Jukebox Heroes: The best of LOTRO’s Vales of Anduin score

    
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With a reduced budget and a smaller team, Lord of the Rings Online can’t afford to throw gobs of money at composers and orchestras these days. For the most part, the MMORPG has been relying on in-house efforts ever since Helm’s Deep, for better or for worse. Sometimes we get really great stuff, sometimes it’s pretty forgettable synth scores.

As of late, SSG Composer Bill Champagne has handled creating the score for each of the major updates. Despite working internally with just a sound library, Champagne has turned out some of the game’s more magnificent soundtracks in recent memory. Update 24: Vales of Anduin is a great example of this, as his sweeping score augments the beauty of this region perfectly. In today’s column, we’ll be looking at six of the best of these tracks and why I think that they represent modern LOTRO superbly.

“Eagle Land”

I’m not sure I can forgive that track title, but even so I had to feature this because it’s a wonderfully heartfelt tune that tries to convey the majesty and history of the great eagles of Middle-earth. Peaceful and rich tracks like this are LOTRO’s bread-and-butter, and I really appreciate hearing one so late in the game’s journey.

“Feast in the House of Grimbeorn”

This Hobbit-inspired quest is one of the more strange and goofy moments of the game (but it draws from canonical lore so shush). I think this piece nails the atmosphere of this unusual meal, giving us a playful and homey melody with a lot of back-and-forth between instruments. I didn’t like how shrill some of the flutes got, but the background strings and percussion more than made up for it.

“At Wood’s Edge”

Starting on a note of uncertainty, At Wood’s Edge soon breaks out an acoustic guitar and fiddle combo that feels atmospheric. This track complements a natural setting, giving the impression of someone looking from one biome to another. Also, it’s so good. So so good.

“Solitude of the Northern Vales”

Yes, I have a clear preference in the type of music that I like from this game, and Champagne does too as he continues to break out a humble acoustic guitar and set it against higher instruments and drawn-out peaceful moments. This isn’t as good as some of the other pieces, but I still found a lot to be valued here even so.

“A Wizard’s Defence”

For a change of pace, here’s a tension-filled action track that relies heavily on agitated percussion and suspenseful cues. For my money, they could have cut out everything but the percussion and I would have loved it just as much. If not more.

“The Beorning Lands”

Ahhh… back to the guitar. Well, we’ve got a theme to perpetuate, after all. There’s a bit of a jaunty dance vibe with this one, especially as the tambourine tries to convince us to get up off our butts and do the foxtrot with some bears. Overall, it’s a warm racial track that is as inoffensive and welcoming as possible before it winds down to a soft close.

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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