Top Ten Tunes from the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Soundtrack

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.

Honourable Mentions

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.

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Top Ten Tunes from the Halo Soundtrack

The Halo soundtrack is truly wonderful, not only does it do its job of creating an ancient, powerful and mysterious feeling when exploring the varied environments of the various Halo games, the soundtrack makes traversing open landscapes, tight corridors and winding, labyrinthine battlefields both on and off of Halo rings all the more atmospheric and enjoyable thanks to the fact that the soundtrack is so rich and masterfully crafted by the fantastic Martin O’Donnell.

However, although the soundtracks for all the Halo games can be considered masterpieces, there are certainly some standout tracks that are iconic and perfectly suited to their moment in gameplay, but, also stand out as excellent pieces of music in their own right. These are in no particular order until the top three, and some may surprise you.

Charity’s Irony – Halo 2 Anniversary Soundtrack

This is a remastered version of the final section of the High Charity Suite from the original Halo 2 Soundtrack, that plays in-game during the opening segment of the mission, High Charity. The focus is clear here – this is the theme for the Covenant Holy City, which ironically plays in-game just as the city begins to fall to the Flood, and another reason why I like it so much. The tune itself is a fantastic electronic track that makes encounters tense but is actually very intricately constructed, like all of the best Halo tunes, including electronic tones and choral singing for an iconic Halo feel.

Bravery, Brotherhood – Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Soundtrack

This is a remastered version of Brothers in Arms from the original Halo: Combat Evolved soundtrack, and continues the legacy that its ancestor set down of having a Brothers in Arms variant in almost every Halo game, getting more bombastic each time. This represents the culmination of the evolution of the Brothers in Arms melody that was built upon in Follow our Brothers, the version that appeared in Halo 3. This version crescendos with the most energetic vigor yet, and hopefully the next time this track gets remastered they will continue this pattern.

Heretic, Hero – Halo 2 Soundtrack

Heretic, Hero is essentially the Arbiter’s theme in Halo 2, which is contestable with several other tracks on the soundtrack – Respite, from the High Charity Suite, or Reclaimer (ironically). The difference with Heretic, Hero is that it always plays during tense encounters with longevity, such as the section with the Wraith tank in the last level of Halo 2, or the Gondola section that the Arbiter traverses to recover the Sacred Icon. Either way, Heretic, Hero is an excellent ambient soundtrack that combines heavy, industrial tones with choir and light guitar riffs, and the name of the song reflects the Arbiter’s status as a branded Heretic on a mission to save his race.

Spirit of Fire – Halo Wars Soundtrack

For a main theme, Halo Wars could have done much worse. Spirit of Fire sums up Halo Wars in one piece of music – it harks back to the pre-classic era of Halo whilst also creating an atmosphere of isolation and desperation as the crew of the actual Spirit of Fire are left drifting in space. The piano segments are chilling and the piece is generally considered to be one of the most moving pieces to come from the Halo Wars subgenre of Halo Soundtracks. Undoubtedly, it is one of my favourite re-imaginings of the Halo theme and holds a rightful place as a unique theme for a wholly unique game.

Requiem – Halo 4 Soundtrack

Whilst Halo 4’s soundtrack is not one of my favourites, by any stretch of the imagination, it cannot be said that it was completely devoid of music that sounded truly Halo-esque. Of the best tracks on the Halo 4 soundtrack like Arrival, 117, Green and Blue, Solace, Wreckage and Mantis, none really compares to Requiem for me. Not only does it perfectly capture the feeling of wonder when emerging from the cave near the start of Halo 4 and seeing, for the first time, the unique floating metal structures of the Dyson Sphere known as Requiem, but the song itself is so mellow, so interesting. It sounds almost like the opening theme to a David Attenborough documentary series, if not for the periodic haunting-sounding electronic pangs. Overall, highly atmospheric, and certainly very Halo.

