The Music of the Mass Effect Trilogy

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.

Mass Effect

Composed and produced by Jack Wall and Sam Hulick. Additional music by Richard Jacques and David Kates.

Mass Effect 1

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.

mass-effect-2

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.

Mass-Effect-3

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.

— Ashley

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6 thoughts on “The Music of the Mass Effect Trilogy”

  1. I agree with you 100%. I really enjoy the score and music for the entire series. I mean, I don’t like everything, but I did have favorites from each one. M4 Part II sounded epic the first time I heard it after playing the game and I had to download it. The Love Theme was very moving and romantic, so it lives up to the name. I enjoyed the Suicide Mission score because the tempo just builds gradually before it sounds massive and grand for before a battle scene. As for the Mass Effect 3 soundtrack, I sampled each and every one and will most likely buy the whole thing at some point. I think it’s the most emotional of the three for obvious reasons. 🙂

    1. Yeah, that’s how I was with the Faunts song at the end of the first game, too! And the Suicide Mission song is great for its build, etc, like you said. It’s hard to pick favorite tracks from the ME2 score because it feels like that one goes hand-in-hand with the game… every track is almost like part of the setting of the game, so it’s hard to separate them! But the ME3 score is probably my favorite. I listen to them all on Rdio, which you have to subscribe to but it’s incredibly cheap. It’s how I sample all my soundtracks before I purchase them… except Rdio doesn’t have Star Trek Into Darkness. Hmmph.

  2. Great post! I totally agree.

    The music is just one of the many things that brings the Mass Effect Universe together. Some people complained that they changed composers between games, but I’m with you 100% on this one. The theme of each game is different, so it was nice to see the music follow up along side it.

    The Mass Effect 2 Soundtrack is a personal favorite of mine, with “Jack”, “Tali” and “Mordin” perhaps being my favorite tracks. The pulsing beat of Jacks track is perfect for that mood when you want to blow things up. Tali’s theme manages to capture that sense of mystery and sci-fi excitement that the first game had. And Mordin’s theme seems to channel just enough of River Tam’s theme from Serenity that I can’t help but love it.

    Also, fun fact, if you ever want to drive Chris from At The Buzzer insane just play “New Worlds” from ME2. I uh, may have forever ruined the song for him by playing the game through multiple times and spending WAY too much time in space with that song playing… I’m actually kind of forbidden from having the music turned on when flying around in space if Chris is around. haha.

    1. Haha, but “New Worlds” is such a great song! Although, okay, it IS a little more repetitive than its ME1 counterpart. It could be used for training Chris if he gets out of line on the podcast, though…

      Yeah, I agree that I liked the change of composers because each group of musicians brought something unique — and really, there was carry-over there. Plus, bringing in Clint Mansell for the ME3 soundtrack was fantastic. I can’t imagine a more moving composer to write music for such an emotional game.

      That’s interesting you like the ME2 score so much. That’s probably the one I listen to the least, just because it’s so a part of the game… so it feels more difficult to dig into it outside of the game. (I have no idea if that makes sense or not.) However, I totally agree about those individual songs, with Mordin’s probably being my favorite. I had not thought of it as sounding like River’s from Serenity — such an awesome connection, you’re right!

  3. It’s awesome to listen to these at work and feel like I’m writing technical documentation that will save the galaxy! But then I get an inane email and remember my job is actually pointless. Just wanted to agree with you about “Leaving Earth” on the ME3 soundtrack. Gets a tear in my eye every time.

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