So how do you get started on building up a robust library of MMO music? If you don't have deep pockets, which scores would I recommend you pick up first? Well, my friend, I've given it some thought and have put together a guide to six essential purchases that will get you off to a great start. Don't thank me; thank music. And also me because I did this hard work.
You'll want to start your collection with a score from a certified music maestro. Three names instantly come to mind when I think of my favorite soundtrack composers: Jeremy Soule, Inon Zur, and Chance Thomas. All three have extensive history and experience with MMO composition, and more importantly, a great talent for it. You really can't go wrong with picking up an album from any of them, but don't stop there; why not get one from each?
Recommendations: Guild Wars Prophecies (Jeremy Soule), RIFT (Inon Zur), and Lord of the Rings Online: Riders of Rohan (Chance Thomas).
2. Something from the World of Warcraft franchise
Forget the fact that WoW has been on top of the MMO pack for longer than many of us have been playing these games -- when you separate the music from the phenomenon, you'll discover that these are generally excellent soundtracks across the board.
World of Warcraft has seven albums that I know of: the core game score, one soundtrack for each of the four expansions, Mosaic, and Taverns of Azeroth. Mosaic isn't available for purchase from the usual vendors, but the rest are. You really should have at least one of these in your collection, and if you like what you hear, it's a hop, skip, and a jump to wanting to own the rest.
Recommendation: World of Warcraft original game soundtrack.
3. Something from Asia with love
Asia loves its MMOs, and studios from the region put their western counterparts to shame by creating and releasing lavish soundtracks. It's not uncommon to see titles with multiple albums on sale, and even the smaller fry often get a day in the sun with their own release. There's plenty of goodness here, although some of it does tend to have a bit of a regional sound that goes down smooth for some and is irritating to others.
Recommendations: Aion: Utopia, Final Fantasy XI
There seems to be no shortage of opinions out there about which games have the best scores, but the crowd does like to come around a few fan-favorites. Hey, if a whole bunch of your peers can agree on a few "must-haves," wouldn't it be kind of silly to ignore them? Discounting the scores I've already listed and narrowing down the field to the ones that are on sale online, I think there are two widely acclaimed soundtracks that would be terrific additions to your collection. Both are fantasy, both are meaty, and both have legions of fans behind them.
Recommendations: Age of Conan, Guild Wars 2
5. Something that harkens back to early MMOs
Don't forget the early days of MMOs when it comes to your collection! As I'm fond of saying, while video games age, music doesn't (except if it's MIDI, and even then it's a matter of personal taste). Many of the "classic era" MMOs have terrific scores, although only a couple of them are available anywhere for purchase. My choices for this seesaw between a re-recording of EverQuest's score by the original composer and an absolutely awesome album of music that may or may not have made it into Dark Age of Camelot at all.
Recommendations: EverQuest Composer: The Original Opus I, Dark Age of Camelot
6. Something quirky
C'mon, it's time to get off the beaten path of popular fantasy MMOs and include a different flavor in your collection! There's so much to recommend for this slot. Perhaps you'd be intrigued with some pirate tunes or would appreciate a very video game-sounding romp. What about some steampunk? Horror? We've got that too!
Recommendations: Pirates of the Burning Sea: Vol. 1, Spiral Knights: Vol. 1, City of Steam, The Secret World
From here, the sky's the limit!
While collecting MMO music and building up a comprehensive library is something that I'm still striving toward, it's a lot of fun when you really start getting into it. I am disappointed that more studios obviously think so little of their soundtracks or the audience for them that they haven't bothered with a release, but there's plenty out there that can be found or purchased with ease. I hope this gets you off to a good start, but remember that it's just that: a start!
MMOs aren't just about looks; they also have great soundtracks that often go unnoticed. Heroes don't stand for that! Every Tuesday, Jukebox Heroes will check out a game's soundtrack and feature the best tunes to share and discuss. Your DJ for the hour is Justin Olivetti, and the request line is open!