One of the few MMORPG’s to successfully move away from the World of Warcraft model, Guild Wars opted for a heavy player-versus-player focus and an episodic fee structure rather than the traditional monthly subscription system. This approach won the game, its subsequent episodes, and sequel considerable plaudits from the industry and players following its 2005 release, and it remains one of the few MMORPG titles to successfully challenge Blizzard on its own turf without directly aping the latter behemoth.
No stranger to epic fantasy role-playing games thanks to his previous experience with Icewind Dale, Jeremy Soule was chosen to score Guild Wars in all its iterations thanks to his previous association with ArenaNet’s Daniel Dociu, who had known the composer in his early Squaresoft days. And while Soule and his brother Julian have produced over dozens of hours of music for the series over the course of its many expansions and sequel, the original Guild Wars remains by far the tightest and most impressive soundtrack of the lot.
Guild Wars continues Soule’s earlier method of creating a strong main theme and supplementing it with strong ambient soundscapes, but is far bolder in presentation and execution than many similarly conceived scores. The central “Guild Wars Theme” is presented at the outset by strings, brass, and a choir and winds in subdued form throughout many other tracks like “Gwen’s Theme.”
However, unlike in many of Soule’s other scores, the main theme is not the most rousing tune. In fact, the very next track, “Autumn in Ascalon,” easily outdoes the main theme in scope and power, marshaling whirling strings and a chorus to tremendous orchestral heights. There are several other exciting, up-tempo tracks near the end of the album, like the jagged, brassy “Guilds at War” and the potent strings of “Hall of Heroes.”
The album also contains many of Soule’s trademark ambient cues, though they are more melodic and ambitious than many similar efforts. “Crystal Oasis” combines soft choral vocals with strings to produce an enchanting, otherworldly sound, while “Tasca’s Demise” weds a soulful violin to descending plucked strings for a wistful, sad feel. “Over the Shiverpeaks” is all a charmingly minimalistic violin and flute duet, and “Eye of the Storm” melds the same leads to a small ensemble to haunting effect.
Admittedly, there are a few tracks that lack much of a punch. “Eve’s Theme,” while evocative, is content to boil and churn without much real personality, and “The Charr” is thematically aimless despite ostensibly representing the villains of the game. Nevertheless, these tracks are the minority, and still fit in well with the sonic tapestry Soule weaves. Those turned off my synthesized orchestras need not worry: Soule continues to lead the industry in the quality of his samples (which are often recorded from live instruments), and most of the time the resulting music is indistinguishable from real orchestral music by all but the most hardened audiophiles.
There are several albums available: a disc that came with the collector’s edition of the game and includes about fifty minutes of score, and a digital download, which includes four bonus tracks and over an hour of music. Both albums are simply stunning in their orchestral beauty, though, and come highly recommended.