So today is N7 Day, the day when we celebrate the Mass Effect franchise(and I guess to an extent Bioware in general as they have proven to be quite capable developers in the last decade and a half.). And of course, with Mass Effect: Andromeda coming to your preferred system sometime in Spring 2017, there are a lot of questions swirling about. How long is the story? How good are the antagonists? Are all of my favorite races returning? What are the romance scenes like? And I latched onto that one as an idea because if there’s one place that Bioware has had a bit of a struggle with, it’s that. From Mass Effect to Dragon Age, Bioware is still trying to find that perfect scene that encapsulates all of the emotions surrounding love(and sex.). And it’s fair to bring that up for Mass Effect: Andromeda because it’s not the same Bioware studio as the original trilogy and it isn’t the same Bioware studio that made the Dragon Age trilogy. It’s a completely different group and that means fresh new ideas. They’ve already confirmed that there’s romance in the game, but it’s uncertain as to how far that will actually go in the game itself because obviously we haven’t played the game yet. So I can sit here and speculate on that, or I can take a trip down memory lane and see the romantic road that Bioware has traveled.
So before I start looking at specific games, I wanted to rundown what exactly romance in a Bioware game entails. It’s fairly straightforward, but hey, why not just for the heck of it right?
So obviously it starts off as just two people having a nice chat from time to time. You’ve just completed a major mission/quest and now your team members have things they want to discuss with you. At first these side conversations are fairly harmless. You’re just getting to know one another, which is a great thing to do when you’re going to be spending quite a bit of time around each other. And as you progress through the game, these discussions become more and more intimate. You dig really deep into their past and their present and then, towards the end of the story, it gives you a moment where you decide how you want to procede. One last discussion with the character you’ve talked with the most will decide if a romantic relationship blossoms, or if the ship sinks right then and there.
Most games would stop once you’ve initiated the relationship. There’s no reason to really proceed any further. But Bioware games take it one step further and, at the point of no return, the lovers consummate their newfound love.
And that about wraps up the basics of a Bioware romance. So now I’m going to go from game to game, in order of release, and take a look at each one. So lets get started.
In 2007, Bioware released their spiritual successor to the Knights of the Old Republic series: Mass Effect. A completely new sci-fi universe that would go on to become one of the greatest saga’s of the seventh generation. Unlike Knights of the Old Republic where the romance was kind of just there, something that cropped up in dialogue if you played your cards right, Mass Effect went for a more direct approach. To pursue a romantic interest you had to speak with them throughout the entirety of the story, especially at critical moments, and say just the right things. If you’ve put in the work to get to know one of your crew members more than other potential interests, your Shepard will have a short scene with them after the Normandy is grounded at the Citadel. This scene will indicate who your romantic interest is. If no one appears, then you didn’t talk with them enough and you will now be forever alone. But, if you did get this romantic scene, you will get another later. As you approach the point of no return for the story, your love interest will visit your private quarters and engage you in a conversation. Your dialogue here will determine whether the romance is cemented or not. If you choose to cement it, it will culminate in a sex scene.
Now, the general concensus about sex scenes in video games usually amounts to something along the lines of “two dollars banging against each other.” And that wouldn’t be inaccurate in most cases because hand animating sex is probably really awkward and hard to do, especially if you want it to be believable. Mass Effect didn’t really have to deal with that because it’s idea of a sex scene was something less raunchy and more sensual. The characters kissed, carressed each others bodies, and laid on the bed together, as you can see above in Ashley’s scene. Granted, Liara’s scene was a tad more wild than that, but all in all they weren’t all that different. I won’t go as far as to call it a copy and paste because there were some differences as I said in the way they were presented, but they both boiled down to something that was more intimate and less something for players to get off too. The track that played in this scene, simply called “Love Theme,” helped to set the mood. Personally speaking I feel like this is what these sorts of scenes should be rather than what they became later.
