Because we play these games extensively, it's not uncommon for MMO music -- and themes -- to become vilified by the sheer number of times we've heard them. That's a little unfair to a three-minute piece of soundtrack that slaves every day to feed his wife and kids, doing the best he can in a trying situation. So perhaps we can put aside melodic oversaturation to look at these tracks anew, shall we?
With half of them out of the way, it's time to look into the elite of the elite: the 10 best MMO themes of all time. According to me. A guy you don't know. You've got goosebumps, don't you?
10. Allods Online
Let's be clear: The main theme to Allods Online is certainly serviceable, but that's not where it's at. I've actually become increasingly fond of, even entranced by, the softer alternate theme that soothes my raucous soul. Maybe it takes a couple listens to dig its hooks in; I don't know. But it's most definitely one of my new favorites. Does the harper know of love and loss? Listening to this, I know she does. Play on, sister, play on!
9. World of Warcraft
OK, raise your hand if you've heard this tune. One, two... yeah, that's pretty much everybody. Or, at least, everyone who played vanilla World of Warcraft. For me and some friends I talked to today about it, the original WoW theme was so intertwined with the game and those early days that it's impossible to separate the two. Sure, we ended up hearing this a million times over, but y'know what? It's still pretty darn cool.
8. Star Trek Online
Gasp! A Cryptic title in the top 10? Have I gone mad due to dandelion snorting? Nay, gentle folk, I am simply acknowledging the obvious: Star Trek Online's theme is worthy of a slot among these honored brothers and sisters of score.
It begins with the heavy horns of a typical Star Trek theme, but by the 1:30 mark it goes to Warp Speed Awesome. Seriously, this is so good that I'd put it above most Star Trek TV theme songs. Faith of the Heart my fanny.
7. Ultima Online
Help! I'm being held prisoner by my editor! Seriously! She told me that she'd spellcheck me to death if I didn't include her favorite MMO theme, the one from Ultima Online -- and I know that she would. Why won't someone rescue me? Is it because you're listening to the soothing, iconic strains of this classic masterpiece? Or because I put a Cryptic game in the top 10?
Please... please send help.
6. Guild Wars
Jeremy Soule's Guild Wars compositions are nothing short of a work of art when taken together. "Beautiful" and "sweeping" adequately describe most of the tracks, and while I know that there will be some debate over which is the best theme song from the four titles to date, I'm giving the nod to Prophecies as the original game's landmark score. It's almost a sad song to listen to, but in an epic way.
5. Granado Espada / Sword of the New World
Didn't expect to see this in the top 10, did ya? All bets are off now! I could kill anyone off at this point!
While it might sound equally at home as the score for a Silent Hill game, Granado Espada's piano theme is incredibly graceful as an MMO intro. The whole soundtrack is a gem, by the way, and I love the emotion this track evokes without my ever having stepped foot in the game.
4. Asheron's Call
Dang if this score isn't tasty on two fronts! The intro bit is different enough to catch my attention, but once the score kicks into high gear, I'm even more drawn into the game's world. It may be an oldie, but this is the type of song that you should have on your mix tapes (CDs? Playlists?) for decades to come. Probably the best Turbine score I've heard.
I'm going for a twofer here, since it was a tossup between EverQuest's original, iconic theme or EverQuest II's orchestral update. I like both, but the edge goes to EQ the first for being the track that carries the most nostalgic fan value. The theme shouts "high fantasy!" to me in all ways short of actually pulling out a choir to be chanting "Flying carpets! Sparkly magic! Wiiiiiiizards!" in the background. And for this? It fits like a glove.
2. Runes of Magic
Runes of Magic has an extraordinarily awesome soundtrack across the board, to the point that the main theme song (one of many, I might add) isn't even my favorite. Considering how excellent this track is, I think that's saying something.
The game has suffered, perhaps fairly, under the onslaught of World of Warcraft ripoff/clone accusations, but I'd have to say that its score actually exceeded WoW's in many ways. It's definitely more played on my Winamp and iPod, that's for sure.
1. Guild Wars 2
Just when you thought Guild Wars had the market on the best overall soundtrack, along comes the vanguard of the Guild Wars 2 aural army, crashing over hills and storming through valleys until the land is subjugated under its percussiony wrath.
In other words, this theme is nothing but kicking tushies from here 'till Tuesday, demanding to be played at top volume, any hour of the day and night. Don't think it deserves the number one spot? Look into its eyes and it will stare you down until you back away, mumbling that you forgot your place and it won't happen again.
And that's it -- my personal 20 favorite MMO themes! I certainly had to whittle quite a few off the list to get down to just these (I began with well over 50), so I'm guessing I may have neglected to mention your favorite. So why not share it -- and perhaps a YouTube link -- in the comments section?
Justin "Syp" Olivetti enjoys counting up to ten, a feat that he considers the apex of his career. If you'd like to learn how to count as well, check out The Perfect Ten. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.