The Best Music in the Mass Effect Series!
With the recent announcement of the Mass Effect trilogy remaster, it seems like a good time to look back on the well-loved sci-fi RPG from game developers BioWare. We’ve published a few various lists surrounding Mass Effect recently- I’ll link some of them here- but an element of the game series that I tend to think gets overlooked is the music. The music is one of the best that gaming has to offer so I’ve compiled a list of ten of the best musical pieces from the first three Mass Effect games. As much as I did enjoy the music from the fourth game Mass Effect Andromeda, I haven’t included any music from that game in this list just to make sure there is no confusion between the original trilogy and the 2017 Andromeda game. So let’s get started!
10. Main Theme by Jack Wall- Mass Effect (2007)
I’m kicking off this list by taking it back to where it all began. The “Main Theme” from the first Mass Effect does everything that an introductory theme should. It sets up the atmosphere and the theme for the rest of the game with its strong sci-fi tones and epic sound. Sci-fi is a dime a dozen genre these days, just as it was back in 2007 when the first game was released. Despite this, the main theme manages to maintain an air of uniqueness. The tune plays as a brief history is given to the world of Mass Effect– how the in game mass relays were developed leading to the discovery of other life in the galaxy- and as the player customizes their Commander Shepard. The main theme is incredibly important as it is the music that sets off the whole series. This piece successfully pulls the player straight into the Mass Effect universe with its sci-fi vibes and intense orchestration.
9. The Normandy Reborn by Jack Wall- Mass Effect 2 (2010)
Mass Effect 2 has a soundtrack that is arguably one of the best in gaming, with several tracks that are highly memorable. “The Normandy Reborn” is a piece that plays in a crucial scene in Mass Effect 2. As the title conveys, this occurs when Shepard is introduced to the brand new Normandy space ship, which has been completely rebuilt from the ground up. The Normandy is the player’s ship in their intergalactic travels during the series but it is destroyed in the opening scenes of the second game, leading to this moment of resurrection. The Normandy plays a big part in the Mass Effect series- feeling like a character in itself in the same vein as the Millennium Falcon- so of course it deserves its own epically gorgeous theme for its big returning moment.
8. A Future for the Krogan by Christopher Lennertz- Mass Effect 3 (2012)
The fictional alien race within the Mass Effect universe known as the Krogan get their own musical theme of hope for the future of their species in Mass Effect 3. One of the main narratives surrounding the Krogan is the genophage- a biological weapon that caused sterilisation within their species. This mutation- used against the Krogan due to their volatile nature by other fictional Mass Effect alienraces (the salarians and turians) – can be cured in Mass Effect 3 (as long as you don’t go down the renegade path and sabotage the cure) and if you do so, you’ll hear “A Future for the Krogan”. As the title suggests, it represents themes of hope for a species that have long been dwindling in numbers due to the genophage. With an end finally in sight, the Krogan have a chance to rebuild. No matter what you think of the battle hungry Krogan, there is no denying that a forced sterilisation of their kind is a little harsh. Okay, very harsh. This theme demonstrates a strong tie between the narrative and music in the series, correlating well with the in game subject matter due to the emotional orchestral arrangement. “A Future for the Krogan” perfectly reflects the hope of a future for the usually stalwart Krogan species.
7. I Was Lost Without You by Sam Hulick- Mass Effect 3- 2012
Anyone who has played a Mass Effect game- or a Bioware game in general- will know that romance options are a big part of the narrative. Although you can choose to be the stalwart, non-committed type, a lot of players will choose a romance that –if you are the sort to enjoy the continuity and hate breaking the hearts of in game characters- you can maintain for the whole trilogy. Some are a little harder to do-such as Kaiden and Ashley as they only appear briefly in the second game- but with certain characters it is possible. This brings us to the song “I Was Lost Without You”, a theme that is considered the romance theme in Mass Effect 3. The song- or a variation of it- will play during certain scenes with romanceable characters. It effectively conveys an atmosphere of love and relationships without crossing into sappy territory. Composer Sam Hulick also perfectly intertwines the sci-fi elements of the score within “I Was Lost Without You” so that it never loses that intergalactic feel. Romantic- but not in the cringe worthy sense-yet still charged with space travel energy, “I Was Lost Without You” is a hugely memorable and pretty emotional theme within the series.
6. Vigil by Jack Wall- Mass Effect (2007)
“Vigil” is a piece that plays in one of the most narratively interesting sections of the first Mass Effect. When Commander Shepard and the squad encounter a Prothean (an extinct alien race) Virtual Intelligence by the name of Vigil, it explains to them the centuries worth of genocide that the Protheans faced from the Reapers (the big bad murdering aliens of the series who are hell bent of making all organic life extinct) before their contingencies failed and all except 12 Prothean scientists fell victim to the Reapers. It is a haunting track that emphasises the sombre tone of the moment. However, it doesn’t stray into the realm of depressing. It has a somewhat soothing sound to it due to the softer sci-fi theme that permeates underneath. For me, this was one of the more memorable moments of the first game due to the shocking truths that are unveiled and the music successfully heightens the scene. Beautifully eerie, “Vigil” is a soft yet sombre piece that still manages to maintain a recognisably sci-fi style.
