One of my earliest impressions of the Guild Wars franchise, before I even owned it, but had only played it at a friend’s house, was not its gameplay or story, but its beautiful soundtrack. I am personally a big fan of video game soundtracks (naturally, I enjoy Justin’s Jukebox Heroes column). Soundtracks make great focus music for work, and Guild Wars 2’s is one of my go-tos. I think one of the unfortunate things about the Living World format is that many players play a lot of this content only once, which means it’s easy to gloss over some of the fantastic music found in these areas.ArenaNet’s soundcloud! Today, I’d like to share some of my favorites with you.
Season 1: Twisted Marionette 2
The Twisted Marionette was a terrifying meta event boss created by Scarlet Briar during Season 1, and this dark theme sets the tone for it wonderfully. I picked the phase 2 version of this track over phase 1 because I really enjoy the metallic percussion sections. It would get old really fast if it were overdone, but as is it’s a really cool accent. I also love that the composers wove in a variation on the game’s main theme.
Season 1: Battle on the Breachmaker
I missed much of Season 1 and have only hazy memories of the parts I did play, but I know a friend definitely dragged me along on the Breachmaker instance. Even though I had yet to grow attached to the story or characters, I remember the desperate atmosphere of the Battle of Lion’s Arch.
I love all of the different transitions in this one. In the original instance, these were cued by boss phase changes, but I appreciate the way the version on SoundCloud merges them all into one seamless track. My favorite part is at 2:00 when everything drops out, and we’re left with a darkly beautiful piano solo.
Season 2: The Modrem
I love the subdued marimba in this piece. Then the low strings slowly sneak their way in, followed by the brass, and later the violins. The slow swelling of the music is perfect for the sinister minions of Mordremoth, ever growing and spreading their way out from the Maguuma Jungle.
Season 2: Shadow of the Dragon
I loved this instance. It was a great plot twist. Players may recall that the Shadow of the Dragon was the boss of the Sylvari tutorial, a dragon made from twisted jungle plants, like the dragon version of a Sylvari. At the time, we players collectively wrote that off as “Well your character had never seen anything outside of other Sylvari in the Dream, so when the Pale Tree gave you a vision of a dragon, you imagined it also being a plant-based lifeform.” Then this guy shows up in the flesh – er, in the vines?
Story associations aside, this is a great boss fight track. It gives a real feeling of intensity and dread. If you’re a Sylvari player, this is literally a nightmare come to life for you. It’s easy for boss music to become overwhelming in an already frantic situation, but this track does a great job of conveying that sense of panic without overdoing it.
Season 2: The Golden Cave
Does anyone else remember how the player character kept talking about a vision of “a golden location” in this season? My wife and I still make fun of that to this day. Any time there’s a golden city or whatever in a game (which happens surprisingly often), we have to exclaim “I’ve found a golden location!” It was such an awkward phrase that the studio just ran with for the whole season.
Anyways, I love the sense of wonder and serenity in this track. It’s just so tranquil while at the same time inspiring a sense of awe.
Season 3: Bloodstone Fen
I love the metallic stress sounds in this one! It’s so unique! And those deep strings and that alto flute… such a desolate impression. This is a very simple, atmospheric track, but I love when composers throw just a pinch of non-instrumental sounds into the mix.
Season 3: Taimi’s Game
I love this track because it at once feels like part of the Guild Wars 2 soundtrack, but also like it would fit right in with the soundtrack of Tron or some other cheezy ’80s sci-fi movie. The instance in which this plays was completely unnecessary (you’re fighting holographic dragon minions so Taimi can test some theory or other, but let’s be honest, some designer said “this beginning part has too much talking, not enough fighting” and somebody got tasked with contriving a reason to fight stuff), but I’m glad it happened because this is one of my favorite tracks from Season 3. It feels cold and mechanical, but driving and catchy. Some nice harmonies come in in the second half as well. The part 2 variant is also worth a listen!
Season 3: Battle In Draconis Mons
This is such an epic track for such an epic battle. I love the tabla (a traditional Indian hand drum) that comes in around 0:31. As I’ve mentioned, I really enjoy unique instrumentation. Hand drums are something I normally associate with more laid-back, acoustic music, but it really works here. And the choir part in this piece is phenomenal! A top-notch track for a top-notch season.
Season 4: Joko
Praise Joko! I’ll be honest, this is one villain I wasn’t sad to see go. He wasn’t the worst or anything, but he was just such a joke it was hard to take him seriously as a threat. His theme certainly isn’t to blame for that, though; the dark, brooding choir and eerie chimes are far more menacing than he deserves. Anyone else getting an Emperor Palpatine vibe from this one?
Season 4: Amala
Anyone who says that Guild Wars 2’s world bosses are all too easy clearly hasn’t faced Warden Amala. I love the subtle whispering at the beginning of this track; it makes this former sunspear turned Joko minion that much more sinister. The big brass and frantic strings really bring this fight to life.
Season 4: Aurene, Dragon Full of Light
Ah, it feels like just yesterday that we watched our precious little dragon daughter hatch. Now she’s off on her own, slaying evil doers, cleansing corruption, and being an Elder Dragon. They grow up so fast, you know?
If this live choir piece doesn’t give you chills, I don’t know what will. Especially that sweep at 2:15! This is a powerful hymn by the Zeyphrites for their long-awaited savior. It’s beautiful, haunting, and reverent.
Icebrood Saga Prologue: The Ballad of Soulkeeper
You knew this was coming, right? As much as there was to love in this relatively story-light prolgue, the Metal Legion concert was by far the most memorable part. I don’t even particularly like metal, and I still legitimately enjoy this musically, not just thematically.
I could have picked any of the three Metal Legion tracks, but I chose The Ballad of Soulkeeper because, being a ballad, it tells the story of a heroic figure, namely Almorra Soulkeeper, the Charr founder of the Vigil. It really captures the spirit of the Charr: Their devotion to duty, their unrelenting fierceness, and their strength in the face of adversity.
I want to thank Maclaine Diemer, Lena Chappelle, and all of the awesome composers and instrumentalists who have contributed to this incredible soundtrack. Your work is one of the best things about my favorite MMO, and I hope our ears are graced with its beauty for years to come.