Jukebox Heroes: LOTRO’s Northern Mirkwood soundtrack

    
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One of the most pleasant surprises I experienced in a while came a week or so ago when Standing Stone Games announced that it had just posted the entire 28-track score for Lord of the Rings Online’s Update 22 on its YouTube page. It was surprising because the studio isn’t in a habit of doing this, but more so because this ended up being one of the best soundtrack additions to the game in a long time.

I’m not the only one to notice this, by the way; several of my friends who play LOTRO have commented on how beautiful and engaging the Northern Mirkwood soundtrack is. Composer Bill Champagne doesn’t take us back to the old sound of classic LOTRO, but I think he does crack into the spirit of wide-open worlds full of mystery and wonders. He gives Dale its own personality, and I loved every minute of listening through it.

Today I’ve chosen six of my favorite tracks from this update to feature here, and I truly hope that SSG (and other studios, hint hint) will continue to post update soundtracks as they are released.

The Razed Stronghold

Let’s start out with a strong action track that befits players heading back into Dol Guldur to see the remnant of Sauron’s legacy. While some action tracks angle for uplifting or epic tones, this one mixes in a lot of darker elements while still keeping the pace quick and snappy. It’s an interesting balance to strike, and I think it does so well.

The River Running

Now that we’ve gotten the loud noises out of the way, I’m going to be concentrating on the quieter, more peaceful tracks for the remainder of my picks. These are the types of songs that I’ve always loved in LOTRO anyway — the ones that draw me into the world and give me a sense of its personality and nature. The River Running works in the motif of bells (a big Dale thing, as we’ll see) while conjuring up a peaceful and majestic landscape. It’s unlike anything we’ve heard in the game to date, but that is not a bad thing.

The Bells of Dale

Need more bells? We need more bells. Here are some bells. I am very partial to this track, because it kind of sounds like Christmas morning in some renaissance faire village. The call-and-response of the instruments charms me, as does the simple but very optimistic melody. It’s like the music is erupting from several locations and overlapping, making me feel as though I am in the middle of a village.

As Dale Slumbers

What does it sound like when the lights go down? As Dale Slumbers reprises the River Running theme, although in a softer and sleepier fashion. I wish that more games would have day and night musical themes (which I particularly appreciated of FFXIV). This is a spot-on nighttime track, where nothing could possibly go wrong as you walk around a quaint town on the lake.

Between Lake and Mountain

While this track generally meanders about in a pleasant, affable way, I do like how there’s a shadow of a grand country theme in here. Perhaps it’s reminiscing about the glorious days of old? In any case, this is just ideal zone questing music for me.

The Jolly Bell

Yes, there are certainly a lot of bells going on with this soundtrack. Maybe too many? Yet despite the name here, this is much more of an acoustic guitar track (the Jolly Bell is most likely the name of a tavern). It sounds a lot more modern than some of LOTRO’s other tavern tunes, but I really dig its peppy vibe and background percussion.

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!

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Loopy

The River Running is an awesome track. Just enough melancholy in it to make it appealing to me, but not too much of a downer where you just get bummed out throughout.