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Dragon Age Origins Collector's Edition Soundtrack :: Review by Chris

Dragon Age Origins Collector's Edition Soundtrack Album Title: Dragon Age Origins Collector's Edition Soundtrack
Record Label: Electronic Arts
Catalog No.: Promotional
Release Date: November 5, 2009
Purchase: Buy at eBay


Dragon Age: Origins demanded considerably more subtlety and depth from Inon Zur than most of his preceding action scores. The game itself was crafted as a dark fantasy epic and required a musical score that reflected its setting, drama, and mythology. Intent to deliver, Zur explored a range of styles for the soundtrack, ranging from mystical ambience to brutal action cues to elvish hymns. The audio team at BioWare also ensured high quality production values for the title, blending recordings with the Northwest Sinfonia and Chorus with the distinctive voice of soloist Aubrey Ashburn. While an official soundtrack release was eventually announced, a digital soundtrack was also featured within the bonus DVD of the limited edition version of the game.


The opening theme suitably sets the tone for BioWare's dark fantasy epic and is a stunning complement to the cinematic. The first section features Aubrey Ashburn's exotic vocals beautifully interweaving with an elegiac trumpet countermelody. The power of the Northwest Sinfonia is testified at the 0:53 mark as the composition heads into a bombastic action sequence so characteristic of Zur's work. Nevertheless, the composer has the compassion to break up these sequences with a beautiful flute and vocal passage before ending the composition on an uplifting yet uncertain note. The memorable and meaningful melody makes welcome reappearances elsewhere in the score, such as in the contemplative "Elves at the Mecry of Men" or majestic "The Realms of Orzamar", all the while enhancing the storyline and ensuring it remains a drama focused on humanity.

Of course, Zur's characteristically styled action music is also dominant in the score. The longest track on the album, "Rise of the Darkspawn", is a slow-building imperial march featuring all the elements one might expect from an epic game music theme — string crisis motifs, chorus chanting, and furious percussion. It's far from a creative conception, but stands out at least for its high quality production values — every single note feels punctuated with agony and desperation — and stimulating development. Tracks like "The Circle Tower" and "The Grey Warden Legacy" take an even more percussive focus and again sound more about high quality production values than compositional intricacy. The latter is especially obnoxious as it could have been taken from a stock 'epic cinematic music' production library. While Zur is certainly bombastic, however, he rarely uses loudness as a mask to hide elephantine composing in this case.

Although Zur's musicality can be heard throughout the score, there are refreshing departures in the more atmospheric works. Some compositions like "Mages in Their Chantry" and "The Nature of the Beast" are reminiscent of Danny Elfman with their fantastical chord progressions and haunting choral support. Although quite short cues, so much emotion and variation is packed into their playtime that they still appeal on the soundtrack release. Others take a more classically-oriented approach, particularly "Human Nobility" with its elegant if schmaltzy violin and trumpet solos. Another surprise is "Tavern Brawl" with its authentic folk setup and inspired treatment of instruments. However, it is tragically short much like so many other additions in the bonus soundtrack.

Aside the main theme, the vocal themes provide the main highlights of the soundtrack. "Lelianna's Song" is an exceptional beautiful elvish hymn inspired, as with much of the rest of the soundtrack, by Howard Shore. It is quite minimalistic as a composition, featuring a vocal performance against harp arpeggios and soft strings, but Aubrey Ashburn brings out so much feeling to the melody that this is actually an advantage. She returns as the co-composer and vocalist of the ending theme, "I Am the One", previously featured at A Night of Fantasia 2009. This is one of the most artistic ballads in game music. Ashburn creates so much warmth and mysticism while interpreting the elvish lyrics, while the supporting instrumentals retain a wistful organic flavour. The new age remix by Djkilla loses some of the emotion, but is an interesting adaptation and a welcome bonus on the soundtrack release.


Inon Zur's score for Dragon Age: Origins is quite deserving of the acclaim it has received so far. As with most of the composer's works, it is technologically accomplished and functions effectively within the game. What's more, it's also often an emotional and entertaining listen thanks to Zur's memorable leading themes and experiments in other styles. That said, the digital soundtrack does lack in length with few cues exceeding and the total soundtrack lasting 39 minutes. This is short even for a cinematic soundtrack, but hopefully an expanded commercial release will also be made available. However, I'm currently not sure whether the game's music is compatible in suite form since it was mainly intended as brief and intricate cinematic underscore. Overall, this shorter release still goes quite far beyond the boundary of being 'merely competent' and serves as an artistically inspiring work too.

Overall Score: 7/10