We Have Opinions About Baldur’s Gate 3’s Approach To Romance

We Have Opinions About Baldur’s Gate 3’s Approach To Romance

To quote Shakespeare, “the course of true love never did run smooth.” If you’re a player character in Baldur’s Gate 3, however, you may have better luck than most mortals, as it’s possible to find yourself with a whole party full of companions willing (and possibly eager) to pursue romance with you. With a number of us making our way through the game, this aspect sparked quite the conversation in our Slack, one we decided was worth sharing with you. The conversation below has been edited for grammar and clarity.

Zack Zwiezen: Speaking of Baldur’s Gate 3, last night I ran into a situation where nearly my entire camp wanted to fuck me. And I realized that, oh…these are just empty NPCs who don’t care about who you are and it took me out of the game in a big way.

Patricia Hernandez: Are you running a charisma character or…?

ZZ: No. My charisma is like 10? Not super high.

I’m still enjoying the game, I had a great time last night figuring out how to kill the Goblin leaders without starting a single fight.

Zack shares a tweet from Inkle Studios designer Nat Clayton, which reads:

I mean this is also me never quite vibing with how relationships play out in BioWare games, and the companion writing has a lot of really fun moments, but intimacy feels so sudden and so arbitrary. When it’s introduced it’s a very “ah, horny player, here is your moment” drop.

Ethan Gach: There’s definitely a [potential game diary in that]: Suddenly Everyone In Baldur’s Gate 3 Wanted To Bone And It Bummed Me Out

ZZ: Yeah, been mulling on that. Like it’s very odd to me that gender/race/class don’t seem to play a part in romance. Like everyone I meet is just an empty vessel waiting to connect to me because I’m so great. Nobody is like, hey I don’t swing that way. But I still like you and want to be friends.

Carolyn Petit: Agree. One of the best moments romance-wise I’ve had in any game was when a character in Dragon Age: Inquisition wouldn’t be with me because I was a woman. Like, yeah man, that’s life. These games should break your fucking heart sometimes. You don’t always get what you want.

ZZ: Yeah. Instead I was walking around camp last night figuring out my sex schedule. It was like, “everyone line up and take a number.”

Kenneth Shepard: I think there’s a difference between signposting that characters are interested and open to a romance route and everyone just, like, immediately jumping your bones. Like, Lae’zel immediately wants to fuck because that’s something very much tied into her character, whereas yeah, like every one of these characters is in a high intensity situation where all their senses are heightened. Which is a pretty common occurrence in real life. It ends up becoming a weird mechanical thing because sometimes those systems can all result in your approval being high enough with several characters that these flirtations happen all at once. but i don’t think [it’s the same as] flattening them out as not actually people with agency and preferences (not orientation preferences but like, moral scruples about things you do).

Screenshot: Larian / Kotaku

CP: But doesn’t it all feel weirdly, like, player-facing, like you’re the center of the whole world? Are any of them hooking up with or falling in love with each other?

KS: No spoilers, but yes.

CP: Okay, well that’s good at least.

ZZ: It pulled me right out. Like, I’ve barely talked to some of these people.

CP: Yeah i think it’s a fair critique, it can definitely feel very artificial and gamified IMO.

ZZ: And they want to fuck me and are flirting endlessly.

Isaiah Colbert: [shares this TikTok in which a player accidentally stumbles into romance with a character they had no intention of romancing]

ZZ: Even when I’ve been cold to some of them, because I don’t like them, they still keep at it. And I just feel like, “Oh okay, so this is designed like this,” and I stop seeing them as real characters.

CP: shares a tweet from Harry Wood that reads:

I was like barely 3/4 of the way through the first chapter and had played like 9 hours and every single character in my camp was like “I’m in love with you and would drop everything to be with you right now.” It bummed me out! Took absolutely zero work!

ZZ: That’s what happened to me last night after only like 6 hours lol

KS: I think there’s a tendency in talking about romance in games to sand down conversations about how mechanical things are/feel without taking into account how the romantic stories being told around those mechanics play into the larger love story. I feel the same way about people who criticize Bioware’s heart icon as “complimenting a character into submission” when those dialogue options are happening in the context of larger plot, character story, and your decisions to culminate in a full relationship, and are signposting player intention. And I don’t know what game others are playing but no one declared love for me until I was deep into the Gale romance and it was established.

CP: I do think you can argue that there’s something about the design of [romance in Bioware RPGs and Baldur’s Gate 3] that inherently encourages people to look at these romantic situations as very transactional, as things that can just be gamified in a fairly dehumanizing way. I don’t know what the solution to that is at all, but I do think it’s worth thinking about.

