As a video game music collector and lover, I am frustrated by how very few MMO soundtracks ever make it to a proper release. Sure, I know it’s a niche interest within a niche hobby, but it’s still maddening to think of how many great games have no soundtracks out there whatsoever. Considering how going digital with sales makes it so much more easy (and cheap) these days, I say there’s no excuse.Secret World Legends’ soundtrack out there. Marc Canham (Far Cry 2) and Simon Poole (The Longest Journey) split the composer duty on this one, and it’s probably a good thing that there are multiple perspectives on what is a game that marches to the beat of its own drummer. Contemporary, horror, and conspiracy together beg for a much different sound than grandiose fantasy fanfares.
I actually ended up liking this more than Age of Conan’s score (blasphemy among some of you, I know). There’s still too many atmospheric dread pieces that don’t lend themselves to listening on their own, but fortunately, there are enough notable tracks to make up for the rest.
Secret World’s main theme is one of the most iconic aspects of the game, and it’s a gem of a track. It begins with a delicate piano dance and light echoes, with growing bass in the background eventually bursting out to become a formidable presence.
I think this strikes the right tone for the game: a little unnerving, a little scary, and a little hint at the epic story to come. At least it’s not screeching violins, which seems to be the default horror “voice” of soundtracks.
“A Still Surface”
In my first listen-through of this soundtrack, I gave this track a pass. I’m glad that I checked it out a second time, however, because it’s really grown on me. “A Still Surface” has a pretty dull beginning: not terrible but nothing memorable. It just kind of drones on for a while, all dark and mysterious-like, for two minutes.
But then something happens. You realize it’s been building for that period, and when it hits 2:12, it goes into this Terminator-like beat that’s pretty darn awesome. It’s not a super-long climax, but it’s definitely funky and enhanced by some light percussion around 2:26.
As I said before, Secret World isn’t about showy fanfares; there’s a lot of quiet subtlety to these pieces. While it’s nothing you’ll want to have playing in your helicopter while you ride into war, the quiet allows you to easily pick out separate instruments and see how the composer intertwines them.
“Dragon Considers” is a good example of this. The high point of this song is still pretty laid-back, but it’s been gradually adding more and more instruments along the way, including the hint of an Asian flute and strings. With the title pointing toward that Asian influence, I really expected something a lot more stereotypical, but this runs in a new direction.
It’s high praise for this track that I can totally imagine it being used on a mainstream TV show like Lost or Fringe. The longer it goes on, the better it gets, which is another common trait that many of these songs share.
It doesn’t take a practiced ear to pick out the fact that “Factions” reworks the main theme of the game into something far grander. I wouldn’t want to choose between the two, so I won’t. I can have my cake and listen to it too.
“March on Templars”
The piano is most definitely the central instrument to this soundtrack, and “March on Templars” begins with it up front and center. This is a stunningly beautiful piece, perhaps my most favorite out of the entire soundtrack. Despite what the title may suggest, it’s as far from a military-style beat as you can get. Instead, what we have here is a swirl of anxiety and anticipation, perhaps topped with those little chocolate sprinkles you like so very much.
Launch trailer remix
While not on the soundtrack itself, the song behind the launch trailer is so striking that I couldn’t ignore it. It’s so sad and haunting, just everything you wouldn’t see in other MMOs. In other words, it’s perfect for Secret World.
Simon Poole explained how this track came to be: “For this trailer we licensed a remix of ‘This Bitter Earth/On the Nature of Daylight’ by Dinah Washington/Max Richter. The original remix was done by Robbie Robertson of The Band, for the end credits of the Martin Scorsese film Shutter Island. I then did a further remix of Robbie’s remix, adding textures and orchestration.”