Dragon Age Origins: Video Game Soundtrack Review

Dragon Age Origins: Video Game Soundtrack Review

Back when I wrote about the various packages available for Dragon Age: Origins, one thing I didn’t worry about was the soundtrack. Why? Because on the graphic that accompanied the article it said ‘Digital Soundtrack’. So I assumed it meant we got the whole soundtrack – since most games with samplers are pretty clear and up-front about the whole ‘selections from the soundtrack’ thing (most recent example is Dissidia Final Fantasy). Also, buyers of either the ‘deluxe digital’ or ‘collector’s edition’ got a selection of songs from the soundtrack, effectively half of the 35 songs, although there are some songs that don’t overlap. In early December EA & Bioware released the full soundtrack to iTunes and Amazon’s MP3 store, so let’s see if it is worth the money.

The Hype:
From the original press release:

Award-Leading video game developer BioWare(TM), a division of Electronic Arts Inc. (NASDAQ:ERTS), announced today that award-winning composer Inon Zur has composed the original score for Dragon Age(TM): Origins. Zur has been lauded for the emotional musical compositions he crafted for some of the most critically acclaimed video games including Baldur’s Gate II: Throne of Bhaal, Crysis, Fallout 3 and Prince of Persia.

With a powerful original score recorded by the acclaimed Northwest Sinfonia Orchestra, Inon Zur’s dramatic soundtrack to Dragon Age: Origins is the perfect complement to the game’s epic, cinematic qualities, full of soaring melodies and lush, emotional orchestrations. The official soundtrack for Dragon Age: Origins will be available to purchase and download online from popular music sites when the game ships on November 3, 2009, while selected tracks from the soundtrack will be included in the Dragon Age: Origins Collector’s Edition.

The soundtrack is a collaboration between composer Inon Zur, vocalist Aubrey Ashburn and BioWare Audio Director Simon Pressey.

“From the moment you hear the Dragon Age: Origins theme to the lilting ballad, I Am The One, at the end of the game, Inon’s score is hand in glove with the Dragon Age: Origins dark fantasy,” said Simon Pressey, Audio Director for Dragon Age: Origins. “The Dragon Age: Origins score has an originality and passion to it that illuminates the story. I am continuously awestruck with Inon’s ability to tap into the essence of a project. How he gets so much feeling into a melody is simply stunning.”

The Reality:

Let’s get right to it: the soundtrack is very good, but it is a lousy value. As mentioned, buyers of the Deluxe versions get 18 songs included for the extra $15 they paid. These represent not just a ‘sampling’, but more like a ‘best of’ list of tracks. I say ‘best of’ because some of the songs most folks I have spoken to call ‘favorites’, things like the Origins theme, Leliana’s Song and the award-winning I Am The One, are all included in the ‘soundtrack sampler’ provided with the Deluxe edition.

Inon Zur is no stranger to video games, having composed for games such as Icewind Dale II, Baldur’s Gate 2: Throne of Bhaal expansion, and most recently Fallout 3. His experience carries well into this setting. Fallout 3 had some nice themes and also heavy rhythmic motives threaded well into the game. As has become fairly typical, there is a mixture of light fantasy themes, heavy classical bombast, and tribal rhythmic segments – perhaps the best recent example of this fusion of elements was Kai Rozenkranz’s 2006 Gothic 3 soundtrack.

As for the Dragon Age music itself, it is very well done, and generally suits the gameplay. I have completed the game roughly 2.5 times thus far, logging well over 200 hours in the last few months. As such, much of the music has become tired and stale, and I really don’t mind if I just turn off the sound and hear nothing as I play. This is in contrast with Kirill Pokrovsky’s 2002 Divine Divinity, which I wrote about in a Netbook Gamer article – I have played that game at least 6 times for well over 600 hours during the last 7 years and STILL have the full soundtrack (49 songs) on my iPod!

