Jukebox Heroes: How Elite: Dangerous’ music put me into a mild coma


You know what gets me righteously angry? I shall tell you. I shall tell you, and then you shall share in my anger, you will. What gets me angry is when I get tremendously excited because a new MMO is actually doing a soundtrack release with a whopping 86 tracks across three discs… and then that soundtrack turns out to be about as exciting to listen to as the old dial-up modem noises. I had to drink so much coffee to make it through this score, you have no idea.

Seriously, Elite: Dangerous, you had 86 tracks and pretty much all of them are completely forgettable synthesized noise? I know that “space” usually equals “ambient synth” for soundtracks, but I had hopes that there would be more than a small handful of tracks worth my time. This was — by far — duller than EVE, and I am not the world’s biggest EVE Online soundtrack fan.

Maybe I’m being too harsh. After all, it’s often unfair to decouple a soundtrack from the game and not understand it in its proper context. Then again, other MMO scores have made the transition to a solo listening experience with aplomb, so why not this one?


1. Blaze Your Own Trail

Elite’s best track is, unsurprisingly, its title theme. At least here we have what is lacking in so much of the rest of the score: melody, action, and an exciting build-up to a strong finish. Just by listening to this, you can imagine all sorts of epic space confrontations, rescues, and discoveries taking place. I only mourn that it’s too short for its own good.


2. Combat — Low Intensity — Engagement — Section 4

Coming in as a clear leader for the “Worst Track Names Ever” award, Elite: Dangerous takes a rather sterile, organized approach to its soundtrack. Most of this OST is divided into three sections — exploration, combat, frameshift & starports — with subheaders in the track titles to offer differentiation.

Low intensity or not, I actually picked this out as the best of the combat tracks. After a scary opening, it settles into a trippy, exciting tune that has a great percussion and a sense of rising urgency. Really, I’m being stingy in my praise for Elite’s score, but this is a great example of a track that does a great job adding to the heat of combat. If the rest of the soundtrack had been more like this, we could’ve had a winner.


3. Combat — Medium Intensity — Engagement — Section 6

Here’s the next level up of “intensity,” I suppose. To my ears, it sounds far more cinematic than the bulk of this soundtrack, although how well it works for a repeatable combat theme, I couldn’t tell you. I like how it’s swirling with emotions, including uncertainty and passion, ending on a cliffhanger of sorts.


4. Menus

I’m weirdly attracted to menu themes in games, mostly because they can be fun little trippy tunes that are meant for extended play. The Elite: Dangerous menu theme has that mellow and quirky attitude that I enjoy with a dash of magic and wonder. At times I hear notes of Star Wars, while at others are fantasy influences. It’s actually, dare I say, beautiful.


5. Frameshift & Starports — Frameshift Suite — First Movement — Andromeda

Nothing on the entire exploration CD got my attention, so I’m going to close out with a couple of picks from the frameshift suits. Andromeda is a tune that would do well as a planetarium score, with stars rotating and the wonders of the galaxy unfolding. It’s pretty without leaving a recognizable melody behind, merely content to create a river of ambient wonder down which we can float.


6. Frameshift & Starports — Frameshift Suite — Sixth Movement — Canes Venatici

The piano is the star of this track, delivering an X-Files-like vibe as it plays against trippy synth sounds as well as traditional instruments. I think the piano is perfect here because it’s so piercing and clear that it can provide a separate-but-equal path through a tune, both contrasting and complementing what’s going on in the busier background. I get eerie chills after listening to this one, but in a good way.

MMOs are meant to be heard as well as seen, and chances are that music ties your memories to these games more than you might realize. Every two weeks Jukebox Heroes listens through a game soundtrack and picks out the highlights to share and discuss. And if you like this column, then don’t miss the author’s MMO music podcast, Battle Bards!
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