I recently played The Arrival and part of its storyline confused me:

It said that the Reapers would arrive through the Alpha relay, which they would use to move throughout the galaxy as it was a particularly powerful relay. OK, fine, that makes sense, destroy the thing and slow them down.

But isn't one of the central plot points of Mass Effect 1 the fact that:

the Citadel itself is one giant relay and acts as the Reapers' entrance to the galaxy?

The two plot points seem in direct contradiction. Here are my questions:

If they can get to the Citadel directly, why the fuss about the Alpha relay? If they need the Alpha relay to get to the Citadel, shouldn't we have known about this earlier?!

Unless I'm really misremembering things, it seems a little sloppy on Bioware's writers.

2 Answers 2


In Mass Effect, Sovereign, the Reaper that remained resident in the galaxy to montior biological life, was to have sent a signal to the Keepers on the Citadel to activate the Citadel relay and bring the rest of the Reapers back from beyond the edge of the galaxy. The Protheans modified the Keepers to ignore this signal, thus requiring Sovereign to have to assault the Citadel and dock with it in order to manually activate the relay. Shepard destroys Sovereign and buys some time for the Galaxy. My interpretation of these events was if Sovereign had been successful in activating the Citadel relay then the Reapers would have entered the galaxy at that point in time through that relay, destroying the seat of government and mopping up the galaxy from that point in space outwards.

Fast Forward to the very end of Mass Effect 2. A fleet of Reapers is seen heading towards the galaxy, under their own power. Rewind to Arrival; it is said that the Reapers will use the Alpha relay to spread throughout the galaxy. Doctor Kensen (was that her name?) mentions that with the destruction of the Alpha relay it would take the Reapers some months to couple years to reach the next relay. Since we know that all relays are interconnected it does not matter which relay they use really, but consider for a moment the location of the Alpha relay on the galaxy map. It is at the extreme end of one of the spiral arms, at the very edge of the galaxy. It is probably the relay closest to the Reapers who are moving towards the galaxy from outside.

To summarize: Protheans change Keepers and Sovereign fails to activate the Citadel relay; Shepard buys a little over two years time at the end of Mass Effect. Reapers "fly" to the galaxy from the outside (as seen at the end of Mass Effect 2). All mass effect relays are interconnected, so Reapers fly to nearest standard relay (such as the Alpha relay). Shepard destroys the Alpha relay, forcing the Reapers to fly to the next nearest relay. Shepard buys a little more time (a few months to a couple years) for the galaxy to prepare.

  • chosen as answer as it's a little clearer - sorry Adeese, you still get an upvote! :) - and makes sense. I guess this must be what Bioware intended, but I do feel they could have tightened the storytelling a bit in Arrival
    – Alex
    Commented Apr 4, 2011 at 13:36
  • story telling, and the QA (first ME game or DLC i ever had a bug in). i guess all the focus is on ME3 now, and rightfully so.
    – Xantec
    Commented Apr 4, 2011 at 13:47
  • First bug in mass effect? really? You must be lucky - I've had crashes, graphics glitches, getting stuck in scenery, you name it! Not just my PC, either, played the first one on xbox.
    – Alex
    Commented Apr 4, 2011 at 14:15

It's been a while since I played Mass Effect 1, so this may be wrong, but this is how I remember it.

During Mass Effect 1, Saren's goal (controlled by the Reaper Sovereign) was to notify the Reapers that all biological life in the galaxy has progressed to a point where they need to be wiped out again (like the Protheans 50,000 years ago). He had to do this from the Citadel, and he couldn't exactly just dock there like normal since Shepard and the Council were looking for him.

Instead, he went to Ilos to find the Conduit, which has a separate Mass Effect relay network between it and the Citadel (that one relay "statue" that you can see in-game). He used this to quickly infiltrate the Citadel, and catch them off guard. He was then going to signal the Reapers to start their journey into the galaxy, however Shepard stopped him before he could do this.

Since Shepard was able to stop this threat and identify the Citadel as a Mass Effect relay, I would imagine that this "feature" of the Citadel has been disabled (although I don't think this was ever explicitly stated in game). This would prevent the Reapers from jumping directly there.

Even with the Citadel relay disabled, assuming the Alpha relay was still operable, they could jump right to the Citadel system from there (the same way Shepard does in-game), so that is one of the reasons why the Alpha relay needed to be taken out.

  • Sovereign, not Saren.
    – Xantec
    Commented Apr 4, 2011 at 12:36
  • 1
    That's how I interpreted it, as well. With the Citadel relay (the Conduit) down, the Reapers need another access point, so they're travelling to the Alpha relay which can then access all of the other relays in the galaxy. It's plan B. Without the Alpha relay, they'll have to travel much further to get to the heart of the galaxy, thus postponing their arrival.
    – Teryx
    Commented Apr 4, 2011 at 12:43
  • @Xantec Good point. I edited my answer to clarify that Saren was controlled by Sovereign.
    – Adeese
    Commented Apr 4, 2011 at 12:53
  • So why would there be an ancient Reaper beacon counting down to the moment that they would use the Alpha relay? That artifact and its signal imply that everything in Arrival was happening according to plan, and if the plan was to arrive at Alpha and then jump to the Citadel all along, then that's a pretty important bit of information that should have been part of the main story, not a DLC afterthought.
    – Alex
    Commented Apr 4, 2011 at 12:55
  • Theres no real telling that the beacon was. Maybe it was just a refueling station that was set to reactivate when the reapers re-entered the galaxy. Probably its role in the Arrival DLC was just to indoctrinate the humans working on The Project.
    – Xantec
    Commented Apr 4, 2011 at 13:01

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