The most prominent improvement that Sillescu and his composing team were able to achieve over The Settlers’ previous scores was the recording with live orchestra, in this case the State Orchestra of Brandenburg. Indeed, most of Dynamedion’s latest scores featured real orchestra (most notably in Anno 1701 and ParaWorld) which is a testament to their dedication to take game soundtracks to the next level. The quality of the orchestra’s performance is evident from the very first cue on the album: “Rise of an Empire” introduces the new main theme for The Settlers, a solemn, proud and majestic melodic phrase. It serves as the thematic backbone of the score and is referenced back to in many of the ambient cues, sometimes calm as in “Greenlands” or playful as in “A Settlers Tale”. This theme is not confined to one dimension however. The player’s adversary, the sneaky rogue Crimson Sabbath, is underscored with the same theme. Yet, her evil presence corrupts the majestic musical quality by destroying the theme’s pleasant harmonies (e.g. “Crimson Sabbath”). The theme’s most interesting aspect doesn’t lie in its tonal quality though, but rather in its structural variety. The ascending and descending nature of the theme’s progression splits it into two halves and allows each of these halves to be quoted separately. You’ll notice the first half of the theme played by woodwinds in “Southern Realm” and the several hints at the second part in “Bow to Your Lords”, just to name two examples. There are a couple of other motifs to discover in the score, among them a creepy and mischievous melody for the main adversary (“The Red Prince”) and an emotional Spanish flavoured tune such as in “Serenade”. The thematic richness and its thoughtful orchestration takes Rise of an Empire a step further than its predecessors.
In addition to the score’s themes, the composers utilized a varied palette of orchestral colours to express the on-screen happenings. The score adapts musically to the game’s different climate zones by creating colder or warmer soundscapes. In other words, the score shifts dynamically between a lush, orchestral and a Spanish flavoured, ethnic sound. The themes are worked into these musical palettes and connect the ambient pieces. A definite highlight concerning the traditional side of the score is the emotional chord progression in “Kingdom of Ice”. On the other hand, the ethnic musical side is expressed most prominently in the main theme quotation in “Restful Meadows”. In some missions, however, combat is inevitable: greedy bandits, battle-hungry Vikings and an obscure, dark brotherhood threaten a settler’s prosperity and well-being. Dynamedion underscored these passages with forceful and fast-paced arrangements (including an occasional nod to film composer Jerry Goldsmith). Unfortunately, most of these battle cues are shorter than one might have hoped and seldom leave room for proper orchestral development. Still, the score offers expansive musical variety while remaining coherent in its thematic structure.
All in all, The Settlers: Rise of an Empire is a powerful, sophisticated and thematically strong soundtrack which displays once again the expertise and quality of Dynamedion’s work. Empowered by the vivid yet accurate performance of the live orchestra, the score establishes a cinematic sound quality rarely seen in video games.