I noticed the music while playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, a sadly rare occurrence with Western RPGs. The orchestral soundtracks given to these games are all too frequently ordinary and forgettable. They all sound the same. Many WRPG music composers favor atmosphere over melody, which makes for effective soundtracks, but not ones that can be easily remembered. For Skyrim, Jeremy Soule takes the middle road, creating moments both memorable and atmospheric.
The main theme, “Dragonborn,” accurately establishes and conveys the tone of Skyrim before the player ever sees the world. The rousing masculine voices really do suggest a Nord fighting a dragon on a mountain amid fiercely falling snowflakes. The remainder of the soundtrack isn’t as memorable as “Dragonborn,” but there are highlights. In general, however, individual tracks seem less important than the overall feel, which is odd for a game in which the small moments are the most important.
Soule has perfected the wanderer’s soundtrack. “Awake,” “Distant Horizons,” “Far Horizons,” and “Sky Above, Voice Within” are all good for wandering, as are many others. “Far Horizons” and “Ancient Stones” are the most iconic and prototypical of the wandering songs, but “Frostfall” is my favorite, with its stirring violin. Considering how much time one spends wandering in Skyrim, these tracks tend to be lengthy and repetitive. Regardless, they’re excellent for their designed purpose. Besides, wandering can be time consuming.
Soule also composed warmer, homey songs of comfort for the weary traveler. Inn songs like “The Bannered Mare” and “Around the Fire” are somewhat perfunctory, but pleasant. Dungeon tracks like “Shadows and Echoes” are typically minimalistic and bass-heavy. Battle themes and other “event” themes are more effective in context, as expected. Many contain some sort of backing choir, and a few echo the main theme, such as “One They Fear,” which makes great dragon slaying music.
The fourth and final disc contains just one track, “Skyrim Atmospheres.” Over forty minutes long, this track seeks to encompass the living world of Skyrim in its entirety. Ambient noises like chirping insects and crackling fire underscore music that creates a tone of vastness appropriate for the region of Skyrim.
Although not very original, Soule’s Skyrim soundtrack establishes and maintains an appealing atmosphere. Soule composes masterful music for wandering, and this could be the soundtrack for a winter hike or stroll across tundra-like meadows. Don’t expect swelling emotion or fantastic melodies, and you won’t be disappointed.