Saturday, 3 May 2014

Soundtrack Review - The Elder Scrolls Online

Say hello to Rich Campbell-Innes of the hobby website 'The Hobbynomicon'. He's kindly shared his thoughts on the soundtrack to the new MMO 'The Elder Scrolls Online'.

Before I begin this review, I think it's important that people take into consideration that TES Online is a massive step away from TES as we know it, not only in game mechanics, but pretty much every aspect other than the game world and the lore. For me growing up, TES was a second world that I seemingly disappeared into for countless hours when I wasn't needed elsewhere. The world, lore, characters and music were all intrinsic factors in this and it never needed anything more than it had.

The music became part of my life really, listening to tracks outside of the game triggered emotions and genuine feels like nothing else ever has. It's not even negotiable to say that the music is as large a factor as any other in an Elder Scrolls Game. It's essentially the delicious filling to the expertly crafted sandwich (or Sweetroll.)

So naturally, as I learn of a new TES release, I am beyond excited. However, as time went on and details became fact, there were quite a lot of things that really threw everyone off. For a start, as an MMO, it would be a whole new experience. This changes the way games are played, no longer would I walk around a town casually donning my finest linens, I'd be parading my finest armours and showing off my levels... That's not what these games have ever been about, it just seems so alien to even think it. Then we also find out that the music will take a dramatic turn, Jeremy Soule worked on the Title (thank Azura...) and cinematics, but the rest would be other peoples work. This at first really but a sour taste in my mouth, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.

As a project from a separate studio with an entire overhaul on how the game functions, I would expect no less, especially so considering just how the music will work in game. The music in game will be more of a fluid soundtrack, so as opposed to songs that play randomly or reactively based on location/situation, the music actually changes and fades at key moments during each track in response to locations and situations such as combat. This removes the 'songs' that we know and love  to a degree, replacing them with certain hooks and melodies that stick with us. No longer will I be able to throw on 'Peaceful Waters' and re live that one time I was roaming the Grazelands.

I think this is a good move, not on a personal level, but in the grand scheme of things. Not everyone will share my passion, I can honestly say that I never grew tired of any TES song I ever heard, despite the thousands of times they have graced my ears. I can see how other people would though, (Johnny Guitar for those who have played Fallout: New Vegas...)

After having listened through The Elder Scrolls Online soundtrack a few times, I have to say that I am fairly impressed. The latest rendition of the classic TES Intro song is absolutely fantastic, it thankfully has that obvious Soule sound without just being a simple carbon copy. It's simply an excellent display of a personal sound that again manages to capture the true scope and, excuse the overused word, but epic, proportions and feel of the Elder Scrolls Universe.

I can't help but feel though that opening a soundtrack with what I was certain was going to be the best song was a pretty bad idea. That clear Jeremy Soule sound had me geared up for more and everything that followed it was close but, fairly obviously not Jeremy.

Don't get me wrong, it's good and even beautiful in some parts, but going from something so incredible in sound and very recognisable (at least to my ears) to a 'close but no cigar' situation, really set the soundtrack apart. I found myself phasing out and never really being truly aware of the music, no melodies really caught my attention or triggered any true responses, but I'm sure this is a thing that will come in time once the hooks and feels become attached to memories or events in game.

I do fear that this soundtrack will be largely overlooked due to songs being so mixed up like they will be via the dynamic system, but I guess this is just a reality of the MMO soundtrack, a thing that really for the most part can't exist in the same way that other games soundtracks can.

One thing I do see as a massive positive however is the addition of the astonishingly beautiful bard style songs. The amazingly talented Judith de los Santos a.k.a. Malukah actually wrote these based on poems and song texts pulled from the game. I think this is a massive step forward in creating a more vocal presence in the Elder Scrolls without having to suffer the bard songs of Skyrim endlessly.

On a final note then, It definitely does make for some great listening,  It is without a shadow of a doubt something that I would put on for some great background noise... But more than likely after I'd already played through Jeremy Soule's work.