Game music: Morrowind

Morrowind OST CoverWith Skyrim and Oblivion taking the Elder Scrolls series to the masses, it’s common among longtime fans to declare that Morrowind was the high point of the series. Wrongly, obviously, Daggerfall being – for the time – a staggering game that made everything that followed look small and samey. But I won’t deny that Morrowind was one of the most imaginative and interesting game worlds yet created, and the music takes me instantly right there.

Three notes. That’s all it takes to conjure up images of everything that made Morrowind so good. That’s enough to imagine stepping off the boat in Seyda Need and hearing the silt strider’s eerie cry. To imagine the vast cantons of Vivec, the Dwemer ruins, the ash storms or the tower of Tel Fyr.

Morrowind might not have been as big as Oblivion, and certainly few games can challenge Daggerfall for sheer scale, but Vvardenfell was a lovingly created, intricate, fascinating place full of beauty, awe and majesty, and perhaps more than any other soundtrack, the music is closely woven into the game and my memories of it.

Jeremy Soule’s score has been criticised for being short and repetitive, but that’s more a function of the technology at the time – back in 2003 storage space was still very much at a premium, compounded by Morrowind using MP3 rather than a tracking format; improved quality at the expense of capacity. Soule was well aware of the effect this would have on a game the size of Morrowind and made some intentional decisions to deal with it:

I also felt that the game was so huge that it needed 85 hours of music to cover it properly. The size of the game influenced my style because I knew the music would be heard over and over and over again. And so it was a very cautious decision. The minimalism that people describe in Morrowind and Oblivion was very intentional, and for me it was one of these things where I tried to paint in soft tones so the ear wouldn’t get worn out playing the game for 100 hours.

I’d say that worked out quite well for him.

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