The Sound of Exile

Inspired by the wonderful Podcast Battle Bards, I’ve been thinking a lot about game music lately.

I’m known to keep a collection of video game music at home. I listen to it in my car. I listen to it when I run or raid or in the shower. Video game music is real music, but it’s not really received as such.

It’s not that I or you have made a deliberate distinction between “real music” and “game music”, but that the distinction is there. It’s in the mind of every gamer, not because we consider the tunes in our games as fake or less musical, but because the tunes are generally only known by those who play the games. When was the last time you heard a track from Sonic the Hedgehog  or Super Mario playing on your radio? That’s right: Never.

Of particular interest to me right now is the music from Path of Exile, composed by Adgio Hutchings and Gautier Serre. It’s worthy of at least a little more attention and praise than it gets. I entered the alpha and beta testing last year for the game and at the time, you could buy a supporter’s pack which came with the game soundtrack. My subconscious mind has labeled this as game music, and thus I’ve not given much thought to writing about it — just like I’ve NOT done with all the other game music I listened to over the years. You won’t find a single mention of music in any of my articles over the past 5 years. That’s kinda unbelievable given the frequency with which I actually listen to game music. But I think it’s got everything to do with that arbitrary distinction we make between “real music” and “game music”.

Any way, the sound of Exile is perfect for setting the mood for the travels of an exile. It’s dark and foreboding in an adventurous sort of way, as we should expect. It feels like trouble is lurking, like darkness is creeping. It’s the sound of manhunting and death, of dungeons and magic. One of my favorite tracks is The Ledge which I think really captures that sense of journey and haste you experience while visiting The Ledge.

The Ledge (in-game), aptly named, is an outdoor area situated on the rocky shores of the Twilight Strand. It’s located above the sea along the cliffs where you battle your way to the prison. It’s the pace and mood of the track that really gets me. It’s just a favorite lately while I’m dabbling in game mods and writing articles. While playing Exile it leaves a memorable impression on the experience of being there, one that really makes you think about wanting to play the game (I’m resisting the urge as I type). I can always imagine my Ranger making the trek across The Ledge, shooting cadavers and fantatics, finding piles of treasures when I hear this track.

Another favorite is The Prison. This is quite possibly the best track on the album. The tempo and the feeling of transport makes the associated gameplay feel very well placed. It has just the right amount of suspense and motion to put you right into a dark, dank and rusting prison where there are more walking corpses than actual prisoners. There’s depth, the kind that feels like you’re in the bowels of a dark tower; there’s gravity that pulls you into the suspense of adventure. The arrangement of horns really sell the mood on this track.

One of the more popular criticisms of the soundtrack overall is that the music is too background. Players have moaned that there are no tracks which seem designed for the loiterer or trader in town, something players want to sit and listen to for it’s own sake. They’ve got a point, in that the music seems too strictly tailored as background tunes. Right now, the tracks do a really nice job of adding texture, flow, and mood but lack a certain musical quality to stand on their own. Still, I think it’s a minor issue for the game itself and something easily remedied. Path of Exile could be the first ARPG to offer a variety of tracks for each scene and allow players to select those tracks! Oh the dreams of ambitious gamers!

And with that, I must sadly report that this soundtrack isn’t available for sale anywhere. It’s available only to players through the support packs, which support development of the game (the game is otherwise free to play). The packs start at $50. I’ve rarely encountered music of any sort that I’d spend $50 on. In this case, the album has 24 tracks so the only reason one would be interested in buying the album is if they’re interested in the game itself. Given that it is much more of a background music album, despite it’s high quality, there’s no reason to support the game strictly to own the music. Hopefully they will address this soon, because if they’re trying to raise support funds there’s no good reason not to make the soundtrack available to game music connoisseurs such as myself and the good folks over at Battle Bards.

Enjoy these tracks as well as those over at the official website.