In all of the MMOs I've played, Anarchy Online's music has stuck out at me like nothing else I've ever heard. I'm not saying that it's the best MMO score in the world or anything, but there's a really unique quality to its synth ambiance that hard-triggers my memories of the game.
The score was handled by a trio of composers: Morten Sørlie, Tor Linløkken, and Bjørn Arve Lagim. The team attempted to create an infinite score that used overlapping music samples which reacted to what was going on around you. The process is kind of fascinating, and you can read more about it on Gamasutra. However, the end result of traditional tracks are what we're going to be listening to today.
A large chunk of the Anarchy Online soundtrack is actually free to download. The first volume used to be available but has since been pulled. The second volume and the Shadowlands soundtrack are still up on Funcom's FTP server for those interested in listening to it. That said, let's dive into my favorite songs from all three!
1. ARK Theme
This song has a really cool story attached. It is, to my knowledge, the only piece of MMO music that a studio intentionally created to honor a player-run organization. In this case, it's the ARK, Advisers of Rubi-Ka, a volunteer program where experienced players take newbies under their wing and help them out.
The ARK Theme starts out all low and growly before bursting out with a more aggressive riff at 1:04. It upshifts again at 1:36, and from that mark forward it builds in intensity and scope. It's probably the most traditional "epic" song on this list, but it still carries a tinge of the Anarchy Online sound. And, hey, it's kind of awesome. If only we all had a theme like this crafted for us.
2. Omni-Tek Theme
The best way I can describe this track is "a happier version of the Terminator 2 theme." It's seriously a couple of notes away from from bringing Skynet down on us all. That's not necessarily a bad thing, mind you, because both songs have a catchy military-slash-patriotic beat to them. It's only really in the last half-minute that it cranks up the volume, and while there's little variation on the looped theme, it at least manages to go out strong.
This? Right here? This is Anarchy Online to me. And it might be hard to explain to someone who's only listening to the soundtrack apart from ever playing the game, but something about these tranquil notes gelled with the sci-fi/wild frontier setting.
You can label it as New Age and I probably wouldn't fight you. It's something I could see being played in a spa. But I could also see this as, say, the score to a Star Trek episode in which the crew is discovering something wonderful and new. That's what the music sounds like to me: wonderful and new. If nothing else, at least it's relaxing.
4. Shadowlands Battle Music
When I first played Anarchy Online, it was mostly in the Shadowlands expansion pack. The battle music became indelibly etched in my mind because of it. I still dig it today, not just for the memories but because it's wonderfully low-key. It's like the music you'd hear leading up to a big battle but not the battle itself, if that makes any sense.
This track starts off quiet -- very, very quiet. Just a little bit of synth and some light percussion. It takes its sweet time going anywhere, just laying out a foundation for action. If it sounds similar to the synth strains of the Mass Effect series, I wouldn't fault you. It definitely comes across as a more high-tech battle theme, particularly once it gets going at 2:44.
More than anything else, it's quite listenable and never gets old. I think that's what you want from a battle theme, yes?
5. Combat Hymn
I'll admit it: This track starts off poorly. Someone lays into the synthesizer a little too hard, and it comes out forced and cheesy as a result. Stick with it, however. The bad stuff ends quickly, and after a quiet prelude to the action, the good stuff comes out a little after the two-minute mark. I'm particularly fond of the melody that starts at 2:47. Well, it's catchy to me, anyway.
6. Spiritual Elysium
Pretty much everything I said about Seascape basically applies here. It's perhaps a slightly more aggressive track in that it's trying to develop a melody, but it's still relaxing and atmospheric as all get out. The thumping bass drums, the slowly crashing symbols, the tinny little metal whatevers, the occasional male vocal, and the synth blend together to create this stunning piece of aural landscape.
This is a track that I gladly have on my MP3 player because I don't think I'd ever get sick of hearing it.
There's a lot of music in Anarchy Online, of course, and this only scratches the surface. What are or were your favorite tracks?
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!