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KtIBH – I Would Do Anything For love

This week in Kaleb the Inept Bounty Hunter we take a look at one of the staples of any Bioware RPG: Romancing party members and how it affects the game play. We’ll talk about how these things tend to be structured as well as the consequences of pursuing or rejecting these endeavors.

“Kaleb, why don’t you stop messing with the hyperdrive and come back and help me with… another problem” came a sultry voice with a slight drawl from the doorway to the engine room.

Kaleb looked up from his work, his face and arms covered in grime, cuts all over his hands. His eyes came to rest upon the dazzling amethyst ones that the woman possessed. She was handsome, her strong face angled in ways that made most men and some women take pause, her deep crimson skin told of her true origins but it didn’t deter most from longing to be near her.

Her name was Al’ara and she had been traveling with Kaleb for a year now. He picked her up at some backwater spaceport while he was fueling, she had been going through his cargo hold when he discovered her. She looked hungry, dirty and probably hadn’t had a soft bed in a while. He took pity on her, offered her space to sleep and food to eat provided she was willing to help him out with odd errands he needed to take care of. She was more than willing to help and he came to discover that she was actually a Sith, using her powers to blend into the shadows and spy on things he was unable. She was also handy with creating stimpacks and other medical supplies in case he ran low. He grew to enjoy her company and couldn’t imagine how he ever got anywhere without a companion.

The problem was, he always believed that intimacy and romance complicated things, especially working relationships. And now Al’ara was standing in the doorway wearing only what she was born with, or grew in to quite stunningly, and all Kaleb could do was ponder how to let her down gently.

“Ah- Al’ara. Hey. Don’t you think it is mighty cold in the ship to be walking around without anything on?” he asked gingerly, hoping that she would realize what she was doing was foolish and maybe get some sense.

“Mmhmm, it is quite cold. I was thinking maybe you and I could go find some place soft and you could help warm me up?” she purred at him, her eyes never leaving his. She reached up and tucked a long strand of her blood colored hair behind her ear, a small gesture she tried to get Kaleb to fold.

“Ah, I’m not quite sure that is a good idea, Al’ara. I’m pretty dirty, I’ve been working on the hyperdrive all morning and I’m still not close to finishing it. If we’re going to make it to Dromund Kaas on time, I need to get it fixed soon.”

Her face started to harden, her eyes looking less alluring and more dangerous. “Kaleb, it is not often that a woman of my breed presents herself like this to someone, especially a human. Put away your work for now and take me to bed.”

He backed up, pressing against the bulkhead as he held his hands up. “Look, Al’ara you’re quite beautiful, breathtaking really, but I really don’t think it would be a good idea. We’re partners and often these things can complicate matters. I’m sure you’re wonderful company but we should just remain friends.”

If he thought it was cold in the ship beforehand, it suddenly got even worse. A frown crossed her face and her eyes warned of a storm that was brewing. Her nostrils flared, her chest rose and fell quickly. Without another word she whirled on her heel, storming down the hallway, extending her hand to pull her cloak and her saber to herself before flinging a loose hydrospanner at a control panel, lowering the boarding ramp. She didn’t even look behind her as she left the ship and into the wilderness where they had landed for repairs. A part of Kaleb hated himself for what happened.

Another part agreed.

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This game has story. Have we said that yet? Well, just in case, now you know. Specifically, this game also has possible romantic story. Bioware games have had a long history of having romance arcs possible  in your play through.

The first game in which romance became prevalent and had a noticeable impact was Mass Effect. It went even so far as to have controversy in the news due to the ability to have same sex relationships as well as the extent of what was shown in the cut scenes. The media made such a huge issue of this that you would of thought that this was worse than the infamous “Hot Coffee” scandal from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

It also had an impact because when you ported your save over to Mass Effect 2, the person you romanced would have their picture on your desk in the ship as well as tense scenes when you met up with them in game. And if you cheated on them in Mass Effect 2, it has been said that it will come in to play more in Mass Effect 3. Right now in Mass Effect 2 all that happens is the picture on your desk is put face down.

