There’s something amazing and special about the Mass Effect soundtrack.

My favorite quote about it comes from Casey Hudson himself: “It would need the thundering power and emotional range of a live orchestra.  At the same time, that classic sound would be woven into themes reminiscent of 80s electronica, with synthetic instruments providing complex layers and an ambient, futuristic atmosphere.”

Jack Wall, Sam Hulick, Richard Jacques and David Kates each contributed in varying degrees to the Mass Effect score, and they did a great job maintaining a tone and creating that sound Casey desired.

Additionally, the simplicity and clarity of the Mass Effect soundtrack contribute heavily to its success.

The menu music is calming and wonderful, and sets a tone for what’s to come musically through the game. A simple, single synth plays a song-like melody over a drone with some wind. Awesome.

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Listen: Vigil

If you’ve never played the first Mass Effect, there’s a lot of walking around.  Like, a lot.  Under normal circumstances, that can get tiring and frustrating.  Unless you’re meandering along to this.

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Listen: The Normandy

One of my favorite scenes in Mass Effect occurs the first time Commander Shepard meets a Reaper, named Sovereign.  The script is brilliant, and the music is perfect, thanks to Sam.

Mass Effect Sovreign

Listen: Sovereign’s Theme

Again, the simplicity draws me in.  The themes aren’t complicated.  They’re easy to digest, and get stuck in my ear quickly.  Take “The Wards” (Listen: The Wards) for instance.  There are only a couple things happening at any given time.

Regardless of their consonance or dissonance, if we’re listening critically, we don’t have to listen that hard to hear what’s happening.  That kind of clarity is significant.  We hear these melodies over and over again.  If our ears are distracted by too much, we want to shut it off.

Additionally, that kind of clarity encourages listening outside of the game.  Composers like Jack, Sam, Richard and David know this.

Even combat music features simple themes (Listen: Protecting the Colony), albeit over fast-moving synths or other instruments.

But no discussion of the Mass Effect soundtrack is complete without hearing Sam’s “Uncharted Worlds”.  It was his demo track, of all things, and it ends up playing a significant role in all three Mass Effect games.  Again, the simplicity of the ideas, and in this case, their cyclic qualities make it easy to hear this over and over again. Easily a fan favorite.

Mass Effect Uncharted Worlds

Listen: Uncharted Worlds

The Mass Effect soundtrack is one to own.  If you’re a budding game composer, it’s an excellent study in many ways.  It’s a great example of a unified score written by multiple composers, and its focus and simplicity make it a sophisticated game soundtrack worth knowing.

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Purchase the Mass Effect soundtrack right here!

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Emily Reese is an on-air host for Classical Minnesota Public Radio. She is also the host and producer for Top Score, Classical MPR’s podcast about video game soundtracks, and created MPR’s Listening to Learn series. She earned an undergrad certificate in music education and jazz studies from the University of Colorado — Boulder, and a Master’s degree in music theory from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Emily lives in Twin Cities with her cats Atticus, June Bug and Lee, and loves gaming, with or without friends.