EverQuesting: Music makes EverQuest II’s Terrors of Thalumbra complete
Music has been on my mind a lot lately. OK, so it is always on my mind! From skipping down the streets belting out showtunes, cartoon theme songs, and parodies of other assorted songs (now you know what I did last weekend!) to signing on livestreams, my mind is always aswirl with music. So when EverQuest II Audio Manager/Composer Mark MacBride made his Terrors of Thalumbra tracks available on soundcloud, I knew I had to go and give them a listen.
As much as I appreciate the art in a game — as much as I love the vistas, the beautiful backdrops, and the intricate details — it’s music that can truly be the heart of a game experience. It’s the music that truly brings out feelings and emotions that connect you to your surroundings; the right music can add things to the picture that your eye can’t see. There is a reason the saying is “the sights and sounds…” The two really do work in concert (OK, pun may have been intended). Music’s ability to elicit images in the mind through sound alone is powerful, and coupling that with visuals is just a one-two punch of immersion. Without one, your experience with the other is lessened. That’s precisely how I feel about these musical tracks. After sitting back and just listening, I realized that as much as I really enjoy the art in EQII’s new zone, it’s these tracks that bring it all to life.
As an interesting experiment, I actually started the first track and let it just play through, noting at which points images in my mind appeared. It was quite telling to me that the scores walked me through a journey that mirrored the visuals in game, and I could picture each place without knowing which track it was on. That speaks of the mastery of this music.
Until I sat down and listened to this piece without my attention being drawn anywhere else (as in questing, exploring, and shiny collecting), I didn’t realize how powerfully this music captures the complete essence of these underground races. The starting refrain brings instant images of both hard work in Dwarven mines and the non-stop tinkering of Gnomes. There’s no question what two races live here! I can just see the sweat dripping from the brows of very hearty and industrious people, carving out a living from the harsh rocks underground. I actually keep expecting to run across various contraptions and whirly-gigs whenever I turn a corner in this city. I often do, but the fact that I can feel them there even if I can’t see them makes it feel all the more real.
More than just hearing sounds that bring to mind the images of the Dwarves and the Gnomes separately is the fact that the music is blended together in such a way that I can hear how the two have blended their societies. I can also sense their deep loyalty.
This music has that majestic feel, but has a darker undercurrent that promises both secrets and danger. The crescendo builds the intensity, making me feel like I need to creep along slowly with a sharp focus as to what I will find around the next corner. It was exactly how I’d feel entering a dungeon for the first time, knowing that danger is lurking and expecting it at any moment, then feeling that expectation wind tighter and tighter each quiet moment that passed until I am ready to jump at the slightest movement — which is all quite fitting, since Penumbra is home to many of the region’s dungeons.
Unlike previous scores, this one actually gave me the feeling of flight over the land. It flowed into a more tranquil place, and I picture moving into the glowing green foliage of Zou’Lidelas. Using voices for a choral sound in the beginning brought to mind the dragonfly fae folk. The music then built up, informing me that not all is a tranquil as it would seem, which fit perfectly with running into dangers mid-air as well as those lounging on the leaves.
Honestly, of all the scores this one shocked me because it sent me exactly where it meant to. After listening to the whole, I went and replayed each individual track, at which point I very much noticed the titles and could tell where most were placed in the game world. What I didn’t know is where I would actually find this music when I ventured into Norrath. But it was spot on: The moment I entered the region on the map and heard those voices, my jaw almost dropped.
Even before reading this title, I got the feeling of an old place, pulsing with power. I felt that power building, perhaps from ancient rituals performed by the light of glowing braziers. I wouldn’t be surprised to find this tune in a dungeon, like Kratlet Panumbra: Rise to Power or Temple of the Ill-seen, or as you approach that dias in Stygian Threshhold: The Howling Gateway. Unfortunately, I cannot check as I am not currently of a level to venture inside them.
As an overarching theme for the whole expansion, this piece has to embody the feel for the whole land. Even though the clip is less than two minutes, I think it succeeds. There’s the sweeping, majestic beginning that brings to mind the massive caverns the land is situated it — and then the dangers in it! I swear the music follows my thoughts of awe walking into such an amazing expanse, and then picks up right when I’d notice something beautiful is actually deadly and aims to eat me, so I run.
Another tranquil piece, this music brings to mind simplicity and calm. Instead of the harried pace of many other areas, I felt a slowness that perfectly captures the ambling of the giant ‘shroom people, the myconids. And I swear I feel a mixture of darkness and luminescence in the deeper tones mixing with the melody.
This track has the same ethereal qualities of lilting music and voice that Umbra did, but with a slightly different tone. In fact, it speaks to me of the Glaufaye and their homes high in the branches. It made perfect sense then that this melody played as I flew into Luminous Peaks to meet with this unique race that floats above the ground, just as the music floats.
I very much appreciated this chance to sit back and wander through the EQII without actually ever logging in. I’d like to experience this for much more of the game; I’d love to see how much my mind’s eye catches when it isn’t distracted by what my real eyes see.
I’ll admit that my next thought was to go back and discuss my favorite musical scores in the game. However, that became a massively daunting task as there are so many zones and so many dungeons that I simply can’t remember them all nor could I possibly visit in the time I had allotted. So we’ll leave that for another week. In the meantime, which musical scores do you think perfectly fit their areas and help you feel immersed in EQII?