Game Music, Reviews

Dragonborn: The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim Original Game Soundtrack (Review)

December 9, 2011 | | 17 Comments Share thison Facebook Dragonborn: The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim Original Game Soundtrack (Review)on Twitter

It’s finally arrived. Jeremy Soule’s Skyrim soundtrack has easily been one of my most anticipated soundtracks of the year after seeing and hearing it in action at E3, and while I admit that I’ve been a naughty boy and have yet to play the game (I was trying to jam through Skyward Sword and have just wrapped up Dark Souls), I’ve been enjoying the hell out of the soundtrack.

The Soule brothers gained a lot of attention with their scores for Morrowind and Oblivion, so how does Skyrim stack up? That comparison is hardly even fair, but I won’t spoil too much before the jump.

Check out our review!

One of the biggest complaints from fans, myself included, regarding the soundtracks for Morrowind and Oblivion were that, while they were amazing, they were too small for such massive games. Especially when it came to the heavily stylized expansion settings, the simple breakdown into exploration and combat themes for Morrowind and the addition of town themes for Oblivion simply didn’t provide enough variety for the massive landscapes fans were exploring.

That is completely rectified with Skyrim. Heck, the soundtrack alone is four discs in length, and it doesn’t even contain all of the music that was written for the game. Yes, there are exploration and combat themes, but now there are different musical backdrops depending on whether you’re out exploring the wilderness versus a forest or the tundra. Or maybe you’re doing some night time exploration; the music is different and appropriate to that setting as well. There are separate themes for castles, towns, dungeons, caves, and taverns. I know I’m beating a dead horse at this point, but this soundtrack is bigger and badder than anything Jeremy Soule has done before.

In terms of sound quality, with such a huge game franchise you’d expect a budget for live orchestra. But Soule avoids the temptation. While the Soule brothers have always been known for their technical magic, they’ve raised the bar even further with Skyrim, recreating realistic strings, brass, percussion, and guitar that all sound so vibrant and warm. Or dark, depending on the situation.

The biggest addition is the inclusion of some choral work which varies from powerful and almost intimidating in the main theme, “Dragonborn,” to angelic and serene in tracks like “Frostfall” and one of my favorite tracks on the album, “Kyne’s Peace.” The latter accompanies adventurers as they explore a forest at night, and the beautiful theme couldn’t be more appropriate.

The piece you heard in our unboxing video, “Far Horizons,” is a general exploration theme, and is another favorite with its defiant brass melody calling out over the mountains. “Ancient Stones” is more hopeful, working in some lovely reverberating acoustic guitar or mandolin, while “The Jerrall Mountains” will come as a surprise as an arrangement of “Silt Sunrise” from the Morrowind soundtrack. “Wind Guide You” is over nine minutes in length, closing the album on a contemplative note.

Then there are the amazing town or city themes. “The Streets of Whiterun” was the first piece that I was drawn to upon listening to the entire soundtrack and is still incredibly stunning. Piano and swelling strings provide a simply beautiful backdrop, making me wonder just how it works in the game. “From Past to Present,” on the other hand, is epic yet airy, and I love when everything drops out and a solo harp picks up the melody.

I’d really like to call out each and every piece on this album, as it’s all amazing, but let me just mention a few more highlights. The epic and foreboding “Dragonsreach” was one of my favorite moments on the album with its dark progression while the distant “Imperial Throne” is exotic and tense, creating an unsettling atmosphere. The tavern themes range from fun to cozy, in the same vein as some of the work David Arkenstone has done for World of Warcraft, and even Soule’s combat themes, which I’ve never been a fan of in the past, impress me here with their various approaches. And let’s not forget the night time themes which Soule has called nocturnes in the game’s file structure, each highlighting the ethereal quality of night.

That brings me to the topic of ambiance. This soundtrack is all about atmosphere. Strings do the major lifting on many of the exploration, combat, and city themes as mentioned above, but the dungeons and night time themes are much more textural. Beyond atmospheric music, Soule delves into ambient or even new age at times with tracks like “Under the Ancient Sun” with its beautiful layers of strings and then to the big surprise of the Skyrim soundtrack, “Skyrim Atmospheres.” The entire fourth disc of this collection is dedicated to “Skyrim Atmospheres,” which is a 40+ minute continuous piece centered around swelling pads and the sounds of crickets, birds, wind, and rain. It’s a real trip to hear this style of music not only on the Skyrim soundtrack, but from Jeremy Soule. He could make a name for himself in the new age music market!

I had really high expectations for the Skyrim soundtrack, and after listening to this four-disc collection over and over again, I will say that I’m not disappointed. This is some of Soule’s best and most convincing work, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this score landed him some projects in the film industry after hearing the variety and quality of this score. We already talked about the packaging yesterday, and there’s still time to get your copy signed by Jeremy Soule himself if you order from DirectSong before December 23. Fans of Jeremy Soule, The Elder Scrolls, or game music in general need to check this one out.

Let us know what you think of how the music from Skyrim works in-game. Do you think it’s just as effective as an outside listening experience?

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