ZZ: It’s funny because D&D has a built-in solution. Dice rolls behind the scenes that can ruin a relationship for reasons you don’t get. Just like in real life. Sometimes you don’t click, even when you try. But yeah, it’s always going to be weird. I just feel like BG3 is doing a bad job of it. Even in Mass Effect it never felt this artificial to me. But I guess when you spend so much money on making sex scenes, you want players to see them lol.

IC: These sex scenes pay for the roof over Alex Jordan’s head.

CP: To be clear, I’m 100% in favor of characters in games like this potentially having sex, and in having some characters maybe be DTF right away or whatever and others not, if it feels organic and linked to their personality and so on. But yeah ,when you get these situations where it’s like suddenly your whole party is in love with you or clearly open to a romance with you, it’s like you can’t help but see the systems behind it all and it makes it all feel more constructed and artificial IMO.

ZZ: ​​Oh yeah! I’m fine with some people being down to clown. But I also wish that was balanced with people who were very picky. Or people who had a type or any kind of preferences beyond “You are the player and I want to fuck you.”

KS: That’s the thing, though. I just don’t think it’s true in the long run that everyone is indiscriminately willing to be with you, more than it is [the game] showing that people will flirt and gesturing to a potential relationship. There are so many potential crisis points with all these characters throughout that you can easily cut off a potential relationship.

ZZ: It’s also odd that everyone is flirting with me. I was expecting the skeleton man at camp to start hitting on me. Like, someone just go, “Eww, an elf/human hybrid” or “Bleh, you are so dumb/low intelligence!” Someone find me not attractive, please!

KS: But i’m saying that starting the beginning of a relationship and indicating that a character is a romance option in the early hours and seeing it through to the end with no friction are two different things.

ZZ: I think there has to be a better, less artificial way of signposting this stuff.

PH: So basically the game is telling you those characters are potential options, but not necessarily that they’ll go through with it?

CP: But shouldn’t maybe some of them not even be open to the possibility based on your gender/race/other attributes perhaps?

ZZ: Oh, I assume I can ruin these relationships, sure. But its weird that everyone is an option for every player-created character. It makes them feel less real to me.

A player-created character looks at their guardian in a moment from Baldur's Gate 3.

Screenshot: Larian / Kotaku

KS: Ultimately, I have preferred when games have designated preferences (like Inquisition and Andromeda) because I think it makes some things feel tailored. But I also recognize that the “no preferences everyone is an option” approach is just ultimately better for making people feel included.

CP: Yeah, I’m not a fan of that.

PH: I get that them all happening at once was jarring. But if you tried all of them would they have actually said yes? I think that’s the question.

ZZ: Probably not! I understand that you still have to do the right things/say the right words/etc. to get them to fully commit to you. My point is that some of these people shouldn’t even be on the table for me. That would make them feel more like real people. Instead they are all possible lovers, until I screw up/they die/etc. And so I feel less attachment to any of them. Because, whatever, I got like five more options if I blow it with this person.

But I also get the idea that letting everyone be with anyone helps more players feel represented. Which is a valid reason to design the game this way. I just wonder if even one character you meet could have had some preferences just to balance it out a bit. “I’m Lord Orcbiter and I’m only into sex after marriage. I’m very straight. And if you kill one single person I’ll never fuck you.”

KS: I think historically the issue with preferences, despite my feeling that it does ultimately make for better, more crafted writing, is it ultimately ends up making some people feel treated unfairly, etc. Like the mass effect series was fraught for queer men because they didn’t get any options until ME3, and in Andromeda they had demonstrably fewer options than everyone else and none of them were a party member.

The real solution on that front is to actually be balanced similar to Inquisition. But I also recognize that there are resource concerns, and why spend more money on something only a small fraction of your players will see when you can make it available for everyone and get a more inclusive game?

ZZ: Oh, yeah. I totally agree that in the past it’s been bad for some folks. But in a game where I can cast Speak with Animals and talk to a random rat in a dungeon, it feels weird to not spend some resources on providing more romantic diversity.

CP: I definitely do think these things need to be taken into account, but also like, as a queer woman, having the woman i wanted to be with in DA3 reject me was not like, treating me unfairly. There were other women who were queer, but I wasn’t in love with them, I was in love with her. Games are too often skewed toward trying to give players exactly what they want, and IMO players need to more often have the experience of not getting what they want.

KS: Right, I agree in that I flirt with every man who gets into my proximity in these games and think getting turned down is just part of that. But when i say “treated unfairly” I mean in the sense that historically, queer people have gotten fewer choices and the idea that resources were an issue has been a frequent talking point of detractors.

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