And so it has arrived. Many months of collaboration between composers Marcin Przybyłowicz and Mikołaj Stroiński, with contributions from Polish folk metal band Percival. The Frankfurt Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester can also be found in the album’s credits. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt overflows with music. The creators are proud of it, too – deservedly, but we’ll come to that later on – and thanks to this each physical copy contains the soundtrack on a CD among other goodies, while the digital download includes mixdowns in .mp3 and .flac formats.
Beautiful mountains and breathtaking storms complemented by the music.
Those hungry for more will be able purchase an extended OST on iTunes soon. You will find 31 tracks on the basic edition. All of this is eclipsed by the realization that over six hours of music were composed for the whole game. Thus we decided to approach the material in a holistic way, because there’s a lot of listening here. The subject is vast, so we involved two editors to write this text together. Join us for this journey through the Northern Kingdoms.
The music has been implemented in the gameplay really well, and even though one might encounter moments of slight dissonance between a scene and its audio layer, those are remarkably rare considering the scope of this title. Naturally, the listener’s attention is most easily captured by the combat tracks. Whenever Geralt approaches an adversary, the speakers or headphones are filled with additional instruments, usually accompanied by vocals and screams that perfectly complement the dynamics of a fight.
And when we leave the corpses of enemies behind, a brief drum outro is being played, dragging us back into the more temperate exploration loops. Music follows Geralt almost incessantly. At times it could have faded a bit, though, for instance during some of the dialogues. The layers intertwine, stems come and go depending on the current threat level and overall atmosphere – much has already been said and written regarding the implementation of audio in the Wild Hunt, let us move on then.
Female vocals create tremendous effect during battles. Verses of Staroża or Lazare by Percival resounding while a forktail ploughs the ground close by Geralt with his talons truly are a wet dream come true. And when the voices fade away to the rhythm of the drum fill which finishes the skirmish, and the last drowner is being dismembered on the screen, you will not want to sheathe the sword, but crave for more and more. The phrases are diverse enough to remain interesting for a long time, and at the same time the audio engine keeps on giving the player a mix adapted to the dynamics of a particular fight.
The main proposals here have taken the shape of tracks Silver for Monsters… and …Steel for Humans on the album. The genuinely visceral screams of Percival’s female vocalists most certainly are one of the main elements constituting the musical identity of The Witcher 3, but it’s also important to mention the choir of witches. Its members are… the ladies of the CD Projekt RED development team. The result of their work is adequately eerie.
If we were to encase the overall sound of The Wild Hunt in one word, that would probably be “crisp” – it’s just that lively, fresh, and savory. The music by Percival has gained a lot in this new context and mastering. The pieces are bright and clear, fortunately they rarely sound too lucid, although thing can get glassy sometimes. Juxtaposed against other contemporary soundtracks, the drained of bass is evident (an absolute antithesis of The Order: 1886 OST by Jason Graves), but this only confirms the autonomous character of the third Witcher’s music. It’s hard to deny Przybyłowicz and Stroiński a certain pugnacious vibe, a rock ’n’ roll feeling that permeates this album.
On the other hand, though, the most aggressive and catchy tunes present here have been taken from the previous works of Percival. Those recordings received a brilliant remastering and a new context, however this can still lead to trouble when trying to tackle this soundtrack in terms of a typical ‘author’s vision’ opus – and we’ve grown accustomed to those, haven’t we? Instead, here we have sort of a collective homage to the Slavic culture, although a couple of rather incongruous tracks bearing inclinations towards film music can be spotted as well – we’ll get to those soon.
A very impressive amount of different instruments has been used. It would take quite a long time to mention them all, so let’s point out a few more interesting elements: yaylı tanbur, gheychak, kemenche, bouzouki. Some sort of surprise might be the fact that this music does not feel that much… exotic as one could have thought before the premiere. Perhaps this might derive from the fact that we, as native Poles, somehow internally feel kind of connection and approval for such folklore which on the other hand will become very interesting and new for someone else. The awareness of musical expertise is impressive, but in the throes of a fight, it’s the energy that shows up in the first place. Music serves the game very well, and Percival’s presence adds much value to the game’s atmosphere.
