The Great Thing About Dragon Age: Inquisition

I came across this article from Kotaku over the weekend, and it got me thinking about one great thing that Dragon Age: Inquisition does (or, more accurately, doesn’t do): it doesn’t let you romance just anyone in your adventuring party.

I should probably back up a little bit.

Bioware has a long tradition of writing very fleshed out, complex characters in their RPGs, and they always allow players to engage in simulated romances with those characters.  It’s part of the company’s signature storytelling style, and I’m a big fan of it (I seem to recall ranting for a week straight about my disappointment that my Mass Effect 3 playthrough ended with my Shepard dying after I became really invested in his romance with Tali).  The only flaw with this style of storytelling (and it should be telling that no one’s really pointed out this is a flaw before now, as far as I know) is that because Bioware writes stories for games, there’s an underlying assumption that the story must be manipulated in such a way that all of the potential love interests find the player character attractive and are willing to engage in a relationship with that character regardless of eir personality.  The only limiting factor that’s been employed (and even this has been relaxed over time) is based on the player character’s gender; in earlier Bioware games, male player characters could romance pretty much any female character who was intended to be a love interest, and female player characters could do the same with any designated male characters.

Starting with Dragon Age: Origins (if I’m remembering this correctly), Bioware loosened up that restriction and introduced two characters who would be attracted to the player character regardless of gender: Leliana, a woman, and Zevran, a man (this device leads to some interesting speculation about the sexuality of these two characters, who could technically be bisexual, but given the only romantic interest they express in context of the game’s story is towards the player character, it’s in a weird quantum state that leaves their sexuality undefined until the player character’s gender is chosen).  The other two romance options in that game were Morrigan and Alistair, who are straight, thus leaving one of four potential romances unavailable on any given playthrough.

This was a pretty big deal at the time, but it still left the convention of having a very disparate group of people inexplicably attracted to your player character, who could vary wildly in personality and appearance.

Bioware’s been refining that formula for some time, and with each new RPG that they release, they’ve been getting better at implementing more romantic diversity on the axis of sexuality (pushing for better inclusion of gay and lesbian romances in their stories has been a big point of pride for Bioware over the last decade).  With Dragon Age: Inquisition they’ve added a new dimension: non-player character preference.

In Inquisition you have a total of eight characters who are potential romantic partners for the player character, but they carry more restrictions on what kind of player character they will be attracted to.  In reality the only new dimension is that some of the characters have an additional racial restriction on their romances (oddly, the characters with racial restrictions are both straight men; I’m wondering if this is a detail worthy of further consideration), but this extra bit of diversity creates a situation where in a field of very different characters, you really can’t expect them all to be throwing themselves at the player character in a given playthrough (unless you’re playing an elf woman, in which case you have a whopping six potential suitors; I guess even Bioware can’t get away from the fact that everyone loves elves).


Bonus points to me for romancing Sera while playing an elf; she’s apparently less inclined to engage with an elvish character because she was raised by humans. (Image credit: Dragon Age Wiki)

This is a good thing.

Setting it up so that your choices are limited based on your character’s sexuality (exclusively straight or gay characters will automatically have fewer choices than bisexual characters) presents an interesting scenario where it’s entirely possible that if you decide your player character is straight (or gay), you’ll only have a couple choices for romance, and neither of them will be compatible with your character’s personality or fit the type of character you envision your character romancing.  That makes the story feel more authentic, and helps sidestep the wish fulfillment problem where you will always be able to find a character type who fits what you’re looking for.  It opens up possibilities to actually deal with romance plotlines in the game as simulations of realistic relationships, where you can’t get everything you want from a person, and you have to navigate that gray space where you either compromise in order to try to grow together or you break it off because you really don’t see it working (for what it’s worth, I happened to hit the jackpot on my playthrough as a lesbian elf; I romanced Sera, who’s hilarious, but a difficult relationship to balance considering she’s in tension with all the more complicated interests that come into play when you’re managing an international paramilitary organization that has to play politics with all the people that Sera, as a defender of the common folk, absolutely despises).

At any rate, I just thought that was something worth considering.  I love that Bioware’s always trying to improve their storytelling, and I think they did a bang up job of creating a better variety of scenarios in Dragon Age: Inquisition.  Now if I can just finish my playthrough…

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