes xCloud a far better value than Stadia right out of the gate. If this didn’t force Google to adjust its strategy, we might be looking at a very short cloud gaming war.


2. Square Sharing the Kingdom Hearts Love

Kingdom Hearts 3 releasing on Xbox One was somewhat bittersweet. On the one hand, players who had left the PlayStation ecosystem after playing the first games had a chance to see the arc’s conclusion. On the other hand, new players had no options for going back and experiencing the series’ roots.

Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5+2.5 Remix and Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue finally coming to Xbox next year is a godsend for younger players and new players alike. More important, however, is the tearing down of those over 15+ years old exclusivity walls. Just like with many of the Final Fantasys, the main Kingdom Hearts games had been married to PlayStation systems for years. This shift at Square is an exciting one, and it bodes particularly well for the next generation of Xbox hardware.


1. Yakuza Finally Goes Multi-Console

It seems like Phil Spencer’s trips to Japan finally paid off. In what was arguably the most shocking announcement of XO19 (right next to Kingdom Hearts), it was revealed that SEGA is taking the Yakuza series multi-console at last. Not only are Yakuza 0 and Kiwami 1+2 coming to Xbox, but all three are going to Game Pass next year as well.

Does this mean support from Japanese studios will increase across the board? Of course not. But getting big names like Bandai Namco, Square Enix, and SEGA on board is nothing if not encouraging. Xbox is clearly pulling out all the stops to ensure a diverse suite of third-party support come Scarlett’s launch next year, and it’s the healthiest the platform has looked in a very long time.

Honorable Mentions:

Bleeding Edge Release Date

KartRider Drift Reveal/Closed Beta Announcement

Last Stop Reveal

Wasteland 3 Release Date

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‘Garden Story’ First Impressions: The Coziest of Adventures

Long-awaited Twitter darling Garden Story just released its first demo. Here’s what we learned after playing through it twice.

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Following the unfortunate (but understandable) delay of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, there’s been a distinct lack of chill, aesthetic games to fill the void. Garden Story’s charming environmental art and animation have earned it a dedicated social media following, but it wasn’t until Picogram released a demo just a couple days ago that anyone with a Steam account could actually experience the game for themselves. So, just how fun is this wholesome little RPG?

Setting the Scene

Garden Story’s demo centers around the newly-appointed village guardian Concord (a grape) and their first steps in rebuilding Autumn Town, a community ravaged by a sinister force known as “the Rot.” Chatting with villagers reveals a bit of insight into the situation at hand; it’s soon clear just how much the other townsfolk need the player’s support.

There are several clear parallels to old-school Legend of Zelda titles here, but Garden Story manages to set itself apart rather quickly. For one, this isn’t a solo adventure; the player sets out with Rana (a frog) and Fuji (a tomato) on a friendly quest to be as helpful to the surrounding community as possible. Seeing friends around and watching cute scripted cutscenes between the crew does a great job of instilling a sense of camaraderie and friendship.

In another pleasant twist, everything here is themed around building rather than destroying. Instead of traditional swords and bows, Concord repurposes his dowsing rod and scavenging pick into makeshift weapons. The combat itself calls to mind Stardew Valley; simple, minimal, and clearly not the main focus. There’s a pesky stamina bar that restricts the number of times Concord can attack and how far they can run, frequently forcing players to pause between barrages. In this way, encounters often come off as more of a necessary evil in Concord’s town rehabilitation journey than a main attraction.

Rebuilding a Community

So, how does one go about aiding the town? The method highlighted in the demo was by attending to a quest board with three different types of requests: Threat (combat), Repair (exploration), and Want (gathering). Each is accompanied by a task that plays an integral part in keeping Autumn Town safe and in good working order (e.g. clearing out Rot, finding sewer access so new resources can flow into town, and so on).

Aside from fulfilling requests, there are a few interesting hooks to incentivize hitting every shiny thing you come across regardless. The more different types of items are scavenged, and the more catalogues are filled by being updated with new materials, the more literature becomes available to give little bits of insight into Garden Story’s world and history. Then, in another parallel to Stardew Valley, any leftover resources can be sold in the pursuit of buying tool upgrades.

