Music has numerous purposes in games, it's not always there to help 'set the scene', which alone can still prove effective. Music serves as a warning almost, an indicator as to when something significant is about to occur, it can be sudden or the pace will gradually change up until the point where you're looking at it. One example in my experience is gameplay during levels in Dishonored, whilst stealthing there is barely any music to be heard, however when you break this or are caught, then there is a sudden sharp tone to indicate you've been spotted. This is also used in a level of 007 Nightfire on PS2. During a mission where you must infiltrate a skyscraper in the night, if a guard catches you the Bond theme song is played sped up to indicate to you 'Hurry! they're going to raise the alarm!'' as soon as you subdue to guard the music fades away etc.
Jeremy Soule is the composer of Skyrim, up until a few months after tis release I had assumed that was his big break or the his most iconic work, but boy was I wrong. After hearing some of the tracks from the Elder Scrolls I could imagine what his other discotography sounded like. He had composed the previous two games in the series as well as other known titles including Guild Wars, Metal Gear Solid and Harry Potter.
Another renowned composer is Jesper Kyd, whom I'd known from the Assassin's Creed series; as such he has also worked on other titles which have appealed to me, most notably being Borderlands 2 and Darksiders II. While these examples all fall under different catergories they all equipt the same orchestral music which I have felt portrays the atmosphere of the environments.
Both of these composers have produced such mind blowing audio that they have both been nominted and won numerous awards, including BAFTAs for Original Score.
Throughout my gaming career there have been iconic memories during gameplay where I have mentally applauded the soundtrack. One of the most recent was engaging dragons in Skyrim. When you approach a dragons area or they appear out of the blue, and then
that music begins, Jeremy Soule's Dragonborn fits the bill beautifully, especially at 0:35 and 2:09 where it builds to the crescendo....
Another prominent moment was during Red Dead Redemption, the music as a whole beautifully captures the serenity and mostly casual atmosphere of the Wild West, part of me is happy there wasn't any fast pace banjo music included as that would just ruin it and be borderline stereotypical. The passive acoustic guitar and harmonica is enough to set the tone of that time. But to the point, about half way through the campaign when you arrive on the shores of Mexico and mount your horse, José González's Far Away slowly introduces itself. The tranquil guitar intro combined with the setting sun as you gallop across the plains..... it truly is a memorable scene of this superb game.
Amongst the many awards this game won at the 2010 Spike Video Game Awards, one of them was Best Song in a Game, a title it too well deserves, Critic Jon Radoff was one of the several reviewers to dub it part of the most influential in the history of video games.
The tragedy of this entering combat or dying will cause it to fade; It truely is a once in a lifetime moment to experience. Anyone who would consider disrupting this iconic moment deseves to be shot!
And to keep it short and stop myself from going on, I think I'll keep at top 3. Whilst not used in actual gameplay like the rest of the soundtrack, the song Xaxas from World of Warcraft Cataclysm was the featured track in the cinematic trailer. IT.WAS.EPIC. Many people were like ''meh'', but those were the veteran players from vanilla. From my perspective it captures the essence of the expansion. As the name may suggest, the Catalcysm was a global natural disaster created by the Primary Antagonist Deathwing who has power over the very earth itself, earthquakes, eruptions and tsumani's galore! So the song itself it aptly violent and loud, it gives a sense of a rising evil and danger. The grind of sundered and shattered stone, the shaking of the ground, the smash of the hammer against metal and the dragons roar. Pretty much sums it up.