Last year, I had the pleasure of reviewing the WildStar Original Soundtrack Volume 1, and I thought it was pretty darn good. In retrospect, however, I think I may have undersold that soundtrack, because it has only grown on me since then, to the point where I think Jeff Kurtenacker is one of the best composers working within the MMORPG medium today. Having grown to love that first release, I was concerned that Volume 2 would feel like an album of leftovers from Volume 1. I was also worried that Kurtenacker laid down so many foundational themes in the first album that it left him nowhere to go for this release. Fortunately, my concerns were completely unfounded. Volume 2 is a worthy follow-up to Volume 1, and track-for-track it may even be slightly better.
Volume 1 demonstrated that Kurtenacker has constructed a deeply thematic score for WildStar. The music centers primarily on cinematic orchestration, but it also works in some country/bluegrass (think Firefly) as well as a dash of electronica. Each of the races and factions, and a few key characters, have their own signature theme. These themes are most prominent on tracks that directly refer to these characters, but Kurtenacker also weaves them into other tracks to show characters’ relationships to each other and to the various locales of the game’s world. Volume 2 feels absolutely saturated with these themes, even compared to Volume 1, and this is partly because Volume 2 spends more of its tracks reiterating and recombining motifs. “For the Greater Good” knits the Cassian race theme together with the main theme for their faction, the Dominion. It’s an excellent track that manages to take the hilariously diabolical Cassian theme and make it sound beautiful, even heroic, until things take a hard left turn and the Dominion gradually emerges as the dominant theme. “From the Ashes” follows a similar format, combining the main themes for the Aurin and their faction, the Exiles. While this track does not play with expectations as much as “For the Greater Good,” it’s still lusciously orchestrated and perfectly paced. I should also mention that the vocalist on both of these tracks is outstanding. Her performance is clean, her tone is warm, and she manages to be expressive without becoming distracting or self-indulgent.
Despite the impressive number of themes Kurtenacker laid down in Volume 1 and the additional development he gives them here, it turns out there is still a lot of new ground to cover as well. Volume 2 features a handful of new race and faction themes. While all of these new motifs are memorable, the clear stand out for me is his theme for the Chua. “Cutely Grotesque and Certifiably Insane” sounds like something out of a Danny Elfman score, with its hyperactive melodies, blaring brassy baselines, and sudden timbre changes. The entire track is perfectly paced too, careening toward a delightfully excessive finish and a sly coda. The Eldan theme, “The Cold Science of Supremacy,” is another winner, with a relatively simple but sinister melody wrapped in a blanket of ambient electronica. The transitions on this track are relatively deliberate and subtle, and as a result it feels appropriately cold and mechanical.
I have mentioned Kurtenacker’s pacing a few times already, and it’s a relatively mundane quality on which to compliment a soundtrack, but I think it may be one of the album’s key qualities. Generally speaking, individual tracks within video game scores tend to have one dynamic level: intense battle tracks to get you pumped, calm village themes to make you feel relaxed, etc. WildStar’s soundtrack tends to pack multiple dynamic levels into each track, almost to the point where some of them (“Legend of the Blue Horizon,” for example) sound like miniature suites instead of a single track. In Volume 1, this approach didn’t always work, and many of the longer tracks seemed to meander for a few minutes before they petered out. In this regard, Volume 2 is a huge improvement. The transitions are tight, none of the individual sections within each track go on too long, and some of the album’s more methodically paced buildup moments are absolutely satisfying.
No surprise here, but I highly recommend you give both volumes of WildStar’s soundtrack a listen. Even though Volume 2 squeaks by as the superior album, you won’t get the full experience without being familiar with the themes introduced in Volume 1. Fortunately, both volumes are inexpensive and easy to find, and you really should seek them out. I don’t play WildStar, and most of my knowledge comes from the internet “research” I’ve done to give the music some context, but this soundtrack has drawn me into the game’s world, and it makes me want to play the game in spite of the fact that MMO’s are typically not my thing. It’s thematic, it’s cinematic, and it’s so much fun. Don’t miss out on this one.