Winner of the VGA’s 2011 Game of the Year, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim took the gaming world by storm. What is there not to love? Skyrim has everything and more you could want from an RPG and Bethesda made sure that it was as water tight as possible. Technical shortcomings aside, Skyrim is truly a great game, but of course that’s not what we’re looking at here.
The main theme of Skyrim, called “Dragonborn,” is one of those rare songs in a video game that when listened to by itself, actually sends shivers down your spine. The slow build up at the beginning with a very barbaric-sounding male choir, chanting and shouting, quickly erupts with an orchestral accompaniment. The brass fanfares and war-like percussion really add drama to this track, but more so at the beginning where it explodes than at the end of the choral build up. Although the strings are somewhat overshadowed by the brass and choir, they too add to the atmosphere, especially towards the end. The contrasts in sounds, whether dynamically at the end of the track, or in the voices when it changes from the male to the female choir, make it even more beautiful. “Dragonborn” seems to reflect all aspects of the game itself, whether you are at home with your wife cooking or out in the wilderness slaying dragons.
The male choir is chanting praise of the Dovahkiin, or Dragonborn, (aka you) in the language of the dragons. Despite not making sense to us, it is pretty darn cool and does involve the player in the game that bit more. Combine the male choir (and then later a female choir over the top) with the sultry voice of Esbern and you have perhaps one of the greatest release trailers of all time. The only criticism I have of this track is I wish it could be played more in the game. Stumbling across dragons is a rare event, and finding word walls even more rare, so you do not often have a chance to treat your ears to the majesty of this composition, probably because you are too busy trying to stay alive.
“Streets of Whiterun” on the other hand, is a big departure from the booming orchestration of “Dragonborn.” Whiterun is the first major city you come across and this track really paints an idealistic picture of urban life in Skyrim. The rising and falling strings make it sound almost semi romantic, which blends perfectly as you explore this city steeped in dragon-related history. The softer sounds really bring out the beauty of the track, while complimenting the stunning visuals of Skyrim‘s environments.
One of the great moments of Skyrim is when you travel to the land of Sovngarde, where you face off with Alduin, The World Eater. Sovngarde is referenced throughout the game, generating an air of mysticism around this fabled place in the Nordic afterlife. The music that accompanies your journey to Sovngarde adds to the drama and eeriness of this land. Appropriately named “Sovngarde,” this track is a mix of both gentle harmony combined with a booming male choir and distant drumming. The deep chant of the male choir is creepy at best, chanting “dovahkiin,” which slowly builds and then fades as quickly as it rose. Throughout this track there are dramatic swells and crescendos which add to the otherworldly feeling of both Sovngarde the place and “Sovngarde” the track. The booming bass drum is reminiscent of the battles that the residents of Sovngarde have fought and adds a sense of “manliness” to it.
Composer Jeremy Soule has truly outdone himself here, creating one of the best game soundtracks of 2011, if not all time. Soule, the composer of both The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and now Skyrim, has produced a phenomenal soundtrack which blends perfectly with the Nordic land of Skyrim. Oddly though, the original soundtrack is available exclusively through DirectSong where you can purchase a four disc, physical copy of the entire OST for $30.