Dragon Age: Inquisition Soundtrack Review
In November of 2014, the third installment of the Dragon Age franchise was released. This game, Dragon Age: Inquisition, was met with near universal critical acclaim and is currently one of developer BioWare’s best sellers. For the game, Dragon Age creator David Gaider returned as head writer. The voice actors of returning characters were brought back as well to ensure continuity was kept with the prior games.
One crew member not brought back, however, was Inon Zur. The composer, whose most recent music can be heard in Fallout 4, was not asked to return after scoring the first two Dragon Age games. In Zur’s stead came the Vikings composer Trevor Morris. This Canadian musician worked under eminent film score composers James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer, respectively, before setting out on his own to work on films like Immortals and television shows such as The Tudors and The Borgias. Regarding the reasoning behind this switch: “It is another Dragon Age game, but it’s the most ambitious Dragon Age game yet, so we wanted to bring something brand new to the table and thought we’d try a new composer to see how it worked”, said audio director Michael Kent in an interview with The Daily Dot. “Trevor Morris is really good at writing themes and bringing really epic music to the table.”
So, how did this Remote Control Productions composer fare? To put it simply: quite well. After a first listen it would be too easy to dismiss the first track, the appropriately titled Dragon Age Inquisition Theme, as an unused Hans Zimmer cue from King Arthur (a soundtrack which Morris assisted on). The swelling strings, ever-present choir, driving brass section, programmed drum loops, and even an Inception-like foghorn are all heard and pulled directly from the Hans Zimmer/Remote Control playbook. However, it is the way in which Morris employs these techniques that makes it far better than music produced by a typical Zimmer-clone from Remote Control. Although Morris was able to produce success within his score, he also failed in a few cues here and there.
By the time of the fourth track, Calling The Inquisition, Morris has exhibited to the listener that he truly has a mastery of the orchestra and choir (both of which he personally conducted) and knows how to get the best sounds out of each. It is in these purely orchestral and choral pieces that the composer flexes his muscles and attempts to make Dragon Age sound more like a feature film than a video game. He accomplishes this with flying colors in cues such as Siege of Adamant, Journey to Skyhold, The Inquisition Marches, Return to Skyhold, and in the aforementioned tracks Calling the Inquisition and Dragon Age Inquisition Theme.
The main theme of either a film or video game is arguably the most important piece written. It is something the composer can easily reference and is recognizable by the listener. John Williams’ work on the Star Wars franchise is proof that a strong main theme can carry a visual work. As for Morris’ main theme, it certainly fits the bill. It is a rousing piece of music that immediately attempts to thrust the listener or player into the mystical world of Thedas. Admittedly, there is no unique instrumentation in the track that makes it sound much different from a typical fantasy score. However, what the track does have going for is something that can only be termed as a “humabilty”. This term pertains to a theme that can be easily remembered and hummed. And Morris’ theme can definitely be hummed. Although it may only be remembered by those who play the game or seek out the soundtrack. To this reviewer, though, Morris definitely succeeded with his theme and it serves as a splendid introduction to the album and the game.
With the protagonist of the story, The Inquisitor, being customizable by the player, Morris seems to pass on writing an overly distinguishable theme for this hero. Instead, Morris seems content for the main theme to serve for an Inquisitor of any race and/or gender. This is understandable, although the villains of the game receive a much more lavish treatment by comparison. The villainous, yet minor, character of Lord Seeker Lucius is given his own theme in the track Lord Seeker. Similarly, the Tevinter Magister Gereon Alexius is granted a rumbling, electric cello and electronics laden theme in Alexius. Both are fine musical pieces, but come off as unnecessary when the importance (or lack thereof) of the specific character is brought into question. As for the main antagonist? The cue The Elder One Theme gives a full rendition of the musical identity for the corrupted Magister and Darkspawn: Corypheus. It is for this all-important antagonist that Morris stumbles the most. Brooding horns, a whispering/chanting choir, and understated strings all help the piece to sound more generic than it is. The Strings meander without doing anything memorable and the choir sounds too much like the one heard in Bane’s theme from Zimmer’s The Dark Knight Rises score. Ironically, the fact that Morris focuses a good portion of the score on antagonists (about 15 of the 39 tracks) is much like Zimmer’s decision to focus his The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises scores on The Joker and Bane, respectively, as opposed to Batman. This flawed Remote Control-methodology doesn’t necessarily sink Morris’ efforts but certainly hampers it.
Fortunately, after these stumbles by Morris, the album concludes with some of his best efforts. The composer successfully conjures forth Baroque-style tracks for the themes that pertain to the extravagant Orlesian Empire. Both Val Royeaux and Orlais Theme are highlights of the entire soundtrack. The strings, piano, harpsichord and light percussion all combine to create pieces that sound as though they are from Bach’s day. The Thedas Love Theme is a quiet, somber piece that reflects the intimate interactions between characters in the game. To cap off the soundtrack is the outstanding A World Torn Asunder (Gameplay Trailer). Taken ostensibly from a game trailer, the piece is a perfect mix of action where the Inquisition's theme is utilized and should satisfy those who are fans of trailer music.
For Dragon Age: Inquisition, composer Trevor Morris turns in a score that far exceeds the previous work in the series by Inon Zur. Morris is successfully able to take ingredients from the Hans Zimmer/Remote Control playbook and use them to mostly great effect. Although failing to create a memorable theme for the main antagonist puts a damper on the score, Morris’ orchestral and choral prowess and strong main theme makes this soundtrack a must-own for fans of the game or for those simply looking for a fine-tuned orchestral experience.