Dragon Age: Origins, unlike Mass Effect, took a less structured approach to its romance system. There was more than just talking involved. Each character had a meter on their stat page and depending on your actions in quests as well as dialogue choices and gifts, this meter would go up and down, presenting a delicate balancing act in the event you wanted to be romantically involved with someone. If you happened to get this bar to a certain point, you could then initiate a romance scene even if you’re still far away from the end of the story(Though this game does have a plot-related optional romance scene at the end of the story, regardless of you being romantically involved with anyone.). It was pretty open-ended and I quite liked that. I could take it at my own pace so long as I wrapped it up before the point of no return.
That being said, the romance scenes in this game were... janky and awkward. The intimacy was there, sure, but the animations were stiff(no pun intended.) and despite them supposedly having sex, they left their undergarments on. Obviously this was done to avoid showing nudity, but where Mass Effect used clever camera angles to obscure the naughty bits, Dragon Age just decided to keep the clothes on even if it didn’t make sense. On top of that, whereas Mass Effect had some differences between romance scenes, Dragon Age does not. The dialogue leading up to it is different, sure, but otherwise this one was a literal copy and paste job. It served no other purpose than to be the capstone to a successful romance.
Howeve, the scene towards the end of the game, referred to as Morrigan’s Ritual, is a different story. Regardless of who you romanced, be it Morrigna, Leliana, or even Zevran, Morrigan will appear on the eve of the final battle of make you a proposal. Sleep with her and conceive a child so that you won’t die when the Archdemon is slain, have another Grey Warden sleep with her to achieve the same effect, or don’t, and live with the consequences. If you choose to sleep with her, or have either Allistair of Loghain sleep with her, it will work and the one who struck the killing blow will survive. If no one did, then the one who strikes the killing blow will perish and be given a hero’s funeral. Despite the sexual nature of the scene, it is played fairly seriously and presents the player with a way to keep their character alive. The scene itself suffers from janky animations, but in this instance the undergarments make sense and it’s a relatively one shot scene that ends with a candle being blown out. Fairly tame in comparison to the regular romance scene and I wouldn’t have minded if they were all like that. It was, at the very least, better made.
Following Dragon Age: Origins a year later was Mass Effect 2, and man did it deliver on everything it promised. It also took Bioware’s now signature romance scenes to a whole new level. The road to get there wasn’t really any different than it was before with the exception of loyalty missions that allowed you to get in on a characters personal matters. How you play it will influence your future relationship. And when you get to the big scene, it isn’t always two horny people going at it. Instead, each scene is unique to the character and while sex is typically implied, the beginning of it isn’t always shown. It was more about the characters and how they connect to Shepard. From a lust-filled romp with Miranda, to a fairly emotional scene with Thane without the sex(That happens when you’re not looking.), or Tali blubbering like a nervous schoolgirl about to have her first time. There really wasn’t anything to hate about these scenes. The animations weren’t perfect, but they were definitely better than what came before them, so that was a plus instead instead of a negative. These romantic scenes still contained the raw intimacy that they needed too and that is what counts. Even Miranda’s scene, while definitely the most risque out of all of them, still had that intimacy. There was no need for words, just emotion.
I should mention that, in the case of Jack, there is a moment where you can sleep with her prior to the point of no return. It’s a renegade option and ends with a quick, but definitely raunchy scene(clothes still on, or, what passes for clothing I guess.). After which you can never talk to her again. It completely closes her off for the rest of the game. Can’t actually romance her.
In a similar vein, you can romance Kelly Chambers, your Yeoman. If you keep chatting with her after missions, she volunteers to feed your fish, and after that you can invite her to come up to your cabin. At that point, you can invite her up whenever you want and she’ll wear a pole dancers outfit. However, it doesn’t actually affect your romantic interests. Kelly is more like a side girl, as strange as that may be. She doesn’t even get an actual romance scene.
Now, full disclosure, I haven’t touched Dragon Age II in the slightest. I’ve considered it, but just about everyone tells me not too and to just skip straight to Inquisition, the third title in the series. So I can really only speak to the romance scenes themselves rather than the lead up(I know, not great for an article all about these systems and their culminations. Win some, lose some.). I’ve watched each of them at least a few times over the years and to be quite honest I felt like they lacked the intimacy that Origins had. They were more like pleasurable romps. In Isabela’s case I guess that makes sense, but not for everyone else. On top of that the animations were... 50/50 in all honesty. They were definitely better and having their clothing on made total sense this time around. Though at times it looked like they were feeling up air and kind of stiff(again, no pun intended.). This particular Bioware studio was heading in the right direction at least, that golden spot for romantic scenes that involve sex in a video game.
