Another expansion, another original soundtrack for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, so it was only a matter of time till you got another High Notes piece from me. This time around it’s all about The Siege Of Paris, the second expansion of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, the final for 2021 and possibly whatever is covered by the original season pass. We can expect at least one more expansion in 2022 and —I bet— another soundtrack album to go with that.
As a rule I play the game/expansion before any listening sessions with the soundtrack, so that I go in with some sense on what worked and what didn’t when during gameplay and, naturally, to have certain associations in mind when it’s time for a more careful pass on the music.
One thing was clear enough going in The Siege Of Paris, that the soundtrack forks its way from the overall approach for the main game that also extended to the first expansion, Wrath Of The Druids. Those two works were a more (publicly?) collaborative affair between Einar Selvik, Sarah Schachner, Jesper Kyd and Einar Selvik, Max Aruj respectively, whereas in the case of The Siege Of Paris there’s only one composer that gets main credit and that’s Stephanie Economou.
Honestly, I had never heard of her before so of course I had to do just a little bit of research and determine why that was the case. Before visiting her official web site, I stopped by her IMDB page —as people do in such cases— and noticed she’s been active in film and TV for at least 10 years, with various roles, many times providing additional music in productions we’ve all pretty much heard of (The Martian, Dear White People, The Equalizer 2, Mulan and more) and collaborating with Harry Gregson-Williams —who I hope you’ve all heard of— but she started getting main composer credit fairly recently it seems. As it happens, I’d listened her work on Manhunt: Unabomber that wasn’t exactly a blockbuster TV hit so I guess I lucked out, so to speak. But then I realised her biggest work for TV so far was for Jupiter’s Legacy so my luck got balanced out. I was supposed to watch this show and even for Showrunners, a podcast (in Greek, sorry!) that comments on one season of a show at a time. The show came out, the vibe wasn’t great, it got cancelled uncharacteristically quickly even by Netflix standards so we decided to give its podcast slot to something else. I never watched then, I haven’t watched it since and I had no clue about Economou’s work there. According to her that soundtrack has been the most enjoyable experience she’s had so far as a TV and film composer so the show going the way of the dodo bird wasn’t exactly ideal, regardless of anyone’s views on the music.
All of this makes The Siege Of Paris, as a part of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, is clearly the next biggest production she’s worked on for main credit, surely in terms of visibility. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla isn’t being pushed in everyone’s face though Netflix’s algorithm, but as pop properties go, it’s certainly bigger than Jupiter’s Legacy and just the 2nd most profitable game in Ubisoft’s history and a franchise with a great track record in quality soundtracks and a veritable parade of composer talent that was built upon. So, in a way, it is kind of ironic that Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is somehow missing from Economou’s IMDB page, through, thankfully, it’s exactly where it’s supposed to be on her official page.
After that detour “backstage”, it’s time I got back to the music. As I mentioned earlier, The Siege Of Paris veers from the established path in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, in the sense that Economou’s work is a lot lighter on the folk elements, so lighter in fact one could be forgiven for thinking they’re nowhere to be found. Instrumentation would have some words for us, had it also had a mouth to speak with but it wouldn’t get too loud about it in the end. In terms of general vibe, Economou’s work here is closer to Kyd’s then Schachner’s, surely the furthest from Selvik. One can’t complain in that regard thought as Kyd shaped the musical foundation of the franchise early on and for quite a while so this comment is not supposed to be some kind of snide remark, not by a long shot.
If you haven’t played the game and would like to get a quick taste from the album, I feel gravitating to Francia and Hásæti thinking they’re safe bets makes sense but it would also be unfortunate. Sure, with the setting of the game being moved from the British Isles to Francia, one expects something special from the track that is there to underline exactly that change. As for Hásæti, it’s the one track that was also released as a single, meaning it was used to promote both the game expansion prior to launch and the soundtrack, so why wouldn’t you check that out and feel it must be one of the better ones in the lot?
I’m sorry to disappoint but… they’re not. The album holds fourteen tracks in total, out of which I singled out four to add to my Assassin’s Creed playlists (you’ll find them at the end of this piece) and those two didn’t make the cut. I will say this though. The rest of the tracks generally work well within the game, providing nice ambient or more active acoustic company to whatever shenanigans fill your screen. In fact, I feel they do a better job at it than Max Aruj’s output in Wrath Of The Druids. Still they’re more functional than memorable tracks and the point here is to shoot for the latter. And through those four tracks that made the cut for me I realised I have reason to keep being interested in Economou’s work going forward (and that I also have to give the Jupiter’s Legacy soundtrack a try sooner rather than later).
Honor to Ravensthorpe threw me off a bit though I knew from the off that it would end up in my High Notes playlist. It starts out with some Sarah Schachner vibes (or am I that much of a Schachner fan?) and turns wonderfully sinister, combining mystery with nervous anticipation. In many ways it is a better track than the game deserves, as it’s supposed to convey the reasons Eivor ends up in Francia, reasons that the game fails to elevate beyond the joke-logic level, even if the this track does not.
Bishop Engelwin and Count Odo is a nice battle theme indeed and the part with the more audible scratching of those strings I can’t help but love. Still it’s not as interesting a track a the previous one but it elevates itself above most others in the album and ends up a keeper.
Plague District is clearly a good one though. The second half especially makes and that relatively dissonant string work that shows up towards the end work wonder for the mystery implied and I can tell you with conviction that this track makes the main quest is accompanies in the game feel better than it has any right to be.
How The Siege of Paris didn’t end up the hero track for marketing, what with the name itself alone and whatnot, I choose not to know. I mean, I could ask but I’d rather not. What matters is that it works. It’s supposed to punctuate some stubborn tension into submission and that it does. At this point in history (and in the game) Paris isn’t as easy a target as it supposedly was in Ragnar’s time, so there’s not much room allowed for hubris from any camp, it’s time for grit and determination which I feel the track conveys to the player successfully.
Overall the expansion’s soundtrack isn’t too adventurous. When it works, it works well. When it doesn’t work as well, it surely doesn’t offend the senses. Will Economou’s stint here leave a mark? No. That’s hardly ever the case with expansion soundtracks in the series. Olivier Deriviere never return of course, but then again, Freedom Cry, for which he wrote music, started out as an Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag expansion and ended up being treated, even if retroactively, as a spin-off title. Does this count as cheating?
Joking aside, would I like to know what Econonou would come up with for a main entry? Definitely. Composers Ubisoft works with for Assassin’s Creed have returned for bigger and better work a couple times, so who knows? Stephanie Economou says that she wants to keep trying different things, so that it’s not obvious older work of hers is just what someone would expect her to have written a few years earlier, based on understanding of her later work. And having done a very, very quick pass though the Jupiter’s Legacy OST after spending hours with The Siege Of Paris, I’m inclined to believe she means business.
Embedded below you can find my High Notes playlist for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla as a whole, with music from the main game and both expansions that have come out so far. You can follow/subscribe on Apple Music or Spotify, sure that the same exact playlists will be updated with music from whatever expansion shows up next.
If you’re looking for some way to build character, strengthen your overall constitution, I have a franchise spanning High Notes playlist too, with a ton of tracks I cherry picked, hours upon hours of Assassin’s Creed music, on Apple Music and Spotify too, as always.