Elite: Dangerous OST Review

  • Name: Elite: Dangerous OST
  • Label: Frontier Developments
  • Composer(s): Erasmus Talbot
  • Number of Tracks: 86

I must admit when I first learned that Frontier Developments wouldn’t be re-hiring composer Dave Lowe to do the soundtrack for Elite: Dangerous I was rather disappointed. The Frontier: Elite II soundtrack which Lowe composed/arranged is one of my favourites especially its memorable intro theme (incidentally if you’re a fan of his work, as I type this review there’s a Kickstarter project where he plans to give the Frontier: Elite II theme a live orchestral treatment not to mention redo several of his other game compositions); anyone who was to replace him, in my eyes, had an uphill battle.

So enter Erasmus Talbot who is the composer for the latest game in the Elite franchise. Talbot has thankfully kept with the orchestral style that was adopted by previous games and the samples used sound awfully realistic at times too. While I did miss the music from Frontier: Elite II, Talbot’s music did grow on me, so much so that I just had to buy the album when it was finally available from the Elite: Dangerous store. I bought the digital copy of the album but you’re also able to get a physical version of it too if you prefer good ol’ Compact Discs to FLAC/MP3.

So what exactly do you get when you purchase the album? Well you get a whopping 86 tracks spanning 3 CDs broken up into where the music tends to be used in the game; CD1 is titled "Exploration", CD2 is titled "Frameshift & Starports" and CD3 is titled "Combat & Extras"

So CD1 contains a lot of the music that you hear while exploring space or just hanging about at outposts. It’s the kind of music you’d expect to hear while exploring space taking cues from hard sci-fi films and space documentaries meaning you’ll hear a lot of minimalist, dreamy, lonely, mysterious and peaceful tracks on this CD. While they definitely suit the game unfortunately most of the tracks here aren’t my favourites especially when you consider that many of the tracks are in fact passages of tracks you’ll find on CD2 (especially the Starport music). Favourites on this CD include the mysterious, yet beautiful Hoag's Object, the haunting Uszaa and Liaedin due to the clever mixing of Imperial and Federation styles (probably no coincidence that the Liaedin system in the game is an Imperial system surrounded by Federation space).

CD2 is by far my favourite of the CDs even if it only has 11 tracks. It’s very much quality over quantity on this CD as many of the tracks here are the most recognisable when playing the game, probably because they have melodies. The Frameshift Suite, consisting of seven movements, is the music you’ll hear while flying around in supercruise and they’re all pretty good whether it be the John Williamsesque First Movement or the Mass Effect-like Third Movement, you'll no doubt find something to like in this suite. My favourite movement has to be the Fourth Movement though, a very dramatic piece with a lot of bass, robotic synths, violins and even what sounds like a clarinet. Perfect.

CD2 is also where the Starport music resides with each Starport having an intentionally different musical style. Frontier Developments Head of Audio, Jim Croft, describes what he and Talbot were trying to achieve in the album notes:

It made sense to me to divide exploration, arrival and starport music across factional lines and give each faction a distinct leitmotif and textural flavour.

We gave the Empire and Anarchic assets quite exotic sonic textures. The former infused with Byzantine and Oriental flavours, the latter with African and Middle Eastern ones.

For the Federation we chose to go with a subtle militaristic American mood, dominated by french horn and for the Alliance we chose more airy, romantic European classical elements.

Talbot delivers in spades. Imperial Starport has a lot of mandolins, choirs, violins and brass, the Alliance Starport is an optimistic, spacefaring tune and the Anarchic Starport piece sounds very Arabian, mystical and lonely. My favourite track on the whole album though is the Federal Starport music which definitely has a Star Trek Federation feel to it and manages to sound militaristic, optimistic yet with a hint of cynicism and menace too (probably hinting to the fact that not everyone is prosperous in the capitalistic Federation). It even happens to have the leitmotif or fanfare that plays whenever your ship enters a Federation system or approaches a Federation Starport, however I’m a bit disappointed the leitmotif wasn’t expanded on into a full blown Federation anthem or something similar. Likewise for the Empire and Alliance.

CD3 contains 30 tracks, most of them being combat tracks along with the Elite: Dangerous menu theme. The tracks are all very short (except for the Menu theme) as you would expect for combat music and while it all works very well in game it’s not very listenable on its own.

Score – 7/10

Overall the Elite: Dangerous soundtrack is a high quality one but most of the good stuff is to be found on CD2 with the Frameshift Suite and Starport music. The tracks on the rest of the album are too fleeting to garner any genuine interest which is a pity since some medleys dedicated to each faction could’ve worked quite well as additional music. The leitmotifs for each faction are what I really wanted to hear and you only really get to hear them on CD2 with a smattering of them on CD1.

If you’re interested in purchasing the digital version of the soundtrack you can grab it off the Elite: Dangerous store for £10 which is currently about $20 AUD. Alternatively, you can also get a physical copy of the soundtrack for £15 which is about $30 AUD.