Rome: Total War was a new incarnation of The Creative Assembly's franchise that brought gamers back to the ancient civilizations of Rome. It was with this score that Jeff Van Dyck went all-out with his compositions, having took a relatively ambient approach on Shogun: Total War and Medieval: Total War. He nevertheless hybridises many elements of these soundtracks with orchestral and choral tones inspired by more cinematic scores. Plenty of highlights are featured in the score, though only the commercially available Rome: Total War - The Official Soundtrack features them all. Meanwhile the Rome: Total War Exclusive Soundtrack packaged with the game features a few notable absences. Let's take a closer look at what the commercial release has to offer...
Though Rome: Total War still retains Jeff Van Dyck's characteristic musicality, it is for the most part an expansive and emotional score. The orchestral title theme, for example, expresses more humanity than earlier themes in the series, constantly building up to beautiful moments before betraying listeners with sorrowful turns. The slow-building orchestration "Contemplation", the acoustic guitar solo "Autumn", or romantic piano work of "Mobilize" provide further heartrending moments on the soundtrack. That said, a few hints of Van Dyck's approach to earlier Total War scores are welcome in tracks like the dark ambient event theme "Death Approaches" or minimalistic Eastern wanderings of "Arabic Winter". The exclusive theme "Epic" certainly suits its name since it is 5:24 masterpiece that unites most of the stylistic threads of the soundtrack together. Once again, Van Dyck's elegant and personal approach to orchestration and choral use never fails to surprise me.
The action themes for Rome: Total War are definitely among the highlights of the soundtrack. "Mayhem" instantly demonstrates the epic production values of the soundtrack; the percussion sounds more thunderous than ever while the orchestral elements are more developed and the primitive instruments fluidly integrated. "Warrior March", on the other hand, is a very rhythmically driven theme dominated by punctuated string motifs and primitive percussion; it gradually builds in texture and dynamic towards a series of truly intimidating climaxes. This theme is opened with a commanding yet violent voice-over inspired by Russell Crowe; it is bound to be a select taste, but certainly adds to the atmosphere of the soundtrack. Further voice-overs also appear before the crisis orchestration "Imperial Conflict" and the particularly colourful "Romantic Battle". Other brutal yet enjoyable percussive fests include "Army of Drums" and "Soldier's Chant".
In order to portray Rome in a familiar manner, many of the tracks channel influences from the famous Gladiator soundtrack, especially Lisa Gerrard's work. While a little unoriginal, Van Dyck imitates the styles extremely convincingly while also integrating his own trademarks. "Journey Rome Part 1", for example, homages the vocal use of the Gladiator score right away, treating the vocals as a soulful and radiant force against the deep ethnic infusions and still ambient timbres below. Other heartrending moments include the choral solo "Lost Souls", the ethnic ululations in "Arabic Victory", or the soothing hymn "Divinitus". However, the actual primary vocal theme "Forever" for the game is a refreshing departure from the clichés of game and film music. The female vocals are written in a balladic style, but the ethnic influences, unusual lyrics, and ever-changing instrumentation keep things fresh. From the soft introduction to a sweeping beat-infested section all the way to the bittersweet conclusion, this one will inspire so many emotions.
Overall, the Rome: Total War soundtrack is a great achievement. Whether the personal orchestrations, percussive action tracks, spiritual vocal themes, or moody ambient tracks, Jeff Van Dyck succeeds in creating something that is simultaneously effective in context and interesting on a stand-alone level. It's best to go for the official soundtrack since it is near-complete and features a few amazing exclusives like "Epic". That said, the bonus soundtrack with the game still compiles most of the good themes and will suffice for casual fans. Either way, this soundtrack is a great listen.