Mass Effect is a series near and dear to my heart, and a big part of that comes from the fantastic music that a large number of exceptionally talented composers have created for it. Memorable character themes collide with Blade Runner-esque sci-fi soundscapes, and what emerges has been some of the best space RPG music in recent memory. The soundtrack to the final game in the series amps up the sense of finality and emotion, and ends up coming away as arguably the greatest of the three.
Where Mass Effect 2 had “Suicide Mission” and “The End Run” to ensure it stayed locked firmly in the minds of players, Mass Effect 3 has two tracks composed by veteran film composer Clint Mansell: “Leaving Earth,” and “An End Once and For All” (the latter of which was co-written with Sam Hulick). Without a doubt, these are two of the most emotive, moving, and memorable pieces of music I have ever heard in any medium. The somber piano and gradually rising tone of “An End Once and For All” is unforgettable, and has a potency that will chill you to the very bone. For a series whose focus was to wrap players up in the emotions of its characters and the struggle of its universe, this song is an incredible send-off that will stay with you for a long, long time. If you listen to one song in the entire Mass Effect series, make it this one.
That said, the rest of the soundtrack is definitely up to the task of closing out an epic space opera. Tracks that accompany in-game missions are generally more atmospheric, but do an exceptional job of capturing the sense of immediacy and finality essential to the game’s plot. “Mars” is a track by series vet Sam Hulick that does a great job of escalating from a low-key synth track into a roaring battle and chase tune, and as one of the earliest tracks in both the game and album, it does a great job of introducing you to many of the musical patterns you’ll hear later on.
A number of other tracks on the album accompany key cutscenes in the game, and “The Ardat Yakshi” is a fantastic example of how effectively they work. The first half of the track is tense and full of danger, culminating in a midpoint crescendo that feeds into a heartfelt piano lead that really communicates the isolation of the characters it represents.
“The Fleets Arrive” is another great event track that borrows small parts of “The End Run” from Mass Effect 2 to glorious effect. Tapping into the emotions that many players connect with that game’s fantastic finale was a masterstroke that goes a long way towards telling players, through music, “this is it.”
Finally, giving the album a musical connection with the original Mass Effect’s soundtrack, is a theme entitled “Credits” by Faunts. Sonically quite similar to “M4 Part II,” this track is actually called “Das Malefitz”, and it is a well-selected piece of licensed music whose presence ties the series together and wraps it up with great consistency.
One thing worth noting is that this release is NOT a complete soundtrack. There are a number of excellent unreleased tracks, but unfortunately, it isn’t known at this point if they will ever see an official release, especially given that there is still some unreleased material from previous games in the series.
The departure of Jack Wall from the team of composers in Mass Effect 3 was unfortunate, but it’s clear that he wasn’t the only talented musician involved with the series. Mass Effect 3 is full of excellent music that both upholds and evolves the musical narrative thread that has run through this series, and it is a more than worthy cap to it all.
Note: There are two additional tracks that were included with the N7 Collector’s Edition Soundtrack, and track 23 is known only as “Credits” on that particular release. The stand-alone version of the soundtrack does not include the tracks “Betrayal” or “Creation,” and properly lists track 23 as “Das Malefitz.”