Before the release of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, prospective players and fans of the original knew one thing: it looked gorgeous. From both a technical and an artistic standpoint, it was clear that CDProjekt RED was out to impress. The release of the game confirmed that it was more than able to stand up to the high mark set by the visuals. It also confirmed that the developers clearly hadn’t forgotten the importance of crafting an outstanding aural experience to accompany the eye-feast. Without a doubt, this is outstanding music, and the composers, Adam Skorupa and Krzysztof Wierzynkiewicz, should be proud.
The first thing that will likely strike a listener is that this music wouldn’t be out of place in a big-budget fantasy film. As the opening notes of the title track, Assassins of Kings, hit your ears, you’d be hard-pressed not to get a sense of the incredibly epic scale that the game was aiming for. Thanks to its somber flute and melancholy vocals, A Nearly Peaceful Place will send you back to the early parts of the 2000’s when you first saw The Lord of the Rings films in theaters.
Throughout the entirety of the album, you’ll be taken on a journey that hits the above-mentioned somber notes perfectly, but then just as easily cruises into dramatic, action-packed territory with tracks like The Path of a Kingslayer, whose punchy and hard-hitting rhythm contrasts starkly with the calmness that preceded it. The Wild Hunt shows off the range of these action pieces, with its heavy, thumping percussion and extensive guitar riffing.
Right alongside those action pieces are the moody, slower-paced exploration tracks. Through the Underworld and Vergen by Night are both excellent examples of this with their soft, methodical sounds that instill the requisite sense of quiescent curiosity in the listener, making them wonder what foes or hidden secrets could be around the next corner.
That isn’t to say it’s all doom, gloom, and drama, though. A Watering Hole in the Harbor is a delightful track that brings back fond memories of Chrono Cross, with its upbeat rhythm, shaky tambourine, and soft tap-tapping of bongos in the background. The range of the music in the game is truly impressive and goes a very long way in giving you a strong indication of the kind of scale the composers were aiming for.
What I believe is most impressive about a soundtrack with all the sweeping scale and broad range of this one is that it feels remarkably “lived-in” and human. It sounds like music you’d hear in the world as you traveled it, purely diegetic and not at all incidental. If The Witcher 2’s goal was to draw players into its world and keep them truly involved, I can’t possibly imagine this music did anything but advance that goal by leaps and bounds. Listening to it draws you into the world without any assistance from the game, its narrative, or the graphics. This is perhaps the greatest achievement of the composers and one more testament to the passion and hard work of the game’s creators.