Jukebox Heroes: My top six favorite MMO soundtracks of all time
In ranking MMO soundtracks, there are a lot of ways to do it. You can pull out individual tracks or praise a game for its sheer quantity of musical material. You could even give props to well-known composers such as Jeremy Soule and Inon Zur. You might point to certain game soundtracks as triggers for powerful nostalgia.
Today I want to share my top six favorite MMO soundtracks, but I want to make it clear that the biggest criteron here isn’t whether I’ve played the game or like the composer or have a fondness for a specific track. No, each of these six (and it was agony to choose) is on the list because the overall quality and breadth of each soundtrack has impressed me. Track for track, these OSTs offer a higher ratio of hits to duds and have acquitted themselves well over time.
So what are they? In no particular order, my favorite six are…
In my opinion, one of the greatest crimes of our time is that WildStar has yet to release its soundtrack. People who don’t play this game still know this OST because it’s just that good. Seriously, Carbine, this needs to happen.
The more I listen to the prolific WildStar score, the more I am in awe of its genre variety — there’s everything from ’50s commercial ditties to new western to ’80s synth — and how expressive and exciting these tracks are. Composer Jeff Kurtenacker has been been slaving away on this OST for years now, and it’s one that I’ll never turn off while I’m playing the game.
One thing that I can always respect about Blizzard is that it doesn’t spare any expense in creating great art — and that includes creating wonderful soundtracks. World of Warcraft has a body of music that practically shames most MMOs with many memorable themes. I love how WoW’s composers are willing to take detours around the traditional fantasy paths to explore quirky tunes, tavern ballads, and rich, atmospheric soundscapes.
This might be sad, but any time a new expansion is announced for the game, the reason that I’m the most excited is because I know that there will be a new soundtrack release for it.
3. Guild Wars 2
I was really torn between this and the first Guild Wars, but I’m going to give Guild Wars 2 a slight edge due to a more mature-sounding score and all of the additional pieces that the in-house team has provided. In fact, the living world stuff has in some places surpassed Soule’s score and given much-needed variety to Tyria’s sound.
Plus, here’s a game that not only created a retro-style adventure world but a retro soundtrack to go with it. Sunny Glade forever!
Consider this my dark horse pick. While Runes of Magic might not get much respect among the broader MMO community, the soundtrack has always wowed me with it strong, exciting movements and lovely tunes. It’s also a massively OST if you hunt around for it, with well over 150 pieces out there (and probably still growing).
As much as I enjoyed Howard Shore’s movie soundtracks, LOTRO’s score will always be the sound of Middle-earth to me. I can’t overstate how much the score added to the feel and immersive factor of the game, especially with its talent for bringing out such sweeping emotion and echoing the events of the game world. From the first timid steps into Moria to the taverns of the Shire to the plains of Rohan, this soundtrack establishes itself as a masterpiece and doesn’t quit.
Final Fantasy has a strong musical legacy going all of the way back to its first title and thus had a lot to live up to in the online game. It shouldn’t be surprising that the team poured so much effort and skill into creating a pitch-perfect score that encapsulates beauty and action. While I’m not that thrilled with the high cost of purchasing these CDs (and their general unavailability via digital purchase), I was not disappointed when I listened through A Realm Reborn’s OST one bit. All games should be so lucky to have a score this grand.