Reaper of Souls Preview: Westmarch Soundtrack

Blizzard has posted some samples of the music well hear in Westmarch in RoS, plus an interview with the musical talent behind the game. I don’t see any way to embed the sound aplet, and it’s not up on Blizzard’s YouTube yet, so you’ll have to visit the official post to give it a listen.

Click through for the interview and embedded player.

To get a better understanding of what goes into creating a soundtrack for a game like Reaper of Souls™, we also sat down with Diablo® III Music Director Derek Duke for a quick Q&A.
Q. When setting out to create the soundtrack for Westmarch, where did you begin?

Derek: The music of Westmarch was some of the first created for Reaper of Souls. In fact, it was written while I’d just started working on the opening cinematic. The soundtrack for Westmarch picks up right after the opening cinematic ends, so it has to instantly get you into that dark, dangerous, gothic sort of pace.

I really wanted to match that pace and encapsulate the creepy, ominous vibe the developers were going for with Westmarch in that early music. That all begun with the instrumentation. The orchestral voicing used in Reaper of Souls, and particularly in Westmarch, is weighted a bit more traditionally. This means more woodwinds and less brass than what’s commonly used in today’s scores. To my ear, it makes a big difference, and puts the orchestral emphasis a bit more on voicing (harmonized melodies that contain one or more instruments) and colors (the quality of the sound, or timbre).

Q. What’s unique about the Westmarch soundtrack? Are there any particular instruments or themes that are specific to the zone?

Derek: In Westmarch, I’d say sonic themes in the music work to propel the story by creating associations.

For example, there are a couple of the themes and musical textures established and attached to Malthael from the very beginning, starting in the intro cinematic with his arrival.

There’s a deep, otherworldly moaning underneath the strings. We use a percussion technique to get that sound out of the timpani and bass drum by rubbing it with a super-ball or wet finger. (My producer had a real “WTF” moment when he heard that sound coming from the orchestra, by the way.) Following that with the orchestral bells seemed the obvious choice for the Angel of Death—a character not for whom the bell tolls, but the one who’s holding the bell and tolling it for everyone else.

These musical textures and combinations are often the sign of Malthael’s presence or the harbinger of his arrival. As you play through Westmarch, you hear these musical ideas used throughout the music, changing and evolving contextually as the story moves forward. Keep an ear out for them!

Q. So, there are themes tied to specific characters, but what about specific locations? Are there certain themes or portions of music for different parts of the city?

Derek: Yes, definitely. I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but it’s the time and places and evolution of the music pieces that help to move the story forward.

Q. Can you tell us a bit about the track you’re sharing with us today?

Derek: Like much of the in-game music in Diablo III and Reaper of Souls, this an arrangement of several music pieces, some assorted flavors.

It starts with some of the broad Westmarch crescendos or swells, and you’ll hear the giant tam-tam (or gong), and bowed acoustic guitar playing above.

It then moves in to the Y’Anu theme over the moaning tympani and bass drum. This theme is first heard in the Reaper of Souls intro cinematic, which takes place in the Tomb of Rakkis where Tyrael attempts to hide the Black Soulstone. Y’Anu was written as a meditative chant of the Horadrim whereby the acolyte could meditate on the mysteries of Anu, or The One.

And last but not least, Malthael’s signature theme (which I mentioned above) buttons up the end.

Thanks for listening, and I hope you all enjoy!

Tagged As: | Categories: Blizzard People, Blue Posts, Diablo 3


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    • I’ll have to be honest and say I haven’t listened to D3C’s music for the better part of year. I turned it off so I could listen to other music I had. That said, I think this piece has great mood to it. I think it would work fantastic for a ‘center of town’ piece as I visit with NPCs and shop, etc.
      I still really want to hear more heart pounding pieces for the time I’m actually out fighting monsters though. For me at least, slow moody pieces don’t work so well out on the battle field.

      • Ah man, I can’t do that. I start to associate the music too strongly with the game. To this day, I still associate the Deftones with Pokemon Blue. No joke, I hear their music and I get flashbacks to being attacked in long grass.

        As for your other point, I think they’ve done that based on the idea of people playing the game for hours at a time. It would be too much to have this invigorating and violent music playing all the time. Diablo 2 did a great job with the more relaxed yet very atmospheric music playing almost all the time, though using much more striking pieces for shorter, more intense (from a plot point of view) parts, like the blood-stained, corpse-strewn harem areas.