While the full game will feature four locations to explore and tend to, there was still plenty to do in Autumn Town itself by the end of the demo. Rana mentioned that villagers will post new requests daily, and the demo even featured a mini side quest (called “favors”) that led me to obtain a brand-new tool. Between daily requests, favor fulfillment, and dungeons spread across four different regions, it’s looking like there will be a good bit of content here for those who really want to hang around Garden Story’s world for as long as possible.

Ambient Appeal

Though it remains to be seen just how enticing its complete gameplay loop and accompanying systems are, Picogram’s latest is already delivering on its core appeal: being a cozy, relaxing experience. The color palette is soft, the lighting is moody, and the soundtrack is right up there with the Animal Crossing series as having some of the most mellow, loopable tunes around.

In fact, it’s the sound design in particular that gives Garden Story such an intimate feel. From the sound of a page turning when entering and exiting buildings to the gentle gurgles of a bubbling brook in the forest, it’s clear that composer Grahm Nesbitt poured a ton of love into making this one feel just right. Here’s hoping the full game more than delivers on all the potential shown here.

Garden Story is slated to release in Spring of 2020 and is available to wishlist on Steam.

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How Asynchronous Online in ‘Death Stranding’ Brings Players Together

Hideo Kojima’s latest game creates a sense of community by aiding other players on the same perilous journey.

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Death Stranding

Video games have always been fascinated with the idea of player interactivity as a means of crafting a power fantasy. The player typically goes on a hero’s journey, eventually culminating in them being the one and only savior of the world inside the game. Typically associated with single-player games, MMOs also crafted that same narrative but with the conceit that everyone is going on this journey. Often the acknowledgments of other players are in multiplayer-specific features such as PvP and Raids. Destiny is a great example of a series that takes players on the same journey and makes no promise that the story is different between players by even allowing them to engage in playing story missions together. It all feeds into the larger narrative of Guardians fighting together to save the Light. A game that handles this very similar and perhaps more successfully is Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding.

While lacking any direct player-to-player interaction, Kojima’s latest game is drenched in the conceit that community is crucial to triumph over adversity. You can read many articles about the game’s ideas of community from fellow writers on the site. What hasn’t quite gotten the attention it deserves is how revolutionary Death Stranding feels in terms of utilizing asynchronous online to greatly affect the game itself. Games like Dark Souls and other FromSoftware titles have included the ability to leave notes (which Death Stranding also offers) that help (or trick) players as they venture throughout the world on their own. How those notes’ effects are manifested are often on a much smaller scale – helpful at times but often to warn players of an impending way they might die. They don’t have a large impact on the player, only a temporary means of cheating death. 

Where Death Stranding becomes something greater in scale is in what it lets other players do to other peoples’ single-player experiences. In the game, you play as Sam Porter Bridges who is tasked with reconnecting America from coast-to-coast. At first, the game thrusts Sam into its narrative, taking the reluctant, isolated character and forcing him to eventually realize the importance of hope and connections in dire times. As Sam starts bringing more and more people onto the Chiral network (which allows instantaneous communication and the transferring of 3D-printable goods), so too does the game open up and reveal its ultimate goal: to bring players together.

Death Stranding

This doesn’t mean players will ever talk to other players, and the game very much avoids any real negative actions that can be performed on players. In fact, someone could play the game without ever actively engaging with online features. Instead, the game will passively hand out “likes” to other players whose ladders are used or roads are driven. If one wanted to fight the game’s narrative and instead keep Sam isolated and away from the community that the Chiral network provides, they could definitely do that – no matter how antithetical it would be to do so. Death Stranding even offers an offline mode that would nullify all of that and keep the experience solely on the player’s impact on the world and no one else’s. 

