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…
Aion is a game that’s well-renowned for both its visual and audio beauty. Among my fellow MMO soundtrack enthusiasts, the title’s many soundtracks stand out as some of the best in the business. So it goes without saying that we wouldn’t mind a bit more of it, right?
Happily, we got just that. With the advent of Patch 4.8: Upheaval, NCsoft added 18 new music tracks to the game, and for the most part they are spectacular. The score carries the task of selling the atmosphere and wordless story to several new regions and locales, and I had a difficult time picking just six tracks to share.
So here we are with an exclusive first listen to the Aion Upheaval soundtrack. Enjoy!
I love a really good superhero score. Some of my favorite pieces include John Williams’ Superman theme, Danny Elfman’s Batman introduction, Brian Tyler’s Iron Man 3 score, “Favela Escape” from Incredible Hulk, and of course the stellar, amazing, and unforgettable title to Condorman. What? I can’t be the only person who watched that as a kid.
So my expectations when it comes to superhero music is high: It has to be well-done, be highly memorable, and get me so pumped up that I can’t help but fantasize about gaining powers myself. Unfortuantely, I’ve found superhero MMO scores to be a much more mixed bag than their movie counterparts, with good tracks here and there but few consistently great OSTs. It took a MOBA, Infinite Crisis, to show the rest of the field how it should be done.
I’m deeply impressed with Infinite Crisis’ score through-and-through. It was composed by Turbine Audio Director Matthew Harwood and has an amazing amount of variety and personality, not to mention a few of those must-have pump-me-up pieces. I think it reflects well on the “anything goes” attitude of the game’s diverse roster, and it’s earned a spot in my superhero music library.
You know what gets me righteously angry? I shall tell you. I shall tell you, and then you shall share in my anger, you will. What gets me angry is when I get tremendously excited because a new MMO is actually doing a soundtrack release with a whopping 86 tracks across three discs… and then that soundtrack turns out to be about as exciting to listen to as the old dial-up modem noises. I had to drink so much coffee to make it through this score, you have no idea.
Seriously, Elite: Dangerous, you had 86 tracks and pretty much all of them are completely forgettable synthesized noise? I know that “space” usually equals “ambient synth” for soundtracks, but I had hopes that there would be more than a small handful of tracks worth my time. This was — by far — duller than EVE, and I am not the world’s biggest EVE Online soundtrack fan.
Maybe I’m being too harsh. After all, it’s often unfair to decouple a soundtrack from the game and not understand it in its proper context. Then again, other MMO scores have made the transition to a solo listening experience with aplomb, so why not this one?
I’ve always had mixed feelings about Western games putting out Asian-themed expansions and conjuring up a soundtrack to match. On one hand, we already have oh-so-many Asian MMOs (and scores) on the market that for another region to try to get in on that action feels a little forced and unnecessary. On the other hand, why not? It’s no big deal and can foster a multi-cultural atmosphere in the game.
Mists of Pandaria is World of Warcraft’s love song to Asia, which is probably more intentional than coincidental considering how many of the MMO’s players live there. The soundtrack, while a cut above a similar approach with Guild Wars Factions, is decent but hardly among the game’s all-time best scores. It infuses the fantasy world of Azeroth with exotic-sounding instruments such as the erhu, guzheng, and dizi, creating another take on this popular franchise.
So how does Mists of Pandaria’s score acquit itself? Let’s find out!
Sometimes the best soundtracks are hiding where you least expect them.
Though perhaps I shouldn’t be that surprised that The Crew has an impressive score. Racing games have always accented their non-stop driving with terrific OSTs, from Road Rash in the ’90s to the Wipeout franchise (heck, even Mario Kart!). But I suppose my disinterest in The Crew in general caused a general blindness toward its potential for a great soundtrack.
Fortunately, once I listened through Composer Joseph Trapanese’s (Tron: Legacy, Oblivion) work, I came all the way around on this. The Crew is one of the best MMO scores I’ve heard in a while, full of vim and vigor. Don’t make the mistake I did of overlooking this gem; listen to the following six tracks and see if I can’t convince you that we’ve got a winner on our hands here.
A few weeks ago I asked the Massively Overpowered community if all MMOs should come with player music systems. In my opinion, at least, the answer to this is “almost always, yes.” Giving players tools and freedom to express themselves creatively through music is such an immersive and socially bonding element to a game, and yet such systems are more rarities than commonplace.
Today in Jukebox Heroes I wanted to flit around between seven different MMOs to deliver examples of how each included a player music system into its world. From the obscure to the popular, we’ve got an MMO symphony awaiting you after the break!
From birth until its ignoble death, EverQuest Online Adventures always lived in the shadow of the EverQuest franchise’s wing. As a chunky-looking subscription game on a console that was ill-suited to handling it, the game presented obstacles that only a fringe community would overcome. And yet EQOA is very much beloved in some small circles for helping to pioneer console MMOs and for the fun it generated.
I was doubly surprised by EQOA this past week, which I did not think was possible now that the game’s been out of commission for a couple of years. My first surprise was that when I started listening to the soundtrack, it wasn’t early EverQuest’s MIDI bloops but a rich, sweeping score that ranks right up there with the other titles in the series. My second surprise was seeing Jeremy Soule as one of the MMO’s composers (along with Jeremy Bell, Rob King, and Paul Romero). I did not know he was attached to this project, but it does explain that touch of mastery it has.
So humor me today as we go back to a game hardly anyone played but everyone should hear.
As we continue to discover in the years after Glitch’s closure, this was one underappreciated, unusual, and quirky MMO that deserved a lot better than it got. However, its post-demise career has been astounding as fans and former devs have made efforts to reconstruct the game, preserve the art, and (most germane to this column) remaster and release the soundtrack.
Composer Daniel Simmons ran an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to raise money for a proper OST release, and his $8,000 request quickly bloomed into almost $57,000. Fans appreciated the bizarre mix of musical genres and the fun personality that this soundtrack exuded, and I was really excited to see that it recently released for all to enjoy.
So whether or not you played Glitch, join me on a journey through one of the strangest and most endearing scores in the MMO space.
One of my favorite aspects of World of Warcraft’s soundtrack is its devotion to giving the in-game taverns catchy and cozy tunes. I always loved swinging into an inn between adventures just to soak up the ambience and take in the score that was more relaxing than any tankard of virtual ale.
You can imagine how glad I was to see Blizzard devoting a full soundtrack release to WoW’s tavern tunes in 2007. Along with the hard-to-find Mosaic album, Taverns of Azeroth is the only non-expansion (or core game) soundtrack the studio has released. I really appreciated how Composer David Arkenstone layered in atmospheric sounds and used them to transition between the tracks.
So let’s listen to selections from that album and see if we can’t dredge up memories of our favorite watering holes!