In Amber Clad – Halo 2 Soundtrack

A remake/re-imagining of Under Cover of Night from the Halo: Combat Evolved Original Soundtrack, which is itself a fantastic track, In Amber Clad provides for me what I call ‘the Halo 2 effect’, in that the unique style of Halo 2’s art and sound design makes each piece of the soundtrack truly unique from other soundtracks within Halo in that the atmosphere that Marty O’ Donnell seems so adept at creating and infusing into his soundtracks is very much alive and well here. The tune is nostalgic and hopeful but puts its own twist on the Under Cover of Night melody, combining several electric guitars with the preexisting ever-present bass line. A great little detail is the guitar lingering at the end after all the other instruments have stopped, a detail that was tragically removed from this song’s remake, Trapped in Amber.

Epilogue – Halo 2 Soundtrack

As far as Epilogue’s go, Halo 2’s is both extensive and simultaneously nonexistent. As far as the cliffhanger ending goes, most people agree now that the game earned one, and in hindsight this made Halo 3 all the better. But players at the time did complain that Halo 2 does seem to just cut off right when stuff starts to get good. You kill Tartarus as the Arbiter, thereby preventing him from activating the Halo ring, and yet Master Chief is left plummeting towards Earth on a Forerunner ship controlled by the Covenant, and then the game just ends. But it does have an Epilogue, and according to this tune that includes the first song of the credits, a fantastic continuation of the motif heard at the start of Impend from earlier in the Halo 2 soundtrack that features poignant guitar melodies performed by none other than John Mayer, who remained deliberately uncredited for 10 years so that he could keep the secret between his friends.

Perilous Journey – Halo: Combat Evolved Soundtrack

Perilous Journey is a truly iconic piece, not least because it plays during three of the best levels of Halo: Combat Evolved, as well as being remastered twice and featuring in one of Halo 3’s best levels. But despite appearing more than most tunes on the Halo soundtrack and across multiple games, this track never gets old. It fosters a feeling of adventure and inspires hope during difficult encounters such as the battle with the Zealot on the snowy bridge during Assault on the Control Room, or during the vehicle section of Halo 3’s The Ark. This track has been remade into First Step for Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary and was remade and included as Make Them Pay in the Farthest Outpost suite of the Halo 3 Soundtrack, truly a testament to its memorability and standout quality as a tune.

Covenant Dance – Halo: Combat Evolved Soundtrack

This tune is brilliant, and it is a shock to me that it was never re-released in any other Halo game. This does mean that the bond between this tune and its origin game is very strong, since hearing it brings back memories exclusive to Halo: Combat Evolved. Thanks to Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, a remaster of this tune does exist in the form of Choreographite, and although that tune is great in its own right nothing quite beats the original for nostalgia factor alone. The best thing about this piece is the sudden and unexpected shift halfway through from a generic-sounding Halo drum-and-choral track to a groovy electronic dance track. What makes this piece particularly memorable is that it plays when you finally reach the control room in Halo: Combat Evolved’s Assault on the Control Room, and the electronic part kicks in just as the door opens to reveal a Zealot and his advance guard, heightening the tension and enjoyment factor of the encounter.

Honourable Mentions

Asphalt and Ablution – Halo 3: ODST Soundtrack

Despite the fact that this is the only track from the Halo 3: ODST Soundtrack that features on this list, it cannot be understated how fantastic the soundtrack for this game is. Despite the fact that, like all Bungie Halo games, this soundtrack was composed by the one and only Martin O’Donnell, the whole album sounds nothing like anything that has ever been in Halo before or since. For one, the welcome introduction of the saxophone as a regular recurring instrument in this soundtrack gives every track a dark, moody noir feeling, which fits perfectly with this game’s setting in an abandoned futuristic metropolis drenched in rain at night time, and the slower pace signifies the increased difficulty and setup of encounters in the game, since in this game you are no longer a super-soldier. If you’re a fan of night-time ambience, this track is for you.

