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Jukebox Heroes: Guild Wars 2's soundtrack, part 1


The one factor that almost made me drop $150 on the collector's edition of Guild Wars 2 was the promise of a soundtrack CD, which is like catnip to my mind. Thank goodness I didn't, however, because what shipped was a piddly six-track "best of" CD. The real deal came in the form of a four-CD soundtrack release from Jeremy Soule's DirectSong, a staggering 78 tracks of Tyrian goodness.

Seventy-eight tracks is a hefty number to get through in any one sitting, so I took about a week to gradually listen through it all. I'm happy to say that it's right up there with the best that the original Guild Wars titles had to offer, expanding upon the world instead of reinventing it. In fact, I think that the music is one of the best bridges that connect Guild Wars 1 and 2 together because you can't be in the newest title without hearing direct tracks and homages of what we've been listening to for years now.

Even with Soule at the helm, there's still a lot of filler and forgettable music here that has to be sifted in order to find the really great stuff. Today we're going to begin -- but not complete -- a foray into Guild Wars 2's musical landscape and see whether it's hitting all the right notes.

1. Bandits' Expanse

Probably the aspect of Jeremy Soule's music that I am most fond of is the eerie, dreamy, and uncertain tones that he injects into his environmental pieces. Bandits' Expanse is a great example of this: It begins with a dancing flute and gradually transitions into something bigger, but all through the background you hear just enough uncertainty to keep you from being completely comfortable with it. It's a song that heralds the last dregs of goodness before something unspeakably harsh arrives.

Call me crazy or call me maybe, but that's a sound that I can let wash over me again and again without getting sick of it.

2. Battle of the Vanguard

Hot diggity, this is a soundtrack cooking with gas! Battle of the Vanguard wastes not a moment before getting into a stirring melody with a constant beat signaling an advance. This is, by far, one of my favorite tracks from the overall score. It combines many of Soule's standard instruments and cues (hope you like cymbals!) in such a tight and awesome package that there's no fat here whatsoever. It's your 100% RDA of pure epic.

Human characters get to hear this in their tutorial, the lucky dogs. No wonder everyone keeps rolling them.

3. Battle with the Tamini

As you may surmise from the title, this is another action-oriented song in the same vein as #2 up there. While it's considerably less sophisticated than Battle of the Vanguard, I wouldn't count Battle with the Tamini out. It's got a lot of enthusiasm, for one, not to mention percussion that sounds lifted straight out of an attack run on the Death Star.

I like how the horns start to, erm, horn in on the action, go through a crescendo, and then back the heck off to let the song start anew. It's really grown on me the more I listen to it, to be honest.

4. Caithe's Daggers

One thing is for certain: This is not a happy song. No, it is not. It's one of those ominous, brooding tracks that really makes you appreciate the silence when it ends.

So is it a bad track that should be avoided by all but the most masochistic? Nay, I say. While I'm not a fan of the blaring horns and unrelenting noise that this song exudes, it's slightly redeemed by a few lulls in the noise and a beat that is pretty catchy when the horns aren't pooping all over it. At 2:36, the drums get their time to shine and go all tribal on us. It might just be a short section, but it's enough to end on an upswing.

5. Call of the Raven

Instead of focusing on a single motif, Call of the Raven is more concerned with taking us on a journey. It begins with what almost sounds like a moment from Dances with Wolves' soundtrack before heading its own way.

Once again, the slight uncertainty of Soule's work is in the distant background, biding its time. It's not a supremely happy piece because of this, but there's a strong current of emotion that fights against getting too maudlin. So we end up with a track that sashays back and forth between the optimistic and pessimistic. It's really something special.

6. Dawn in Shaemoor

There's an unhurried grace to Dawn in Shaemoor -- and restrained power as well. I get the feeling that this would be an easy track to pull the trigger and go all out with a super-exciting movie trailer-style theme. Fortunately, it holds back to concentrate on a clear and concise tune that is richer for the restraint. I love how layered the song is as well, with plenty of overlaps that introduce the next movement while the first one fades out.

For those of you panicking at arriving at #6 without Fear Not This Night or any other of your favorite Guild Wars 2 tracks, I refer you to the "part 1" up there in the title. There's a lot to examine and enjoy with this score, so we'll definitely be returning to it eventually. In the meanwhile, why not use the comments to sound off on your favorite songs from this score and what you think about it overall?

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!

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