With all of the award madness going on at Massively OP this month, it’s the perfect time to unveil the 2016 Online VGM Awards! It’s been a great year of soundtracks from our favorite MMOs, and since I have the opportunity to singlehandedly dish out any awards I like in this column, I wanted to give some honor to terrific composers and tunes that we got to listen to this year.
As with last year’s awards, I’ll be fashioning each category and selecting a winner. Some of the categories are 2016-specific, while others have more flexibility to stretch beyond this calendar year. Unlike last year’s awards, this round will have categories that are more universal and can be carried forward in future years.
So who won? We’ve got six categories to go through, including best MMO soundtrack of 2016 and composer of the year, so let’s get started!
Best SoundCloud: Guild Wars 2
As studios and composers turn more to SoundCloud as a preferred platform to show off music, I keep my eye (and ear) on those accounts that go above and beyond to deliver regular tracks of music that goes into MMOs in current updates.
In this regard, there is no studio doing more to put out its music on a consistent basis than ArenaNet. The Guild Wars 2 team was not content to just push out the Heart of Thorns album last year; it has further enriched that with even more expansion tracks and now the Living World season 3 soundtrack. And it’s good stuff, too!
Best album release: WildStar
After a couple of years of grousing that WildStar’s incredible soundtrack was being withheld from the public, we got not just one but two album releases over the course of this year. Fans of composer Jeff Kurtenacker’s score rejoiced to be able to listen to this music outside of the game, even as Kurtenacker continues to create new tunes for the sci-fi MMO. Volume 3 anyone?
Best soundtrack discovery: Aura Kingdom
Every year there seems to be at least one MMO soundtrack that I stumble upon and find to be surprisingly delightful. In 2016, this goes whole-heartedly to Aura Kingdom. I know, who would think it, right? But it’s actually a vibrant and well-done score with plenty of catchy tracks that make it well worth exploring.
Best 2016 expansion score: World of Warcraft: Legion
This was probably the toughest category for me to award, as 2016 saw several pretty good expansion scores come out. Most notably, RIFT: Starfall Prophecy, Destiny: Rise of Iron, and SWTOR: Knights of the Eternal Throne all had excellent tracks in their portfolios.
However, I couldn’t in good conscience give this award to any expansion other than Legion. I’m not always a fan of World of Warcraft OSTs, but Legion’s score is one of the better ones out there and has several headliner tracks such as Anduin and Last Stand. It shows that Blizzard isn’t phoning it in with its music, even 12 years after the MMO’s launch, and that’s comforting to realize.
Best 2016 MMO score: Black Desert Online
With fewer new MMOs releasing this year, there wasn’t a large selection of albums from which to pick for this category. Fortunately, I felt that Black Desert would have been a contender even in a crowded year, which makes it a no-brainer for an award.
Like the game, Black Desert’s soundtrack contains a lot of beauty as well as bursts of action and triumph. Here’s hoping that it gets an official western release at some point, because I think it deserves it. Plus, now the studio can slap a “Massively OP’s Jukebox Heroes Best 2016 MMO Score Winner” on it!
Composer of the Year: Neal Acree
World of Warcraft Composer Neal Acree had a really strong year in 2016 and distinguished himself as one of those names that video game music afficionados should recognize and repeat. From his work on Overwatch (including its now-iconic Victory theme) to the aforementioned Legion soundtrack to the incredibly moving main theme to Revelation Online, Acree ends the year with several hits under his belt — and now an award, too.
MMOs are meant to be heard as well as seen, and chances are that music ties your memories to these games more than you might realize. Every two weeks Jukebox Heroes listens through a game soundtrack and picks out the highlights to share and discuss. And if you like this column, then don’t miss the author’s MMO music podcast, Battle Bards!