I’ll never forget the moment I first saw a Reaper in Mass Effect. A machine god ascending over the crimson skies of Eden Prime, arcs of electricity bending and flickering from its towering metal skeleton. Of course, I didn’t know at the time that it was a Reaper. Surely nothing that size could be alive, right?
For the majority of Mass Effect’s campaign, we only ever hear whispers of their existence. SOS transmissions, found footage from attacks – everything you learn about the Reapers comes from the dead. Throughout the first game the Reapers are phantoms operating in the shadows, unseen and unknowable. Shepard’s visions from the Prothean beacon on Eden Prime reveal that our galactic forbearers suffered a terrible, mysterious fate, but beyond these scant details, there’s little else to go on. Our nemesis remains largely illusory until later in the trilogy.
Instead, we spend much of our time hunting down Saren Arterius, a rogue agent of the Citadel Council whose fall from grace is nothing short of remarkable. BioWare cleverly uses Saren as a vehicle to showcase the Reapers’ most terrifying power: indoctrination.