        I love this music, but it would probably drive me madder than Marius if it was general background music throughout an act:

  1. “Diablo III – Gothic Edition” might have been a better choice for an expansion title, judging by how hard they’re trying to communicate that label for the game’s ‘new’ atmospherical direction.

    Anyway, in terms of in-game background music, I’d much prefer them to abandon their “silence with occasional soft, subdued, pseudo-melodic traces and eerie noises echoing here and there” path and dare some *real* battle music, not just during boss bottles. D1 already proved that BGM can be truely melodic, strongly present, eerily original as well as harshly varied and yet communicate quite a gothic(!!!) feeling.

    • You can’t really have battle music when it’s almost constant battle. It’s not like a JRPG or more traditional WRPG, such as Baldur’s Gate, where you have these action peaks amongst more subdued exploration, conversation and non-combat questing. It wouldn’t be battle music, it’d be a numbingly relentless noise after a while. That’s why they have it only for bosses, or other short periods of intensity.

  2. Sounds pretty good. But they really should have gotten a grown man to just cry on a loop to really drive home that gothic feeling of despair.

  3. Awesome. Like many people, I have a long history of turning game music off and putting on other albums (NIN was always one of my favorites for D2 and D3). However, I do appreciate good in-game music too, and I only do that for games I’m playing enough to get bored of the music, like Diablo.

    I think the best game soundtrack I’ve heard in recent years was Dead Space 3. Totally different game and mood, though.

  4. Big fan on the Malthael theme at the end.

  5. Can you please put it high enough in the mix so it can actually be heard this time? kthxbye

    (I seriously have to set my system, speaker, *and* in-game music volumes to max to hear most of the damn music in D3C.)

  6. This music suffers where D3V’s music suffered: it is not recognizingly gripping in the slightest. Give me something iconic! Give me something with a strong melody line. The music is still far too ambient.

    • well its just 1 track…

      are they using an orchestra again someone knows? i would really love to have the hungarians back 😉 (if i am not mistaken)

  7. exorcist-like at about the 8:00 mark.

  8. I think as the tech/capacity got better, the video game music got worse. The best music was 8-bit and 16-bit stuff. The designers had a strict limit on what they could and couldn’t do w/ the chip tunes, and it made them more creative and imaginative. Now they can just grab some Hollywood wannabes who wish they were Hans Zimmer and plop that into a game. You play this, and it could be an episode of Sleepy Hollow for all I know. Whereas you say “Metal Man Stage” and already the song is stuck in your brain, and you know it exactly.

    • That’s quite an illusion. When you say “8-bit music was better”, you’re picking the absolute cream of the crop from about 20 years of games on multiple different platforms. Most music in old NES games was horrendous, often just a cacophony of bleeping. Konami, Sega, Nintendo and Capcom were really good, but they were head and shoulders above most others. Most PC music for decades has been CD audio, not 8- or 16-bit.

      This is what most 8-bit music was actually like when you leave the comfort of the classics behind. (A particular favourite of mine)

      Or it’s like this, where it sounds pretty cool and catchy, but then you realise it’s basically Green Day on a NES:

      For the sake of fairness, this 16-bit track is cool:
      It does sound somewhat generic when played by an actual band, though: (Still cool, and yes, Simon Belmont does indeed appear to be shitting bats.)

      • Did you never play Final Fantasy 3, Crono Trigger, or Secret of Mana?

        • I said “you’re picking the absolute cream of the crop from about 20 years of games” in my post, and that’s what I mean. There are dozens, even hundreds, of games with great music from the 8- and 16-bit eras, but they’re outnumbered by tens of thousands of games with complete shit for music. There’s just a tendency to cherry pick the really good ones and think that was somehow the norm.

          Each of those games came out a year apart, between them were a years worth of stuff like I posted before. I love the music from those games, and have nothing but praise for them, but that is not the standard in any way, shape or form.

          • You’re right that I should’ve mentioned Squaresoft, though. It’s so true it’s become a cliche to say it, but Nobuo Uematsu’s music is probably the best videogame music. Enix were pretty cool, too, though maybe that was just Dragon Quest.

  9. I like it. To me, it mostly sounds like a mishmash of D1 and Act1 of D2.

  10. That Terminator is the best piece of music I’ve ever heard, lol!

  11. They all sound like one note stretched for 5 minutes while someone manually tunes the volume a little up and a little down.

    The last one is one giant horrible loop of crap!

    More of the same. No innovation. No melody. No inspiration. No soul. As expected.

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