That contrast also flows into the amount of music – 35 songs lasting over an hour seems pretty good – until you realize this is a 80+ hour game! This means there is plenty of repetition, and since there are many similar sounding themes to begin with, it really does start to feel bland before too long. But the stuff that works, works well. Just as I still have Zur’s Throne of Bhaal theme on my iPod, so too will I keep a few of these themes for quick reference for some time to come.

Here is the track list, with the tracks included in the ‘Deluxe Editions’ of the game highlighted:
1. Dragon Age: Origins 2:49
2. I Am The One (High Fantasy Version) 4:03
3. The Chantries Hubris 3:16
4. Elves At The Mercy Of Man 1:21
5. The Dwarven Nobles 1:07
6. Mages In Their Chantry 2:01
7. The Common Dwarf 1:24
8. The Dalish 1:18
9. Human Nobility 1:21
10. Ruins Of Ostagar 1:18
11. Enter The Kocari Wilds 1:06
12. Darkspawn In The Wilds 1:13
13. Join The Grey Wardens 1:53
14. The Betrayal 3:01
15. The Party Camp 0:44
16. Battle The Darkspawn Hordes 1:05
17. The Endless Wave Of Hurlocks 1:06
18. The Dalish Elves Encampment 1:18
19. Urn Of Sacred Ashes 1:01
20. Haven! 1:07
21. Battle For The Urn 1:06
22. Attack On Denerim 1:06
23. The Dungeons Of Landsmeet 1:12
24. Dungeons And Dungeons 1:13
25. Howe 1:08
26. The Battle Of Lothering Village 2:18
27. Ferelden At War 2:57
28. Lelianna’s Song 2:33
29. King Edrin 1:31
30. The Deep Roads 1:20
31. Battle The Blight 1:05
32. To Kill An Ogre 3:09
33. Challenge An Arch Demon 3:12
34. The Coronation 1:03
35. I Am The One (Dark Fantasy Version) (4:09

And here are the songs from the Deluxe Edition that are NOT in the soundtrack:
5. The Circle Tower (1:07)
8. Rise Of The Darkspawn (5:06)
9. Tavern Brawl (1:15)
10. The Grey Warden Legacy (0:43)
11. The Realm Of Orzamar (1:18)
14. The Deep Roads (1:20)
15. The Nature Of The Beast (1:30)
18. I Am The One (Djkilla Remix) (3:20)

So to get the full effect you would need to have bought the Deluxe Edition *AND* bought the soundtrack. Of course, that really plays into the target audience – most anyone buying this probably bought the Deluxe version of the game anyway.

My cynical side calls it shameless profiteering, selling you the same music twice, being deceptive by using the words ‘Soundtrack Included’ in bold and hiding ‘sampling of soundtrack’ deep in the text, and so on. But the game industry has made it clear – selling added material is how they are paying for games that take years to make (Dragon Age was in full production for 5 years) and cost tens of millions to make. Without fans buying soundtracks and Deluxe versions and post-release DLC, the choices are to charge more of scale back the games.

I know I have spent more time debating value than music, so let me again state that Inon Zur has created one of the best game soundtracks of 2009 with his work on Dragon Age. Aubrey Ashburn has contributed nicely as well, with stirring vocals that hearken back to the excellent work of Lisbeth Scott on the Gothic 3 soundtrack. I have linked in a YouTube video of the official release of the award-winning ‘I Am The One’ song at the end of the review just as a sample of what is offered. It is a great compilation of music that is sure to bring back fond memories for fans of this new classic game. So while this is a lousy value from an objective standpoint, for a Dragon Age fan, there are many worse ways to dispose of $8.

Where to Buy: Amazon.com

Price: $7.99

What I Like:
– Music perfectly suits the game
– Some very memorable themes
– Vocal work is fantastic

What Needs Improvement:
– Most stuff not included in the ‘deluxe game sampler’ is ‘filler’.

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About the Author

Michael Anderson
I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!