Soundtrack Sunday: Dragon Age: Inquisition

Dragon Age Inquisition soundtrack

Oh boy oh boy, let me nerd out here for a moment and state quickly that Dragon Age: Inquisition is my favorite game to come out since 2002. I have dumped a shameful amount of hours (weeks? . . . months? wait . . . shit, what year is it?) into this game. I love, LOVE Inquisition.

That bit of obnoxious personal gushing is relevant to the fact that, as much as I love the game, I do not love the soundtrack.

A bit of history here, first. The Dragon Age series is a Bioware series, and Bioware was the developer of the acclaimed Baldur’s Gate games (yes, the one with the miniature giant space hamster). Composer Inon Zur, whose award-winning work spans television, film, and gaming, started with Bioware on Baldur’s Gate II: Shadow of Amn.

Go for the eyes, Boo, go for the eyes! Raaaaaaggghhh!!! (NOT Inon Zur.)

Zur continued providing music for Bioware’s epic fantasies, scoring both Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II. When Inquisition came out, it immediately felt “off” . . . so much so that my husband even commented on it. And here is a very good example of how (even for non–soundtrack fans) the music directly impacts the experience. If gameplay is the bones, story is the muscle, and graphics are the skin, then music is most certainly the spirit.

This pre-established world, with its tons of complex history, characters, and lore, a world I had spent hundreds of hours participating in, felt suddenly strange and unfamiliar. I was so used to Zur doing the Bioware fantasy scores that I didn’t even question it, and at Gamer’s Rhapsody I made an asshole of myself by commenting to soundtrack guru Emily from Top Score (now creating the awesome Level with Emily Reese podcast) that I thought Zur had phoned it in. She corrected me that it had not been Zur for Inquisition but new composer Trevor Morris. And when I stared at her stunned and dumbly and asked “Are you sure?,” she gracefully confirmed it was true.

Morris’s resume leans heavily toward cinematic scoring, and it shows. There is a core difference between film and gaming in that film is voyeuristic and gaming is personally immersive. While certain scenes absolutely do benefit from cinematic scoring, much of a game’s soundtrack is tasked with providing continuous environment and ambiance, further deepening the connection between the player and their avatar.

Every track on the soundtrack felt like it was accompanying a specific, scripted, and choreographed scene . . . not so appropriate when free-exploring the game’s massive maps. Even music written for specific scenes felt lifeless, especially when attempting to emotionally handhold and guide the player. “Love in Thedas,” the theme that plays during romantic encounters is a good example of this, as it feels generic and “Solas” (ha ha).

There are only a handful of tracks I would give a pass considering their purpose and what they should have accomplished . . . but often failed to.

Moods: Action, Cheesy Romance

Highlights: “Alexius’ Theme,” “The Dawn will Come,” “Lord Seeker”

Final Score: 2 out of 5  Nobuo Uematsu Bandannas

(c) Sharon Nathan

(c) Sharon Nathan

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