As always, a friendly reminder that this post will contain spoilers.
In the week spanning November 13th-20th, 2007, I had 3 games reserved at Gamestop: Assassin’s Creed, Kane & Lynch: Dead Men (released on the 13th), and Mass Effect, which would come out one week later. Assassin’s Creed tided me over (Kane & Lynch sadly didn’t really get the job done) until I got Mass Effect. The only two games I had really wanted were the first two, so I had pre-ordered Mass Effect on a whim and I had never played a WRPG before (a WRPG is a single player RPG not made in Japan and featuring active combat rather than turn-based combat). I heard good things about Bioware but didn’t know what I should expect going in.
When I started it for the first time, I won’t lie, I was so confused. Areas were odd to navigate, and not being able to jump was bothering the hell out of me. The worlds I went to were so huge and complicated and I missed many details. Despite all of that, I wasn’t pushed away. Instead, I found I would come home from school and immediately start playing Mass Effect. I’d be playing all day and all night, only stopping for dinner and sleep. I beat the game once, then I had to beat it on a higher difficulty, then I had to beat it on Insanity difficulty to get the Xbox profile pic. I finally had to play through as a Paragon and a Renegade, and then I had to get all the Achievements.
By the time I finished playing Mass Effect, I had clocked around 60 to 70 hours, which was the longest I had ever played any single player game at that point in my life. It wasn’t like any game I had seen before and I’d love to relive the first time I played it all over again. I was 17, so I’m not going to act like I was some super impressionable kid, but it was a universe and story that I utterly fell in love with. It’s likely that Mass Effect opened my eyes to story-heavy games (and being able to play them competently). A big part of this is due to my love of the soundtrack, composed primarily by Jack Wall (who also was the main co-producer/co-founder of Video Games Live) and Sam Hulick. I love the entire score for this game, yet there are 4 tracks that I wish to share with everybody as the standout songs.
The Wards (Citadel)
I was debating between this and ‘The Presidium’ as the song that reminded me most of The Citadel, but in the end I had to give it to ‘The Wards’. Its music is similar (unsurprisingly) to the music of Blade Runner. The heavy use of the synthesizer moving across the sound spectrum (I don’t care if that’s not a real term, I’m using it) is awesome and gives off that classic “future audio” of 80s films like Tron and Blade Runner.
I didn’t watch Blade Runner until recently (my nerd cred!) and when I heard its soundtrack, I lost my mind. It reminded me of Mass Effect instead of the other way around and I was instantly in love. When I heard it in 2007, the music created a new space in my brain all on its own.
Noveria is one of the four planets you visit before your final mission begins on Ilos. It was the first planet I went to after recovering Liara T’Soni to become a part of my team (didn’t really consider it a story planet). Noveria is a cold, harsh, and snowy wasteland of a world, with research facilities scattered across the surface. Its purpose is to allow independent companies to do any amount of unethical/possibly illegal R&D off the radar of the Council.
Once you get into the main area of Noveria, this is the song that plays. It captures the corporate atmosphere, and at the same time does something that I can’t say I’ve experienced anywhere else in the game. Mass Effect takes place in the year 2183 CE (CE standing for Council Era, but seems to be interchangeable with our years anyway) and obviously has the look of “the future” down. This is where Noveria does something incredible; it takes a game that is obviously set in the future and makes Noveria feel as if it is set even further in the future. It’s a hard feeling to describe, so I understand if I sound like a crazy person, but it presents the future/corporate sound so well and makes me feel as if the research being done here is innovative and ahead of its time, but fueled by money and the quest to make more.
This is the song you will probably hear the most in the game. Uncharted Worlds is the theme of the galaxy map within your ship, The Normandy. I spent hours just checking out each planet to see if I could land there or find out if there were some minerals/artifacts to pick up. I might not have as much to say about this song as the others, but I would be remiss if I didn’t list it here. While the earlier choices call the feeling of a futuristic society, this song captures one of my favorite things about Mass Effect in general: space exploration.
This track makes me feel as if the galaxy is open to me. It gives the feeling of a space opera in that my mission was vast and would take time to complete. They ended up remixing this song for Mass Effect 2 and 3, and I will always appreciate that because this song is worth it.
I mentioned in my introduction post that I don’t usually play favorites with a soundtrack. Vigil, however, is one of those exceptions to the rule. It is hands down my favorite song in the entire game. It’s the song that plays when you boot up the game, and the Mass Effect logo is sitting across the screen with Earth and the moon behind it. It also shows up later when talking with Vigil (the song’s namesake), the last remnant of the Protheans and exposition machine. It portrays the vastness of space not as a cold and dark place, but as one of wonder and exploration. You feel like space is where you belong and the desire to explore it is one of curiosity and wonderment as opposed to necessity. No matter the strife and pain that my characters and I felt at the time, it would all be washed away by this. I’d spend a couple of minutes every time I launched the game just to drink it in.
Even as I grabbed the link to put the music here, I had to put on my headphones and just lean back in my chair with my eyes closed. I can admit, of course, that nostalgia will always play a part in thinking that things from your past are great even if they might not be. However, that’s not the case with Vigil. It takes me to a time where I didn’t have a care in the world, not about my last year of high school or the things changing around me; it was just me and the universe of Mass Effect for countless hours at a time. When I finished any of my playthroughs, I didn’t feel like I missed the world of the game. Instead, I felt like I had completed my mission and that I lived in that world regardless. Everyone has the one game that truly envelops them in the story and Vigil always brings me back to that world that I loved so dearly.
Mass Effect became one of the few games that I felt needed a sequel, or at least additional content to see. I was captivated by the races and lore that it presented and I was dying for more. Mass Effect 2 was one of my most anticipated game releases, and Mass Effect 3 did well to finish the story. Regardless of how it all played out in the end, the point of these posts is for me to look back on these games and see what their soundtracks did to enhance my experience. Since the soundtrack to Mass Effect 1 was almost entirely underscoring, it elevated the game higher than I could possibly imagine. I wanted to live in that galaxy, and Mass Effect allowed me to do so. For that, I will be forever grateful.
Thanks for taking the time to read this, and I’ll see you tomorrow.
The commanding officer is ashore, XO Pressley has the deck.