The third installment in the Mass Effect series was a strange one in this regard. It tried to mix the first game with the second game and got mixed results. There was emotion sure, but I felt like something was lacking. To this day I still can’t pin exactly what it is. I can say that I felt Liara’s romance was probably the closest to how it should have been for all of them. Raw emotion and unadulterated intimacy. Of course, that’s talking about the usual point of no return romance. If you chose to romance Thane, who is destined to die in this game(Let’s not mention PC mods here.), you don’t get that final romp beneath the stars. You get a kiss early on(female Shepard only.), and a heart-wrenching funeral later that hits all the right notes. It’s just even more potent if you romanced him in Mass Effect 2 and intended to continue that in this game. Mass Effect 3 all around was a mixed bag, and it could even be seen in the romances. It’s a shame that it didn’t have a longer development.
I may have my disagreements with Bioware on some things, like the political agenda they wove into the characters to make a statement, but, I just can’t look away from these romance scenes. I feel like Inquisition just absolutely nailed it(no seriously, I’m not trying to make puns here.). The atmosphere, the feelings, even the presentation is all perfect. For the first time they had actual full frontal nudity. No barbie anatomy or strips of clothing. In some of the scenes they had actual nudity. And ya know what? It wasn’t worse for it. I’ve never really understood why people have such a stigma about that sort of stuff.
The scenes here are quite tasteful and they’re just, so, so good. And the music, oh god the music! It’s the most beautiful romantic scene music I’ve ever heard in a Bioware game. I just can’t pull it off of repeat.
Oh right, full disclosure: I’ve only just started Dragon Age: Inquisition so I can’t really speak to the other facets of the romance system. If I recall correctly it wasn’t really all that different from Dragon Age II.
In all honesty, the only grievance I have, and this may sound a tad pervy, but I wish they would have had breast physics. They have the nudity, I’ll give ‘em that, but there’s absolutely no physics. It’s just a bulge on the model that can’t move at all. I love me some immersion, but when they don’t move it sort of irks me. Not a deal breaker by any means, but I mean, come on Dead or Alive has breast physics and that doesn’t even have sex in it. They don’t need to go that far, but something would go a long way.(You probably think I’m some sort of sleazy perv now.)
As I watch more of these romance scenes to try and give you a better idea of what they’re like, I’ve now realized that Inquisition has not just one, but two or three romance scenes for some romantic interests, and that is absolutely great because it shows a developing romance past the initial confession and reciprocation. It also shows the passage of time and the trials a relationship can go through. It’s refreshing to be honest.
Before we move on to finish this article, here’s the Iron Bull scene because this is seriously the best:
We don’t know much about Mass Effect: Andromeda. Bioware is damned and determined to be as vague as humanly possible when it comes to the story of this game. We know the main character, Ryder, is actually one of two people. Twins to be exact, whose appearances are customizable(Not sure about the names though. Shepard was John and Jane as in John Doe and Jane Doe. This time they have actual names with no meanings behind them.). And it has been confirmed that romance will return in Mass Effect: Andromeda, though what form it will take exactly is unknown. What we have been told is that loyalty missions are back and interactions with squad members is entirely optional. You can even pursue them after the main story is finished. So that at least tells us that the romance is not tied to the main story and that loyalty missions will likely once again influence the direction they go. There’s also no paragon or renegade, so you won’t have to worry about not being able to romance someone because you punched that reporter in the face.
What the penultimate scene will be, however, is anyones guess. As I mentioned earlier this game is being developed by a completely different Bioware team than the Shepard Trilogy and Dragon Age. My hope is that they’ll follow in the footsteps of the original Mass Effect and Dragon Age: Inquisition. Make it tasteful, filled with emotion, but don’t be afraid to show it all off when the scene calls for it.
And that concludes my weird little adventure. I’ve probably gotten a few snickers, some scowls, and maybe a candy bar by this point, but who cares. I was bored, curious, and I hadn’t written anything in a while. So I thought, hey, why not.