If you haven’t heard by now, World of Warcraft is sweet. The MMORPG based on Blizzard’s popular RTS series earned acclaim and numerous awards from critics and magazines across the board. It stands out as single best MMORPG and simply one of the best games of the year, period.
I can personally vouch for the game’s excellence. Rarely has one game enthralled me so much, that it killed the desire to play any other game for close to three months. That said, paying $12 a month for a subscription fee seems a mute point when this game spared me the $40-$50 a month a might spend on other games.
What’s unique to me about World of Warcraft’s excellence is how it doesn’t try to reinvent MMOs but rather embrace them. If one were to strictly compare it’s list of features to another MMO such as EverQuest II, it would seem that EQ2 would come out on top (after all, it has full voice acting, custom housing, and “the water effects from Titanic”), and yet World of Warcraft is simply more of a joy to play. It seems that, while other companies were busy ensuring their MMOs had the prettiest packaging, Blizzard spent a long time polishing and repolishing the core game play. In the end, you have a game that isn’t played strictly for the reward of higher levels or new items, but because the process of playing the game itself is fun!
However, my own adventures in Azeroth would only have been half as enthralling had it not been for one of the game’s most immersive features: its music. Imagine journeying far across a vast ocean to a dark and foreboding port in a strange land, the architecture twisting in odd shapes. As you make your first steps into this land the music plays slowly, almost mimicking the distant calls of strange and mystical beasts in the dark woods just outside the boarder of the small port village. The occasional hand drum beats even farther away, as if it were perhaps a figment of your imagination, but nonetheless hinting at the presence of your feared enemy, the ogres, just beyond what you can see. However, the call of battle will have to be heard another day, for now you board a ferry that will take you away from this place, and toward the realm of the Night Elves. The beauty and wonder of this land can be felt in the “Song of Elune”, which I am happy to say eventually found its way back into the game. This is one of my favorite tracks, however “exclusive” it may or may not be.
By now you should have a hint of how well the music mingles with the atmosphere of each place in World of Warcraft. Each land you visit has its own feel, accompanied by its own anthem, however subtle. Perhaps one of the best examples of this can be found by taking a long and thrilling ride on Griffon back between the Alliance cities of Iron Forge and Stormwind.
Iron Forge is the realm of the Dwarves, and the heart of Alliance crafting and commerce. Its anthem is a mix of brass and percussion: tubas play a laboring rhythm while the snares quietly march. Work and war, the two elements at the core of dwarven life are precisely represented in the music. From the hot blast furnaces of the Great Forge you mount a griffon, and select your destination: Stormwind. The large half-eagle, half-lion, instantly takes off with you on top of it, soaring through a network of chutes and tunnels until finally bursting out of the gates of Iron Forge.
Stretching before you is the vast, snow-covered hills and valleys of Dun Morogh, the territory surrounding Iron Forge and which the dwarves and gnomes call home. Tribal wind and percussion instruments play a soft and lilting tune, capturing the spirit of this seemingly barren land that, in fact, teams with life. But the snow, and even the life, is short lived. As you pass the southern boarder of the mountain, and begin your decent from the peak, you are struck with the vision of ash and fire.
This hellish landscape is the Searing Gorge beyond which lies the Burning Steppes, places where only adventurers who have proven themselves worthy enough can step foot. From the safety of your griffon you observe giant dragons, spiders, and whelps roaming about in search of their next kill. The music here is ominous to say the least. Low strings slowly building on each other until taken over by high strings, the roar of churning lava soon becomes accompanied by a dark and guttural chanting. Structures of a dark and twisted nature reach upward from beneath you, hungry for the soul of any fool who would underestimate the dangers of these lands.
But just as you think you may be consumed by the hopelessness of this pit of fire, water appears before you. Not only that, but trees followed soon by roads and houses. The sky becomes clear again and at last you know you have reached the human land of Elwynn Forest. The singing of the birds is joined by strings and a clarinet, soothing the weary traveler and assuring him that he is at last in a friendly land. The griffon weaves between the trees, following the paths that all soon converge into one, and at the end of this one path, a great gate rises into view, littered with giant statues of great heroes of years past. A timpani rolls and a thunderous choir heralds that this is the gate of Stormwind and you have finally reached your destination!
My apologies for all the melodrama, but I really wanted to capture this game and its use of music as best as I could. World of Warcraft is one of the best games out there, and you would do yourself an injustice to not play it, even if only for the one month trial. And, of course, the soundtrack’s pretty good too, especially if you love good adventure music. If you’re going to be doing any table-top RPGs soon, I’d highly recommend setting the mood with this soundtrack: it is to the imagination as flint is to tinder. Bottom line: it’s sweet!