Dragonshard is a game based on the new Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting called Eberron and combines real-time strategy and role-playing to an interesting genre mix: three factions all battle to get in the possession of a legendary magical shard called the Heart of Siberys. They're the Order of the Flame, an alliance of the various good races; the Lizardfolk who were mutated by the Heart of Siberys; and the Umbragen, a dark and powerful race that lives in Eberron’s underworld. The game offered some nice new features like fighting above and under ground at the same time but the outdated graphics and uninspired single-player campaign got the game only average reviews.
To score the game, developer Liquid Entertainment talked to composer Lennie Moore who had worked with them on War of the Ring and who is most famous for his score to the action-adventure game Outcast. Not having a full orchestra at his disposal this time around, Moore nevertheless managed to get some real players to perform the brass and flute parts of the score.
The three factions all come to life with their own musical colours and facets. For the Order of the Flame, Moore composed some heroic and adventurous pieces. Both the ambient and battle tracks are based on an overall Order of the Flame main theme that gets quoted often and in different arrangements. This results in a very thematic and memorable underscore. The ambient tracks live on broad and epic string lines combined with flutes. The melodies themselves are complex and feature subtle dramatic performances. The action cues are brassy and epic with drums added for a fast-paced rhythm. They remind of some of movie composer Jerry Goldsmith’s work, for example in the Rambo series. There are a few hints to Howard Shore’s The Lord of the Rings scores as well, but never to an irritating degree.
The Lizardfolk features more synthesized effects in combination with low strings and subtle brass to give it a tribal and creepy sound. The action music stays true to this formula offering varied synthesized percussion rhythms. The Lizardfolk’s motif gets introduced very early on as well and is afterwards quoted quite often to give the music a thematic consistency. It's certainly the most ambient of the three faction scores but does its job well in establishing a frightening atmosphere.
Low strings and sinister orchestrations dominate the third faction, the Umbragen. Their action music is somewhat similar to the ones from the Order of the Flame although the percussion has a more off-worldly and dark sound to it. Similar to the other factions, an Umbragen main theme makes its appearance in almost all other cues of the faction.
Additional music includes the underscore of the intro movie of the game that starts with a solo duduk before bursting out into action music with full orchestra and the Win/Loss cues, which benefit from the use of real brass instruments for triumphant or muted statements. The very thematic nature of the album along with its different orchestrations for the different factions of the game makes the score a very enjoyable stand-alone listen.
The few live players add musical skill and emotion to the pieces and make sure that the brass parts sound real and accomplished. Sadly, the other synthesized elements, above all the percussion, sound quite weak in comparison. You often get a rather unbalanced listen between the strong brass and the “unreal” percussion or strings. The result is a somewhat tuned-down symphonic effort that ultimately wants to be more than it really is: a real pity because the score would've definitely deserved a real orchestra for its performance. On the other hand, the more weak sound might suit the graphics of Dragonshard pretty well which have a very colourful and light look to it. The score is even better in-game with its dynamic structure that changes dynamically to what is going-on on screen.
Overall, Dragonshard is an excellent fantasy score that again showcases Moore's talent. While the use of a real orchestra would've made the score superb, it's still an enjoyable, thematic and fascinating score, both in-game and as stand-alone listen.