5. I’m Proud of You by Sam Hulick- Mass Effect 3 (2012)
This is actually my personal favourite track from the Mass Effect games. It gets me every time. A highly emotional piece from Mass Effect 3, “I’m Proud of You” is a theme for Admiral David Anderson, a revered space admiral in the Alliance within the Mass Effect Universe. He acts a mentor, guide and ally to Shepard throughout the trilogy and even though you can make some choices that he is displeased with, he remains by your side no matter what. So of course, he dies in quite possibly the most upsetting scene in the whole game. This is also the scene where “I’m Proud of You” plays. After a standoff with the Illusive Man, Anderson is mortally wounded. Anderson and Shepard sit and talk briefly, with Anderson declaring how proud he is of your character Shepard before he dies. Cue the tears. The soft and sombre piano tune escalates to more instruments but maintains the same emotional tone throughout, managing to capture the painful moment where Shepard must witness the death of a father figure.
4. A Moment of Silence/ Resolution by Sam Hulick-Mass Effect 3- 2012
This track is incredibly important as it basically wraps up the whole series but it was only introduced in the Extended Cut of the soundtrack so personally, I don’t think it gets as much love as it deserves. “A Moment of Silence/ Resolution” is played in the aftermath of the war with the Reapers when Shepard is missing and many are dead. Despite this, there is a sense of hope for a new future. Starting slow and becoming more confident, the theme perfectly conveys many emotions all within its short duration (less than two minutes). Relief, sadness, hope and a sense of finality are all combined within the piece to create a definitive ending track for the series. There’s also a hint of the original Mass Effect theme in there too, which is a nice touch and a fitting way to end to series.
3. An End, Once and For All by Clint Mansell- Mass Effect 3 (2012)
A brilliant and beautiful piece of music that is crammed full of emotion, “An End Once and For All” is pretty self-explanatory in that it is one of the final pieces of music that plays in Mass Effect 3 when Shepard makes a choice (if you’ve played the series, you’ll know the one I mean) and you see the repercussions of your actions. This is a highly emotional moment as you reflect on all that you have done, those you have lost and those you have loved throughout the trilogy of games. It’s really hard not to feel attached to these characters due to the strength of the writing of the Mass Effect trilogy. This moment feels like a culmination of three games worth of choices and world building and “An End, Once and for All” fully encapsulates the magnitude of that. The music starts off slow with a lone piano and escalates to a full orchestra as the tension heightens. There was a lot of controversy surrounding the ending of Mass Effect 3 when it first released but no matter how you felt about the execution of the end, there is no doubting the strength of this musical arrangement and how it makes you reflect on the epic story of the Mass Effect trilogy.
2. Leaving Earth by Clint Mansell- Mass Effect 3 (2012)
I actually recently wrote about this piece in a group article I did with my fellow writers about some of our favourite songs in gaming so I’m going to repeat what I said there! Ominous, eerie and incredibly intense, “Leaving Earth” is the musical piece that plays in the opening of Mass Effect 3 as Commander Shepard is forced to abandon Earth as the Reapers invade. Shepard can only look on helplessly as Earth is taken over with countless civilians perishing in the chaos, including a child whose death continues to haunt Shepard throughout the game in their nightmares. Like I said, intense. Clint Mansell’s score is menacing but also melancholy, perfectly encapsulating a world falling to a terrifying foe. It also cleverly incorporates the infamous and genuinely scary mechanical roar sound of the Reapers. Threatening, emotional and also kind of creepy, “Leaving Earth” is a musical piece that stuck with me long after I stopped playing.
1. Suicide Mission by Jack Wall- Mass Effect 2 (2010)
If you’re familiar with this game series and its music, you probably knew this was going to be number one. It makes sense that one of the best moments of the entire series has the best musical accompaniment. Mass Effect 2– often considered to be the strongest entry in the trilogy -is well known for the “Suicide Mission” that the player spends the whole game working up to. You can lose your entire team if you don’t prep the mission properly, including Shepard. Alternatively, if you utilise the right crewmates for the right jobs, upgrade your ship accordingly and create a thorough game plan, you can get through it unscathed and with everyone still alive. It’s basically a “failure to prepare means preparing to fail” scenario. The accompanying music plays sporadically as you play through the mission and it is pretty much perfect in terms of representing the situation as a whole. The theme starts off slowly, with the sci-fi sounds amped up. The song builds and builds, adding full orchestration as the mission progresses. There is a rhythmic drum beat that plays under the orchestra, maintaining an almost militaristic sound that reflects the importance of the mission for the Normandy crew. It’s hugely epic but also has quieter moments too, especially at the end as the song finishes with only that aforementioned drum beat still playing. I have to say that the actual in game mission is one of my favourite game segments ever as it manages to give your previous choices weight and shows the consequences of your actions, no matter how unpleasant those outcomes that may be. Without a doubt, the mission also has one of the best musical pieces to accompany it and the absolute best piece from the Mass Effect trilogy.