Editor’s note: Ryan Smith is a longtime gamer and freelance writer who lives in Raleigh, NC. A graduate of East Carolina University with a degree in business and marketing, he has written in the past for WRAL Tech Wire and GameArgus.com. He currently plays Xbox 360 and PC as well as Nintendo DS. For story ideas, tips and feedback, he can be reached via e-mail (ryannicksmith@gmail.com)

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Nov 11 marks one of the most anticipated video game release dates of all time: “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.” The buzz around this game is palpable all across the net, with its YouTube video’s comment sections featuring endless quotes from people fully admitting how much of their daily lives will be put aside for its arrival. The original preview for this game, featuring voice acting from the amazing Max Von Sydow, initially sparked most of this hype. Not only does it display a lot of new features for the series, it shows the incredible environments, character models, but most importantly: it displays the amazing soundtrack for the game, perfectly accentuating the action of the trailer.

It is not coincidence that they have such perfect music for the trailer.

Not that the Elder Scrolls games have ever had a lack of fantastic music. In fact they have had some of the very, very best. However in Skyrim, developer Bethesda has put the utmost focus on the audio for the game, as described in this video.

Todd Howard, the director of Skyrim states: “I had this idea that the music for Skyrim, would be the Elder Scrolls theme, sung by a barbarian choir.”

This is a perfect choice seeing as how Skyrim takes gamers into the northern lands of Tamriel, the game series’ setting, where it is inhabited by Norse-influenced creatures and peoples. “Voiced by 70+ actors in over 110 roles,” Skyrim has over five times the actors that Oblivion had (and was highly criticized for its lack of variety) and includes some of the greatest actors of all time (whether it is on stage or film) such as Max Von Sydow (Dune, The Exorcist), Christopher Plummer(Star Trek VI, Inside Man) and Joan Allen (Face/Off, The Bourne Ultimatum).

“The best NPC’s, you can tell a lot about them from the voice over,” Howard says, “that little bit of writing and how they say hello, is one of the hardest things to do.”

From their finely tuned accents (generally favoring Nordic) down to their greeting, every bit of dialogue is very purposefully scripted. It took “4-5 weeks and 3 voice studios working simultaneously” to accomplish the feat, but Bethesda has most likely topped themselves entirely with the audio track for Skyrim.

If there is one thing Bethesda does amazingly well, it is immerse gamers into their world, whether it be completely nonlinear exploration, incredible music, designing a character completely unique to you, or its voice acting. In many games the voice acting is simply obligatory; it doesn’t really serve that much of a purpose.

We saw this a lot around the early 2000’s when voice acted games were becoming the norm, many developers didn’t put the attention and focus that the voice acting requires to be successful. But even going back to Bethesda’s 2002 release The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, the voice acting, while not as frequent as later titles, was superbly done and actually sounded like you would imagine dark elves to speak, via both inflection and accent.

Bethesda understands that some of the most beloved games of all time feature finely tuned and expertly crafted soundtracks. Final Fantasy VII, The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, Metal Gear Solid 3 (or 4, depending on preference) and of course The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, are all games commonly at the top of “best game(s) of all time” lists, due to not only great gameplay: they all have magnificent soundtracks.

The soundtrack, if strong, can add such a tremendous emotional effect that the game will instantly be more successful than it otherwise might have been. Of course a game has to play well to be successful, but developers should always seek to put as much focus on how a game sounds as how the game looks.

The amount of precision and love put into Skyrim’s music and acting is just another reason the game is going to go down as an all-time great. Coming out next Friday on 11/11/11, make sure to delve into the world of Tamriel in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, you won’t forget it.

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