Having logged nearly 100 hours playing Mass Effect 2 on its own — I have no idea where I’m at with the other games in the trilogy — I’ve spent a lot of time with the music of Mass Effect. When I’m not playing the games, I often listen to the Mass Effect soundtracks while I write and cook and read and try to fall asleep and then again when I make my coffee in the morning. I love that music.
But what’s interesting to me is that the soundtrack to each of the three games in this sci-fi trilogy has a different mood. I have to consider this when I’m picking an album for a given situation. For instance, my background music for work is a lot different than what I listen to when I need the musical equivalent of a pep talk.
Fortunately, Mass Effect’s music has enough variety to suit these different situations, and you can hear the evolution of its soundscape from one soundtrack to the next.
Composed and produced by Jack Wall and Sam Hulick. Additional music by Richard Jacques and David Kates.
Ah, the original Mass Effect soundtrack. This is the score that accompanied the head rush that was the first Mass Effect game – a heady, electronic introduction to one of the most well-wrought video game worlds ever. It’s probably the ME album I listen to most, because its driving tracks sound the most sci-fi. Songs like “The Normandy,” “The Citadel,” “Uncharted Worlds,” and the almost tear-jerker “Vigil” are bound to conjure up memories of playing the game – and, you know, visions of galaxy maps and stuff. And to this day, there is nothing quite like hearing Faunts’ “M4 Part II” and getting that instant bout of epic giddiness – the one that almost matches how it felt hearing it when I beat Mass Effect for the first time. (If you haven’t played Mass Effect, this is a great song anyway.)
My Favorite Standalone Songs: “Mass Effect Theme,” “The Presidium,” “Spectre Induction,” “Love Theme”
Best for: Feeling like you’re living in a futuristic world. Or inside a sci-fi video game.
Mass Effect 2
Composed and produced by Wall of Sound Inc. – Jack Wall (lead composer), Sam Hulick, David Kates, and Jimmy Hinson. Additional editing by Brian DiDomenico.
The Mass Effect 2 soundtrack is an entirely different beast than the first score. While ME 1 had synthetic sounds to conjure up sci-fi imagery, this soundtrack has more piano and orchestral pieces. Sure, there’s still plenty of science fiction in here (“The Attack,” “New Worlds”), but the music really emphasizes Mass Effect 2’s shift towards stronger character development. Several of the songs are even named after the characters… because all the characters have their personal missions, of course.
Instead of sounding like a series of scene-setting songs, this score plays out like background music for in-game exploration and combat — which is exactly what it is. If a slow acoustic number inspires you to drift off, a thumping combat beat is sure to jar you awake soon enough.
My Favorite Standalone Songs: “The Illusive Man,” “Suicide Mission,” “The Normandy Reborn”
Best for: Background music, at least until a jarring action section hits.
Mass Effect 3
Composed by Clint Mansell, Sam Hulick, Christopher Lennertz, Cris Velasco, and Sascha Dikiciyan.
The musical score for Mass Effect 3 is easily the most poignant in the series – just like the game. I can’t hear the opening track “Leaving Earth” without tearing up in the first 10 seconds. That song alone is one of the most powerful pieces of music I’ve ever encountered, and I’m sure it has the ability to move people even if they don’t know the early scene in ME 3 that introduced it. The rest of the soundtrack is similar: one inspiring song after another.
Of course, it helps that Clint Mansell was one of the soundtrack’s composers. The Mass Effect 3 score is more orchestral than both of the other Mass Effect soundtracks, yet it still manages to hark back to the dizzying digitalism of the first game, too (“Mars,” “Rannock,” “Prothean Beacon”). It also brings back Faunts at the end, just like in ME 1.
If you haven’t played the Mass Effect series, this album is probably the easiest to start with, especially if you enjoy classical music. If you have played the series, this soundtrack is probably a beautiful reminder of the emotionally exquisite story that Mass Effect weaves.
My Favorite Standalone Songs: “Leaving Earth,” “Mars,” “The View of Palaven,” “An End, Once and for All”
Best for: Falling asleep and waking up. Or maybe if you want to shed a tear.