It’s amazing how much great music I’ve found in a game genre that I thought would have very bland, repetitive music during its heyday. That genre is the MMORPG, and in this case, the great music is the soundtrack for Funcom’s Age of Conan MMORPG.
There are two key players for this soundtrack. First, there’s the composer: Knut Avenstroup Haugen. Second, and perhaps more importantly to the casual listener, is the star female vocalist, Helen Bøksle. Her voice appears on many tracks of this album: rarely in lyrical format, it’s a lot of “ooh ahh” melodic vocals. The melodic lines she recorded for this soundtrack are generally quite simple, but simple doesn’t mean bad. Rarely is that the case, I’ve found, when your execution is strong. And the subtlety and nuance in her voice is perfect – perfect and haunting.
But it’s not all pensive Anglo-Saxon medieval/renaissance music. There are some big choir tracks, on par with Gerard Marino’s scores to the God of War series. Among the 25 tracks on this album, there are enough pieces to really capture a diverse array of events, landscapes, seasons, and yes, emotions.
I like that the soundtrack is broken into segments. Rarely does an MMORPG sport any semblance of linearity, but the “four adventures” shown in the tracklist neatly break out the path to follow, and the musical path in turn as well. This sort of “chapter” breakdown reminds me of the Suikoden series, and I’m happy to see Funcom incorporating it into their games and soundtracks.
I shouldn’t allow the review to conclude, however, without taking into account the composer’s efforts. I’ve praised the vocalist, but the composer has done an equally impressive job. As far as Western, “swords and sorcery” RPGs go, there’s a lot of great stuff out there. This soundtrack stands up to the big-wigs (Soule’s Morrowind soundtrack, the Blizzard team’s World of Warcraft soundtrack), and is certainly an enjoyable listen on its own merits. Within the context of the game, I’m sure it is just as pleasant.
Now then, a two-disc version of this soundtrack was also released in 2008, featuring some remixes and previously-unreleased material on the second disc. If you can find that collection, get that instead of this, particularly if you’re a “completionist” sort of collector. If you can only locate this one disc version – which came as a collector’s edition bonus with the game in America – that’s fine, as the majority of the great music is found here.