It would be good to look at the music without the gameplay itself, at least for a while, and think about the question whether it is worth to have this CD in your library. Definitely yes – does not mean that whole music is completely brilliant, though, because we can of course find a few tracks that do not stand out very much from some film soundtracks. One can notice a couple of more generic tracks like King Bran’s Final Voyage or Welcome, Imlerith. Nevertheless, there are many compositions that are very unique for the series like Song of the Sword-Dancer. A little bit sentimental track is Kaer Morhen, based on the original Witcher’s theme. Rest assured – most of the tracks maintain a very high quality level and truly shine when listened outside the game, giving opportunity to focus on musical nuances.
Different places in the game were provided with specific music that corresponds to their atmosphere and characteristics. In particular our attention was caught by the city of Novigrad and the outskirts. At certain point we hear the intense and rich Merchants of Novigrad, while on other occasions there is a bitter female vocal track, which makes the listener think about how full of death and hatred the world of The Witcher 3 is. Amazingly beautiful are the Skellige areas, and the music is one of the reasons why we feel like this about the place. Beautiful mountains and breathtaking storms complemented by the music, as in track The Fields of Ard Skellig, and the result seems really stunning. Swamps from the south of No Man’s Land and track Ladies of the Woods – likewise. The song is equally disturbing as the meeting with three witches themselves.
It is worth to mention presence of diegetic music in the game (those unfamiliar with the term – we invite you here). One should pay attention to what can be heard while walking through the streets of Novigrad or Oxenfurt. Brilliant, fast paced songs played by bards with steady drum beat and dancing girls is a feast for both eyes and ears (Drink Up, There Is More!). Situation when we first meet an incredible NPC named Priscilla is one that stays in one’s mind for long. Without spoiling too much – this is the female version of Dandelion and the song that is performed at the first meeting is truly touching and deep.
Moments such as this one remain in your mind for very long… especially when you read the book series by Sapkowski and know some facts about Geralt and Yennefer. It’s a pity that we cannot find this song on album. The other moments that are pleasantly surprising are those that pay tribute to Slavic/Polish culture. Among musical themes one can hear a very famous lullaby called Spark (in Polish: Iskiereczka) which was composed almost one hundred years ago and derives inspirations from folklore and children’s rural life.
Sheer scope of The Wild Hunt amazes most gamers and the amount of work undertaken to create music for so many locations and quests is overwhelmingly great. Without shadow of a doubt, mere implementation process had to be a very challenging and time-consuming task. With the benefit of hindsight, the decision to hire Mikołaj Stroiński as the second composer seems to be absolutely good, because compositions labeled with this name fit the whole soundtrack perfectly, and often enough bring a huge amount of emotions with the music. (Whispers of Oxenfurt, Yes, I Do…) One should not interpret this of course as if Marcin Przybyłowicz’s music lacks emotions, because it is not the least true, and as an example it should be enough to play The Hunter’s Path.
Without shadow of a doubt, mere implementation process had to be a very challenging and time-consuming task.
Admittedly, the album has a very well made opening and ending, because in the role of alpha we have a track called The Trail which from the very first seconds hits you very hard and sets a monumental mood. As a finishing track for the whole recording, Hunt or Be Hunted (well-known from trailers) has been chosen. Without a doubt, this is one of the most unique and vivid cues on The Witcher 3 soundtrack. Looking at music of The Wild Hunt as a product, it is clear that any cent paid will be money well spent.
Similarly to the game itself, the audio sphere delivers a truly gargantuan amount of music. What is more, those are not simply average tracks and one does not have to be a music connoisseur to feel the extraordinary atmosphere and truculent character of the soundtrack. Is this OST perfect? No, but with certainty we can say that all people engaged in creation of this music rose to the challenge and us being a bit fussy about it does not change the fact that this is an extraordinary soundtrack with a genuinely fresh sound.