The eagle-eyed among you will have noted that my recent post on companions avoided reference to romance options in the games. Well it was called ‘Old Friends’!
Leaving romance out of that post was a deliberate decision, because it’s only a small part of the Dragon Age games, and discussion of it can get blown out of proportion. But then it occurred to me that I’ve chosen to pursue romance options in every playthrough, so it’s as valid a topic as anything else I’ve shared on here. I know some people choose to play the games without romance, and that’s fine too, but I think that the circumstances the Warden and Hawke find themselves in are of such extremity that most people would take opportunities for intimacy, whether that’s a casual encounter or a sustained romantic relationship, and so I’ve included romance in each playthrough, opting for the relationship(s) and companion(s) that I feel most suit that particular PC.
In doing this I’ve played most permutations of the romances available. In fact Merrill may be the only romanceable character I’ve avoided (partly because I’ve played DA2 far less, partly because she’s one of my least favourite characters).
I found the ‘ninja-mancing’* in DAO a bit uncomfortable – suddenly Leliana was asking my warden to choose between her and Alistair just because I talked to her about shoes and gave her a few presents. What?! Ninja-mancing aside, I actually thought Zevran’s romance was the most rewarding – getting beyond the façade and learning more about his past was particularly poignant if the warden was in a relationship with him.
DA2, of course, took a bit of flak because all four romance options were available to either sex. I found some of the criticisms strange. I mean, Isabela hits on everyone anyway (that was established in DAO so not really a surprise), and unless you’re actively clicking on the heart icons during dialogue with them neither Fenris or Merrill make any kind of move. I guess Anders does come on a bit strong, but it’s really easy to turn him down if you’re not interested, and while there is a throwaway comment about pretty girls in Awakenings, I don’t remember anything specifically stating that he’s only interested in girls.
I liked that the Friendship/Rivalry system in DA2 made relationships more complex (you couldn’t just ply them with gifts until they offered to sleep with you), but both Fenris and Anders felt like hard work – given all the Mage-Templar drama – which makes Isabela my favourite romance from DA2. Not only could you make the relationship as casual or intense as you wanted, it felt like the relationship actually impacted on Isabela’s world-view. Of course I may be biased because I only ever romanced her with a friendly Hawke.
I’ve seen some disappointment online over the romance options announced for DAI – specifically that there are race and/or gender restrictions on certain characters – but I have to say that I welcome the restrictions because I feel it’s more realistic for the companions to have quite specific desires in terms of romance. I know it’s a game and not reality, but, in fantasy, being grounded in reality actually aids immersion – the more realistic the behaviour in the game, the easier it is to accept the fantastical elements. And in the real world the people we like don’t always like us.
*A term that was often used on the BioWare forums to describe the way in which you can inadvertently start a romance with Leliana or Zevran if you choose too many friendly dialogue options.