Over the last few months writing this column, I’ve talked a huge amount about WildStar. From the diverse world packed with lore, to the epic-grade PvP and hugely satisfying dungeons, I’ve ranted and raved about it all. Today all that takes a back seat, as this week’s column is devoted to the music you’ll hear while exploring Nexus.
WildStar’s music is an interweaving blend of orchestral and electronic, in a way that carefully and yet cleverly accompanies the zones and areas we’re playing through. Factional cities and hubs are full of resplendent themes, but that quickly gives way to haunting flutes in the mountain wilderness of Auroria, or chilling electronica deep in the Eldan exo-labs. It’s an eclectic and yet cohesive mix of themes that fit WildStar’s kaleidoscopic style perfectly.
Much (if not all) of what we hear in-game was originally created by Jeff Kutenacker, Carbine Studios’ Lead Composer. In a recent interview with our very own Jean Prior, he revealed much of the process behind creating, recording and polishing these pieces. Starting out as a recorded sketch on piano or keyboard, live instruments are then brought in, sometimes including a full 75-piece orchestra. It means that WildStar has a mixture of sounds, from the laid-back and casual to the big and apocalyptic.
I’ll freely admit – the first time I heard WildStar’s music, I fell into the trap of thinking that it was your typical videogame fare, with a big-name composer creating tracks that sounded great, yet indistinctive. It’s a route that Carbine nearly went down, with ex-Blizzard composer Jason Hayes producing two tracks for the game. But then, as I listened more to Into the Unknown, all off these keyboard artifacts and subtle samples started creeping in, together with a tightly controlled rhythm. It had feel of the future, but it wasn’t pompously anthemic like Star Wars.
And then it drifted, the orchestra giving way to the digital completely, before surging back with a moment of Indiana Jones-style exploration. From there, the track wavers between the two worlds of organic and digital - and that’s just the character creation screen. It’s a style that continues through into the Exile starting areas, pulling in guitar and then banjo to create a frontiertown, almost Firefly feel to it. What We Now Call Home is the heaver of the two, slowly decomposing that formality as you move away from the Arkship and deeper into Nexus. By the time you reach Algoroc, that formality is broken down completely in Justice Doesn’t Always Wear a Badge. That balancing act between traditional and sci-fi continues in almost every zone I’ve discovered.
It starts off reminding me of the scariest alarm clock I ever owned, but then the titanium doors of The Cold Science of Supremacy glide open, revealing a lifeless and clinical track that’s bustling with exactingly crafted automation. As the Eldan theme, it’s a haunting reminder of their absence, their brilliance, and the incredible artifacts they left behind. It’s one of the most striking themes within WildStar, and yet possibly the most understated.
Contrasting strongly with that clinical precision, War Will Come is bursting with hope and defiance, as a track that feels like the herald before the battle. And, as the military machine revs into gear, those audio glitches are a great reminder that the Exiles are patching up and making do with whatever they can get their hands on. A Story of Hope and Healing doesn’t just pull on the heart strings, it yanks hard on them with both hands, exploding into a burst of passionate optimism, and accurately describing the Aurin.
While I love the Dominion theme Systematic Domination, and some of the zone music in Auroria, Whitevale and Farside, Bandits, Thieves and Epic Loot is the piece that’s thoroughly earwormed me. It’s a jaunty jig with excellent rhythm, reminding me of great ales and good friendship, with a simpler variation in the Classes DevSpeak video. Even though it’s a theme for the Deadstar Marauders, it never fails to make me smile when I hear it, as it usually means I’ll be spending time clearing out space-pirates.
WildStar’s soundtrack feels quirky, interesting and experimental when compared to other MMOs we’ve enjoyed, adding to that overall personality that’s built up around the game. But, as we move ever closer to launch on June 3, it feels like we’re seeing yet another side emerge. The recently unveiled Open Beta trailer used The Singularity, a track that feels more cinematic than anything we’ve heard before. It lends a more heavyweight feel to the trailer itself, reminding me of Titan AE and Treasure Planet.
With something like 9 hours of music in WildStar, it’s no wonder that players are clamoring for a soundtrack release. It’s very unlikely that we’ll see that bundled with the game itself, but there’s always hope that more of the tracks – particularly factional and zone themes – might appear online somewhere. Perhaps as further additions to Kutenacker’s growing music library, perhaps as albums in Spotify or similar. We can but hope. In the meantime, I’ve got some guitar tab to try and work out.
Gareth Harmer / Gareth “Gazimoff” Harmer has been blasting and fireballing his way through MMOs for over ten years. When he's not exploring an online world, he can usually be found enthusiastically dissecting and debating them. Follow him on Twitter at @Gazimoff.