Whilst the Elder Scrolls series isn’t strictly speaking within the boundaries of science fiction, the franchise does have a fair amount of science fiction elements to it – the mysterious and technologically advanced Dwemer, the strange alternate ‘dimension’ that is Oblivion, and the fact that the series is set on another planet, to name but a few. In light of this, I present this review of my second favourite video game soundtrack of all time, after Halo, and that is the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim soundtrack. This selection of ambient tunes is absolutely spectacular, and even if you’ve never played the games the soundtrack is still amazing to behold, making great use of chanting and choral singing to get into the Nordic theme of the game, and beautiful string pieces for ambient exploration music.
#10 – The Road Most Travelled, Dragonborn Soundtrack
This one is technically cheating, since its basically a remake of the song of the same name from the Morrowind soundtrack. But it is always nice when Elder Scrolls games retain the same musical cues to maintain that sense of progression between games and link the three Bethesda Elder Scrolls games together. Whilst this isn’t strictly speaking a Skyrim track in itself, it certainly adds to the Skyrim experience by invoking serious Morrowind nostalgia and making the task of exploring the ashfields of Solstheim that bit more fun.
#9 – Solitude, Skyrim Soundtrack
This is the theme that plays when you step into the capital of Skyrim, the heart of Imperial presence in the game, and it does its job of conveying the sense of security almost cradling nature of the great city of Solitude as this soft piece creates an atmosphere of tranquillity. For me this theme brings back memories of living in Proudspire Manor, with Ysolda as my wife and Meeko as the family dog, that was secretly a front for my evil obsession with Daedric weapons and armour. Regardless, the track provides a peaceful backdrop for milling around cities in Skyrim with a gentle atmosphere, particularly if it rains in-game.
#8 – From Past to Present, Skyrim Soundtrack
This is another track that is particularly nostalgic, since it always seems to play when you first start a game. Interpreted by many players as synonymous with peace and safety due to its connection to towns like Riverwood and Whiterun, this track inspires a feeling of adventure even now, seven years later, which is truly a testament to Jeremy Soule’s skill as a composer. Nothing sucks you in to Skyrim more than the feeling you get when listening to this majestic track and exploring the fields around Whiterun…
#7 – Watch the Skies, Skyrim Soundtrack
This track is perfect for dragon-battling, and it will be the only inclusion of combat music on this list. Why? Well, Skyrim’s combat music isn’t bad but it is repetitive, particularly since there are so few combat tracks. Too often does Steel on Steel play whenever any random mudcrab decides to so much as wander near you, making the combat music in Skyrim more of an annoyance than the awesome feature it is. As such, hearing Watch the Skies play is somewhat refreshing since it occurs more rarely, and signifies that a great battle is about to take place. Ultimately, Watch the Skies is the supreme combat track.
#6 – Secunda, Skyrim Soundtrack
This tune tops polls for best ambient soundtrack, and it’s not hard to see why. This track is one of the most iconic in the game and was one of the few that I actually remember by name. Skyrim does a fantastic job of creating atmosphere, and the mellow staccato notes of Secunda make nighttime sombre and melancholy, but also creates an ambient air of caution towards the surroundings, since you never quite know what can be lurking in the dark at night in Skyrim…
#5 – Far Horizons, Skyrim Soundtrack
Regarded by many to be the best piece of music on the soundtrack, Far Horizons is a perfect tune for exploring. Aside from the fact that it would not seem out of place being played over scenes in The Lord of the Rings, this piece goes through distinct phases as it plays but never loses that sense of beholding that runs throughout, as if we are constantly in sight of something that inspires awe. Fitting, really, since exploring in Skyrim can often have that effect.
#4 – Unbroken Road, Skyrim Soundtrack
Although it might seem like an odd choice since it is heard so rarely in the game, Unbroken Road is actually a fantastic track if one takes the time to listen to it. I wish that this piece had been in the game more, possibly unlocked as a regular exploration theme after the player completes the main quest, perhaps. But when this song kicks in, it invokes some heavy emotions, and it is easy to see why they chose this song from the soundtrack to be the music that plays the first time you ride a Dragon.
#3 – Streets of Whiterun, Skyrim Soundtrack
This piece, rather like Solitude, is associated for many players with feelings of security and tranquillity, since it is most often played within the protection of big cities like Whiterun, Riften or Solitude, although it doubles as a perfect exploration tune. What makes this piece so emotive is the swelling and receding of the strings and the repeated light, staccato plucks that resemble the steady flow of nature that is ever present in Skyrim.
#2 – Sovngarde, Skyrim Soundtrack
The theme for Sovngarde is simply awesome. Not only does it perfectly contextualise the main theme of the game, but it also provides a constant drum-beat like rhythm to urge the player on when faces the challenges of the Nord afterlife. It adds a particular ambient air to the section in the fog, and encapsulates the grandeur of the Hall of Valor, meaning it essentially kills two birds with one stone and perfectly sets the scene for the Sovngarde section of the game.
Ancient Stones – Skyrim Soundtrack
Jeremy Soule uses horns very well in the Skyrim soundtrack, and particularly well in Far Horizons. But Ancient Stones is no slouch, and contains its own unique harpsichord-like feel that slowly transitions into another horns section. This tune is perfect for exploring forests, mountainous areas or encounters with small towns or Orc villages.
Kyne’s Peace – Skyrim Soundtrack
Like Secunda, Kyne’s Peace is a track that plays exclusively at night, and it certainly invokes a feeling of chill with its hollow choral howls. As it begins, this tune is perfectly mellow – it is a staple of night times in Skyrim to hear this piece, and no bad thing – and the crescendo into the higher-pitched singing is fairly subtle, the vocals are quiet and almost angelic. This track is called Kyne’s Peace for a reason, in that it certainly invokes a peaceful feeling.
Forgotten Vale – Dawnguard Soundtrack
This piece is chilling. Similarly to Unbroken Road, Forgotten Vale is only heard at a certain point in the Dawnguard questline, and as such it is rare to actually hear this piece in game, but it is definitely worth it when you do. This perfect use of choral melody creates a feeling of sympathy for the Falmer and their grim fate, particularly since you see for the first time the long-forgotten achievements of their ancestors.
1 – The Jerall Mountains, Skyrim Soundtrack
This tune inspires the same feeling in me as many people get from the Shire theme from Lord of the Rings, particularly since I closely link this song with memories of playing Skyrim for the first time on my Xbox 360. A lot has changed since then, but this tune hasn’t, and it sounds just as fantastic today as it did seven years ago. Jeremy Soule has composed many masterful tracks that invoke feelings of adventures and wonder, and this is undoubtedly one of his best.