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When traveling via Mass relay, it shows the route you're going to take and which systems it passes through.

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Does passing through extra systems on the way to your final destination have any in-game effect, or is this essentially just for flavor?

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From what I could tell, it never made a difference for travelling. The multi-stage trips seem to simply be to keep the series' canon. From the mass effect wiki:

There are two kinds of mass relay, primary and secondary. Primary relays can propel a ship thousands of light years but only link to one other relay, its "partner"

As such, it seems that each relay can only be linked to exactly one other relay (though some locations may have multiple relays). Travel between two non-linked locations rely on heading through multiple mass relays.

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Just a minor note, canon wise. The reason for the multiple jumps is because these relays are all secondary relays - they don't have enough range to make it in one jump, so you need to use several relays to make up the distance. Primary relays are much rarer - a good example is the Omega-4 relay - it links to the galactic core, but only the galactic core. Gameplay wise, though it doesn't matter, and the game never requires you to know the difference. –  Gauzy Feb 28 '12 at 3:00
    
@Gauzy Very interesting addition - thanks! –  Dave McClelland Feb 28 '12 at 3:09
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