Yet there’s a reason the online mode is the default mode. It was near the end of Episode 3 (which also happens to be when the game unloads almost all of its mechanics onto the player) when I finally realized the impact I was having on other people’s games. I had spent an entire day playing the game, but focusing largely on delivering premium deliveries – these are optional challenges that essentially boil down to carrying more cargo, damaging cargo less, or getting to your destination in a set amount of time. Death Stranding doesn’t ever tell you the best way to get somewhere. Instead, it places a wide array of tools in front of you and assuming the Chiral network is set up in an area, it can provide a rough guide on places to avoid or infrastructure already built. However, one of the key pieces of infrastructure missing for my playthrough was roads. My efforts immediately became focused on building a network of roads that made their way all throughout one of the larger areas in the game.

The game doesn’t ever make you build roads. It tells you the option is there but it doesn’t force your hand. Often tools will be introduced, like zip lines and floating carriers, but the game never demands that they’re used. Of course, engaging with those tools will make your life easier. There are easy ways to start building infrastructure in Death Stranding: ropes and ladders can help to scale mountains or plummet depths. Those will remain in the world for other players to use and will even appear on their maps as they hook up areas to the Chiral network. So, someone who plays the game earlier than someone else could lay down ropes and ladders, and depending on when the other person starts playing, they will find those once they have progressed to a point where they are traversing that area. Where the game becomes even grander in its sense of community is the realization that the more players commit to building roads or setting up zip lines, the more other players benefit.

Death Stranding

The reality is that ladders and ropes are temporary – they cannot be rebuilt, they can only be replaced. The game’s Timefall – a weather phenomenon that acts as rain but ages anything it comes into contact with – can reset an entire map after a while if there is nothing more substantial placed on the map. So in my game, I decided that whenever I could build a road, I committed to doing so. This could mean going to multiple waystations and collecting materials that have amassed over time from deliveries, or going out in the world and finding these materials like Chiral crystals. At a certain point, I would load up a truck with multiple deliveries that were on or near the roads I had built, as well as with as many metal and ceramic materials I could load into the truck before it reached capacity. As I delivered packages, I’d replace them with more deliveries and more materials from each waystation. Eventually, I’d find myself at a point where a road was not built yet and would then build that road.

Community stands as the strongest component of Death Stranding .

In contrast to a game like Dark Souls, actions in the world such as providing notes on the ground or helping another player with a boss battle is helping them cheat death. The community that is being built is not one that has any lasting effect on the world in the game. No Man’s Sky may let players interact with each other and further their knowledge of the universe within the game, but often that help is relegated to an isolated planet. It’s a more contained impact. Hideo Kojima created a game where players don’t just build infrastructures for themselves, they can intentionally or inadvertently assist other players throughout their games. This leads to players like myself creating strand contracts with other players who have built things I liked in the game. A strand contract is a powerful feature because it means more of that players’ roads or other items built for the world will show up more frequently in my game.

Every Action in Death Stranding Creates Hope

One of the perks of building so many roads is you also get a lot of likes, whether passively given because someone used the road or actively provided by a player because they not only used the road but were appreciative that someone built it. It’s hard not to feel important in someone else’s life when you’ve made their experience less cumbersome because they no longer have to drive over rocky terrain or through enemy territory but instead can take a highway to their destination. What’s better is that more substantial developments like bridges and roads can be repaired by other players and even upgraded. So while I laid the initial roads down, I actually haven’t spent any materials repairing them. Instead, notifications come in and tell me players have repaired roads I’ve built. There’s no real reason to do that unless the infrastructure built was necessary to their journey through the game – making it easier but also providing the same feeling of helping out a larger community. 

Community stands as the strongest component of Death Stranding – a game that doesn’t even try to be subtle in its intentions. Traversing Kojima’s version of post-apocalyptic America is harrowing on your own. With just your two feet and a package to deliver when the entire world itself is trying to stop you from doing so, America isn’t just divided – it’s hostile. Where Death Stranding shines brightest is when it offers a helping hand. Players aid one another to achieve the same unified goal: save the country. All of this is under the assumption that the country can be saved, but there is no denying that seeing someone else’s rope hanging off a steep cliff, or a Timefall shelter where it rains Timefall on a constant basis, is one of the most satisfying feelings. In Death Stranding, it isn’t enough to know that you’re making progress, but that everyone is willing to assist others to reach the same end goal. It’s a game where every action creates hope and is built upon the idea that we are at our best when we work together.

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