Riders of Rohan is the first major addition to LotRO's soundscape since Moria, and I'm sure I wasn't alone in clasping my hands together in excitement when I heard that Chance Thomas was returning to score it. We had heard several tracks from it leading up to the expansion's release, but the big question was whether the quality of these pieces was an anomaly or was indicative of the entire soundtrack's excellence.
I wish you could see me grinning right now for the answer to that. Riders of Rohan instantly jumped to my top 10 favorite MMO soundtracks of all time, and I couldn't stop gushing about it to friends as I gave it my initial listen-through. Hit the jump to hear my highlights from it.
1. LOTRO Legacy
LOTRO Legacy was the first track released to the public following the announcement of this new score, and I knew when I heard it that we were in for something very special with this album. It was so good, in fact, that I remember crossing my fingers and hoping that it wasn't a fluke in an otherwise mediocre soundtrack.
I needn't have worried.
I just love this track so much that I've listened to it dozens of times. It's a medley of themes from the game, both new and old, put together to create a stirring introduction to the expansion. It's reminding players of the journey traveled thus far and hinting at the road yet to come. And it totally kicks butt.
Hearing Tom Bombadil's theme in the beginning is a treat, but by the time this track gets rolling around the 1:40 mark, it's almost unstoppable.
2. Theme for Rohan
Thomas said that he's a big fan of Howard Shore's Lord of the Rings score, and coming up with a new take on the same material was a challenge, particularly for Rohan. What he came up with is a Celtic/Anglo-Saxon bent that's a little reminiscent of Braveheart's score and other period pieces set in that corner of the world.
This track proceeds slowly, almost mournfully, but also proudly. I particularly like how it begins with the strings playing the theme, eventually growing to include the whole orchestra. It's certainly not an action piece, not in the least. Instead, it's all about setting and tone for the rest of the album, and it does a great job laying out Rohan's situation and culture in the space of a few minutes.
3. Learning to Ride
I'm still debating on my hands-down favorite of the score, but Learning to Ride is strongly in the running for it. If you've ever seen the TV show Firefly or the movie Serenity and paid attention to the music, you're going to hear the same blend of Western/Asian tones here. It's very peppy and stirring.
Chance Thomas said that the song introduces the riding theme for the expansion: "It is a signature rhythmic riff that repeats at various points in the song. The idea is to convey a lively sense of galloping motion."
4. Roaming Free
I really hope that the Riders of Rohan score gets as much attention as I think it deserves because it's seriously up there with some of the best video game scores I've ever heard. I'm not just saying that because I play LotRO -- remember, we're trying to divorce feelings about the game from the music in this column -- but because I love great music. And this is great music.
Roaming Free is a powerful track that takes the Rohan riding theme and slathers it with a thick coat of choral chants. It keeps swapping in new instruments that take the theme and run with it. I think I may put this track on repeat while I drive around town.
5. Calm Before the Storm
You can probably figure out what this track is going to be like just from the title. It's a peaceful ballad that makes me recall some of the best of early-era LotRO tunes. No heavy-hitting percussion or eardrum-rupturing chants -- just a little ditty that is best played right before dawn.
I like it because there needed to be quieter moments in this soundtrack. Calm Before the Storm conveys the anxiety of the impending battle while still reveling in the glory of Rohan. It's at times hopeful and downcast and is perfect for its mission.
6. Urgent Errands
There's nothing peaceful about this song. It's all about building action, forces on the move, and growing excitement. It's impossible to listen to Urgent Errands and not picture people in constant action.
There's a kitchen sink approach to the instruments here, too. It seems like the whole orchestra is involved, each section taking turns for its time to shine. The one constant, however, is the percussion. The drums never, ever relent.
That's it for my highlights. Let me know what your favorite tracks from this score are, and I'll catch you all next week for a look back at Vanguard!
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!