If you’ve not played Dragon Age or Dragon Age II, you might want to avert your eyes. You can’t tell a good love story without some spoilers, eh?
I’ve been playing video games for the better part of my life, and through the years, I’ve certainly had my crushes. So when Dragon Age came out, it was bound to happen. Having played World of Warcraft for quite some time, Dragon Age was a revelation. My brain had been filled with so many fantasy novels, medieval dalliances, and general chatter regarding all things dragony and sword-like, that being able to play a video game in which, ostensibly, I was the center attraction in a marvelous world… Yes, crack. I can’t even tell you how many hours I put into the game. But I can tell you that I played through three times.
And I only fell in love once.
First I was a dwarf warrior, but I didn’t last long. The second time I played was was an elf mage. It was marvelous, riveting gameplay, and I had a very delightful relationship with Alistair, the reluctant Grey Warden and would-be king (there was something devious and devilish about convincing him to bed me, considering he was an ex-Templar). All was glorious (save for the looming Blight). And he looked great without his clothes on.
Then something terrible happened.
I found out that after all my work (i.e. lots and lots of conversation, questing, and gift-giving) trying to get Alistair to marry me, he wouldn’t. It all came down to the fact that I was an elf, a detail that would have seriously been appreciated twenty or so hours of gameplay earlier (I mean, Zevran was so much easier). As Alistair explained in that cocky, darling little British accent, it was hard enough that the king was going to be a Grey Warden. Asking the people of Fereldan to accept me as their queen was simply too much to ask.
So, instead of finishing the game (I was very close to the end) I decided to make a human rogue just for Alistair. It’s a very hard thing to articulate, but the truth of the matter is that I had an abiding crush on the character. Alistair just made me a little giddy sometimes, and I absolutely had to be his wife. I wasn’t just going to be his elf mistress! It was no longer about my character, it was clearly about me. (I’m happily married, I might add… but a girl can fantasize, can’t she?)
Of course, in the end, I was able to secure Alistair’s hand with my rogue. After all, my elf mage had done all the hard work. I have to admit: even though I was scheming to marry someone completely fictional, I honestly cared. I cared so much that in the end, when the game ran out of things to say, I was a bit furious. The mechanics of the game interfered with my emotional response, and I felt a bit cheated.
Well, time heals all wounds. And, like a good gamer, as soon as Dragon Age 2 came out, it had to be mine. Even though in many ways the game is an improvement over the other – with far smoother combat and a better range of responses to questions – the scope of everything has been scaled down. It’s scaled down so much that my favorite part about the first game – the relationships – has all but disappeared. To quote the immortal Heart: “What about love?”
Yes. Love. So, let me tell you about Anders. My mage, in this game, decided to pursue Anders. Those who played the expansion of the first game will recognize him. (In all honesty, I had no idea he was even interested in women. But there you go. He was kind of cute, definitely British, and had a certain cocky air. And most likely I chose him because he reminded me the most of Alistair. He was also not a beardless dwarf like Varric or a mage-hater like Fenris. Talk about choices.)
However, instead of being able to strike up a conversation whenever I wanted like in the original game, the sequel insists that I only interact with certain characters in their homes. If, and only if, they have quests, that is. No casual banter, here. This makes conversation with your significant other little awkward, to say the least, not to mention the rest of your companions.
Anders, who has arrived with a rather complicated past, and somewhat controversial political views, is no easy egg to crack. But once I did a bunch of stuff for him, found him some items, and initiated the correct lines of dialogue, we pronounced our love for one another.
Hunky dory, right? Not exactly. In the third act, I finished one quest for him and he informed me that the relationship was over. No real explanation, just that he knew he would “break my heart”. I had no option other than to walk away. (Well, personally I had other options. Which was to say some choice words to the Xbox.)
I was a bit miffed, but even moreso when I returned my character back home. In spite of the fact that we were, for all intents and purposes, broken up, he hadn’t left my house. He simply lingered on the staircase. Oh, he had changed his clothes. Now he looked more emo than ever. But when approached he only repeated the same line of dialogue over and over again, and never moved.
Yeah. Creepy, right?
While I certainly have to give Bioware props for being very forward thinking in their portrayal of characters and sexuality, this aspect of the game was a grave disappointment. The truth is I settled for Anders. With Alistair, I never felt that way. He was someone to conquer. To flirt with. Someone that, in spite of the game’s shortcomings and the fact that he wasn’t even a real person, I felt as if I had been through something with. As the conclusion of DA2 came to an end I saw that my “romance” was nothing more than a plot device, and I had no desire to play it differently.
Yes, love is fickle. Especially when it isn’t real at all. I only hope that in the future companies like Bioware think really hard about what makes their games special. Sure, Dragon Age 2 was fun. But it felt like an arcade game, not an epic fantasy with a good heap of romance. I still miss Alistair. Not only the one in the first game, but the one in my head who, like in so many things, really was the better version.
Founding editor Natania Barron is a geeky mom, an author, a Gryffindor, and a Took. She tweets about writing, cooking, life, and other mysteries at @nataniabarron.