Did the romances actually affect the game play? Not really. Mass Effect didn’t have the party member loyalty meters that were in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and seen again in Dragon Age: Origins and its sequel, a term I use very loosely when referring to the Dragon Age series. In Mass Effect your party members were either “Not Loyal” or “Loyal” which was completed by doing their specific loyalty mission.

It was a whole different ballgame when it came to Dragon Age: Origins. You had approval from your party members in response to actions you take or dialog options you picked during cut scenes as well as giving the right gift to the right person. Hint: if it is alcohol, it goes to the dwarf.

Now you could only romance party members once your approval rating was high enough with that person and you went through the right dialog options. No matter how many times you give that mirror to Morrigan she will never play “Dungeon Explorer” with you unless you jump through some rather complicated hoops. People have reported that they got her on their first time playing with little effort while to this day I remain shunned by her. Perhaps she just does not like my epic goatee.

It should also be noted that a reward for getting someone’s approval so high was unlocking bonuses specific to each character, so forming your party with your closest buds was beneficial to you because they would have better stats and perform even better.

The thing is, it was the choice of the player if you romanced a particular party member or not and it was quite obvious when the deed was about to happen so you could usher Grandma out of the room to make Snickerdoodles (100 internets to the person who gets this reference) just so you don’t feel shamed when virtual characters were trading breathing air. It wasn’t that hard to keep a person who approved of you in that state, romancing them or not.

The problem was that in the oddly named Dragon Age 2 (seriously, there was no Dragon Age 1 and DA2 is as much of a sequel as any of the Zelda games are) they changed how that system worked. There were far less points to get someone who was fully friend or fully a rival and there were unique talents that could only be picked based on if the person was a full friend or a full rival. The game still had gifts but it seemed people’s approval of you fluctuated quicker in this second game and if you romanced them it affected the story more permanently to the length that it was even a part of the game’s ending, if you could say with a straight face that Dragon Age 2 actually had an ending and not a “Please buy our next DLC to continue the story” hook.

Here’s where it gets funky: the romance in this game isn’t always as cut and clear as it had been in all the other games. Most of the games the flirting was quite obvious and always initiated by the player. Dragon Age 2 took it in to its own hands on how things were to play out. If you haven’t played the game and don’t want it spoiled, please skip the next paragraph.

You didn’t skip the paragraph, you’re trying to cheat so you can yell at me for spoiling the game. I mean it, skip to the next paragraph. Okay is he gone? Good. Every time you had to go back to your party members home to progress in their personal story they would hit on you depending on your previous conversation with them and you’re current approval standing with them. They were not obvious about it either. Anders was my healer. I loved him in Dragon Age: Awakening and to see him reduced to whatever he is in this game made me sad, so I vowed to always have him with me and cause hell. During a conversation I simply told him thank you after he complimented my male Hawke and next thing I know he’s taking me to bed. I’m not the only one that didn’t see this coming. So I reloaded my save, picked the only other option which promptly had my loose all approval from Ander’s which mean that I also lost all of his Friend specific talents.

So at that point in my game I had to make a choice: would my male Hawke be fabulous and paint the town red with Anders while keeping his friendship and awesome talents that resulted in it or would I save myself for the Welsh elf that everyone couldn’t help but fall in love with and watch Anders lose the edge he had in saving my rawhide in the heat of battle? This is a choice I think that goes a bit too far in the integration of story with the game play.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for consequences  of storyline decisions but my experience in a game shouldn’t be hampered because I feel like I was just forced on a date by one of my party members when I was focusing my attention elsewhere. If romance is to happen it will be on my watch, on my say so. If for some reason one of my companions is a go-getter and wants to be aggressive towards me, give me the obvious option to let them down gently and don’t make my only two options be “Get the girl/boy” or “So long sucker!”

I mean how upset would you be if your best crafting companion walked up to you, hitting on you and you picked the one option that scared them away, never to come back, especially since this game does not have any “saving”? Don’t allow this to happen, Bioware, please.

What do you think? Let me know either commenting below, hit my Twitter or post here.

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