I didn’t even know romance was a thing in games until Alistair Theirin gave my Warden a rose. I had suspected he was sweet on her up until then, but that one gesture was above and beyond what I had experienced before – which was a big fat nothing because I didn’t know romance was a thing in games. I’d either missed a cue (I suck at flirting) or was too busy lining up a headshot to notice the availability of the character standing next to mine… or understand their intent.
Dragon Age: Origins changed a lot about the way I play games. I expect better combat mechanics than I did before, and seriously mourn the loss of the macros you could write for party members in that game. I tend to look for a deeper story now, and a world that feels bigger than it is. And I’m open to the possibility of romance inside a game, as long as it doesn’t distract me from the main quest, because when it’s well done, having someone to fight for works just as well in a game as it does in fiction.
To celebrate Valentine’s, I thought I’d share a few of my favourite game romances.
Most Unexpected Romance
Shepard and Jack
I detested Jack the first time we met her, Kelly Shepard and I. One look at her scantily clad, tattoo-covered body, one earful of her sob story, and I was pretty much set to leave her to spin on a stick of her own making. Jack felt too much like “fan service.” Eye candy with a story that was just too damn tragic.
I didn’t actually avail myself of any romance options during my first play-through of Mass Effect 2. I was too pissed off. Part of it was the character I was playing – Kelly Shepard is a lot more cynical (and renegade) than her twin John. Part of it was the fact I’d hoped to continue the story where I’d left off. I don’t cope well with sudden and unexpected changes. Where was my loyal crew? My ship? What was all this Cerberus crap?
Then I played the game again as John and saw a lot of things differently, including Jack. I didn’t actually set out to pursue a romance this time around, either. John Shepard just really needed someone to talk to and Jack was the only one prepared to listen. It wasn’t always easy. Jack doesn’t give a lot of satisfaction early on. She’s prickly and suspicious. So was John. Mass Effect 2 takes everything you think you learned in the first game and tosses it out of the window.
So they talked and I found that as a player, it really helped. I was less pissed off this time through and developed a lot more sympathy for several members of my new crew, including a certain tattooed, foul-mouthed bitch who quickly became the person John relied on for a decompress after things went farther south. So when the romance thing happened, it really, really worked for me as a player. It came out of something more than “Wanna fuck?” (which is about my favourite pickup line from Saint’s Row IV and nearly always guaranteed to get a good result). The romance that developed between Shepard and Jack felt real, which only made Jack’s role in Mass Effect 3 (assuming you didn’t kill her like Kelly Shepard did) even more pivotal.
The Last Wish
Geralt and Yennefer
You can actually choose who Geralt ends up with, but you picking Triss over Yen is… I’m not going to say wrong, but it’s so very wrong. Triss is lovely. I adore her. But she’s not right for Geralt. She’d be up for the challenge, I think, but I also think she’d care too much. He’d end up hurting her too badly because Geralt isn’t easy to love – and neither is Yen, which is why these two are so perfect for one another.
What I really love about their romance, though, is the epic and timeless feel of it. Maybe it’s because I’ve read a number of the books as well as playing the games, but to me, these two belong together in a way that feels destined. The quest “The Last Wish” in Witcher 3 comes out of their incredible history together, and if you know the whole story, is one of the most touching episodes of the entire game.
Two other great examples of their romance are the short story “Shards of Ice” (found in The Sword of Destiny) and the DLC for Witcher 3, Blood and Wine where Geralt and Yennefer get to enjoy a wonderful conversation right before the closing credits. If that conversation and that scene were my only epilogue to their relationship, I would remain one very, very happy fan.
The Warden and Leliana
Back to Dragon Age: Origins we go! See the guy in blue in the above image? That’s my Warden. My Aedan Cousland. Back when I played Dragon Age: Origins, I was heavily involved in the fandom and a regular contributor to the Leliana forums. There wasn’t a lot of love for our dear Leli. Folks seemed to prefer Alistair (that damn rose) or Morrigan. We’ll get to Zevran later, because he’s getting his whole own write up here. But for those of us who loved her, it was often a fight over who actually got to claim her.
Leliana died on my first playthrough of the game. So did Sten. I didn’t know they were supposed to be companions, okay? Also, all that stabbity, stabbity, kill, kill stuff was a bit, er, much. Leliana was… is scary.
Also, her dialogue tree is seriously flawed, which makes her quite difficult to romance properly. You almost need a cheat sheet – which I will admit to using when I finally decided to give her a chance. I don’t actually think the romance between the Warden and Leliana is the deepest and most satisfying of the game, but I do think it’s wonderful. Leliana has an amazing backstory (which was nearly ruined by that DLC), and a lot of unrealized potential in future story. Also, she’s freaking gorgeous. Stunningly beautiful, even with BioWare’s big old gorilla hands.
I adored her and my Warden together so much that she became my go to romance for maybe 12 of my 17 playthroughs, and I went on to write over 600k words of fan fiction for the pair.
You can, er, read it all here, but I will warn you that it’s crap. All crap. Actually, it’s not. They aren’t edited terribly well, though, and I don’t intend to go back and fiddle with them because I hold these stories as precious, just as they are. I poured my heart into every single word and credit them and all the wonderful reviews I received for them with the encouragement I needed to start writing in my own worlds.
As an aside, one of my fans has added my stories to the TV Tropes site and I always get a kick out of seeing them broken down into tropes because, honestly, I had no idea what a trope was when I just started writing. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Fanfic/SisimkaChronicles
There’s Always a Use or Two For a Handsome Elf
The Warden and Zevran
Zevran is actually my favourite game romance. It took me a while to warm to him and he can be a bit of a forgotten companion. It’s a great shame because, like Leliana, Zevran has an amazing backstory.
Zevran as a companion and a romantic partner is worth the time you invest. He was always in my party. Without exception. I enjoyed his dialogue and character and skills. His romance is unexpectedly romantic too. I think one of the reasons I like it so much is that it’s a little bit like Jack’s. He can be prickly and if you treat him like an easy lay, that’s all he’ll ever be. But if you take the time to get to know him, you’ll gain perhaps the most loyal companion possible. Zevran will die for you. He even says so. And he’s about the only companion and romantic partner who will actually stay with the Warden after the game if you ask him to. If you’re still alive at that point.
Finally, I always felt Zevran needed the Warden’s love more than the other companions did. And when he receives it, is one of the few to return it in equal measure.
So why isn’t Alistair on my favourite list? The love story he brings to the game is epic, but it’s also tragically flawed. It’s designed to break your heart. After that first attempt, I regularly cast him in the role of best friend to the Warden and loved him just as that. Alistair makes a wonderful, wonderful friend.
What are your favourite game romances?