Classic Game Themes: The Lord of the Rings Online
One of the most compelling aspects of The Lord of the Rings Online is its soundtrack. The score, mainly written by Chance Thomas and featuring additional material by Stephen DiGregorio, is comparable to that of any major feature film in its scope, sophistication and musical accomplishment. Chance Thomas favours a leitmotif for each race and culture which then vary as the game’s narrative progress. Stephen DiGregorio focuses more upon thematic or ambient pieces that capture the spirit of an area or region. Despite different styles and approaches, both composers contribute to a vivid score that has become an additional character in the overall game over the last decade. Middle-earth is an immense world with an ever-present sense of history and deep lore. The soundtrack for the game taps into this narrative vein and uses it to create a rich and nuanced audio soundscape.
Over the past ten years, selected material from the games soundtrack have been available on limited edition CDs and digital download. Sadly, a comprehensive release has never been forthcoming. This year’s tenth anniversary saw a new compilation become available, but it contained only a few unreleased tracks. It is a great shame that a more substantial collection has not been produced as I believe there are plenty of dedicated LOTRO fans who would jump at the opportunity to own a comprehensive CD collection of the games entire soundtrack. At present the only way to access all the music contained within the game is data mine it from the installation files. This is a relatively complex task and produces a substantial directory of files in .ogg format, none of which are named.
Because the majority of music that features in LOTRO is written by Chance Thomas, he often becomes the focus of attention when discussing the games soundtrack. His work is of the highest calibre and he certainly seems to have a strong understanding of the musical needs of the game. As a result, his works sometimes eclipses that of Stephen DiGregorio. Personally, I do not consider Stephen’s work to be inferior. There are several of his tracks that I have great affection for. If I have one complaint it is mainly to do with the arrangement, which at times sounds like it is using the most basic of synthesisers and musical sequencers. However, I have often thought that this has been due to budget. Hiring quality composers is more than likely expensive enough. Performing and recording with a full orchestra in a studio is probably prohibitive financially, hence there is a reliance on more economical solutions.
Because of my personal history with LOTRO (it was the first MMORPG that I played) and my enjoyment of the soundtrack, I thought I would post several tracks that are among my favourites. It’s a difficult choice as there is a decade’s worth of material to choose from spanning numerous updates and expansions. There is also a minor issue regarding track names as they can vary depending on what material you have. For example, on the original Shadow of Angmar soundtrack digital download there is a track called “Let us sing together”. This features again on the 10th anniversary CD under the name of “The House of Tom Bombadil”. It’s a minor complaint but it can cause a degree of confusion. Some of the tracks on the anniversary album are also alternative recordings or edited versions of the cues that feature in the game.
Silent Hope plays as you stand on the threshold of Bag End and look out across Hobbiton. Taken from the Shadows of Angmar soundtrack and composed by Chance Thomas, the track is the very essence of LOTRO. Whenever listening to this particular piece of music I always reflect upon Frodo and Sam embarking upon their momentous journey, yet holding on to their inherent Hobbit common sense and decency. It a sublime music cue.
The Hollin Gate is the first track on the Mines of Moria soundtrack by Chance Thomas. It a beautifully realised track that encapsulates the fading Elven beauty of the region. It also has a vaguely portentous quality to it, hinting at the mystery and adventure that lies ahead.
Triumphant Will is from the Helm’s Deep soundtrack by Stephen DiGregorio and plays during several of the Epic Battles. With its harmonious vocalisation and sequential nature is has a hint of Morricone about. This is a track I would very much like to hear performed by a full orchestra and choir as it would improve it immensely.
Corruption and High Treason features on the Riders of Rohan soundtrack and is by Chance Thomas. It’s a subtle variation of the main Rohan theme for the region. When it plays out at night in Snowbourn, it is wonderfully atmospheric, reflecting the earthy beauty of Rohan and the ongoing intrigue of Saruman in the region.
Finally, the last track I’ve chosen has been extracted direct from the game and therefore I do not know its correct name. It is an ambient piece that plays in and around Minas Tirith prior to the Battle of Pelennor Fields. Composed by Stephen DiGregorio it is a wistful and introspective piece reflecting an ailing Gondor. Again, when I listen to it I here shades of the great Morricone in the lead trumpet. A beautiful piece.