Under Cover of Night – Halo Combat Evolved Soundtrack

Remade as In Amber Clad that was included on this list, as well as Cloaked in Blackness for Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, Under Cover of Night is different enough from its progeny that it stands out for more reasons than it just being the original. Playing at iconic parts of levels like Truth and Reconciliation and Two Betrayals, this track has the legitimate Halo identity that makes it so well-loved by fans.

One Final Effort – Halo 3 Soundtrack

Of all the bombastic versions of the Halo drums that exist, this is one of the best. Whilst the Halo Theme has been re imagined in dozens of different ways across almost all of the Halo soundtracks, from outside-the-box wind-chime atmosphere of Halo: Combat Evolved’s Ambient Wonder to the more traditional style yet non-traditional fusion with 117 in Halo 5’s The Trials, none can beat the simplistic yet effective application here in Halo 3’s One Final Effort. Played during one of the most memorable moments in the game, the climactic battle with a pair of Scarabs, this track has certainly made an impact.

This Glittering Band – Halo 2 Anniversary Soundtrack

A fantastic remastering of Leonidas that was included in the Delta Halo Suite of the original Halo 2 Soundtrack, This Glittering Band is played during the gondola ride over a gleaming lake in the sunshine as Covenant Banshees and Drones assault your vehicle from all angles. The tune is possibly more commonly recognised as being part of the Three Gates section of the Halo 3 soundtrack, as that too was a remake of Halo 2’s Leonidas. Being an Anniversary version, This Glittering Band incorporates elements from both the original and the Halo 3 version of its predecessor to find a perfect balance.

Peril – Halo 2 Soundtrack

One of the standout tracks of the Volume One CD of the Halo 2: Original Soundtrack, Peril plays during two distinct parts of Halo 2 – first during the opening section of the level Delta Halo following the iconic drop-pod sequence, and second during the level High Charity in one of the outdoor garden sections of the Covenant Holy City of High Charity. Oddly, this track also featured in an episode of ‘Top Gear’, during James May’s review of a Jaguar XF in 2007, a full 3 years after the soundtrack came out. Guess someone was a fan. Overall, this piece uses rapid staccato strings to create a tense atmosphere making encounters more suspenseful.

And finally, the number one is:

Genesong – Halo 2 Anniversary Soundtrack

It should not come as a surprise to anyone that Halo 2 was big enough to get Steve Vai to record songs for the soundtrack during the development for its original release in 2004. Back then, Halo 2 was as big as it gets. The game revolutionised gaming online for consoles with the introduction of a functional matchmaking system that was unparalleled for its time and paved the way for hundreds if not thousands of other console shooters and games of all kind to follow in its wake. The game was being hyped up to the extent that it outperformed most big-budget movies of that year, and was considered by news outlets at the time to be bigger than any movie. Steve Vai, and all the other artists who contributed to Halo 2 such as Breaking Benjamin, John Mayer, Hoobastank and Incubus as well as producer Nile Rodgers, took the project immensely seriously, and Breaking Benjamin didn’t even receive payment for their work on the soundtrack, doing it for free as the publicity from having one of their songs in Halo 2 would pay for itself. This was a point where Halo was huge not only in the gaming world but in the mainstream media as well.

However, times have changed, and Halo is not the franchise that it once was. What is surprising, however, is how dedicated its fans still are to the games, the lore and the production of Halo and its tributaries. 10 years after recording one of the best songs on the Halo soundtrack, Reclaimer, Steve Vai returned to Halo 2’s soundtrack for the Anniversary version and recorded several tracks, including this remastered version of Reclaimer known as Genesong. Steve Vai’s contribution to the soundtracks of both versions of Halo 2 cannot be understated, particularly since he contributed to the excellent Mjolnir Mix and Gungnir Mix formed the main theme for Halo 2 and its remake. Truly, the Halo Theme and tracks like Genesong represent the pinnacle of not just the Halo Soundtrack, but video game soundtracks in general.

Do you agree with this list? What’s your favourite song from the soundtrack? Leave your thoughts in the comments and leave a like if you enjoyed. See more:

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