SPOILER ALERT: This article spoils some of the subplots (but not the main plot) of Baldur’s Gate II. You have been warned!
I have very fond memories of playing the Baldur’s Gate series. Written for the AD&D Second Edition rules and set in the Forgotten Realms, the series had a rich, detailed world, a complex system for combat and magic, numerous side-quests and places to explore, and classic characters that have become a part of gaming lore (I’m looking at you Minsc ) So you can imagine I was very happy to hear that an Extended Edition of the series will soon be released!
One of the things that Baldur’s Gate II was known for was its romance subplots. These romances will be included and expanded upon in the Extended Edition, and I believe there will be romance options added into the first Baldur’s Gate game as well. Adding romance options to a game, especially if they are completely optional, I think is a great thing for roleplaying. It is pretty common in games now, but when Baldur’s Gate II came out, it was a relatively new concept for Western RPGs. However, some of the romances in Baldur’s Gate II were almost a textbook example of “how not to do it.” Let’s review them, shall we? (SPOILERS!)
First, there were some ground rules for romance in Baldur’s Gate. You had to be a human, elf, or half elf. That’s right, only the pretty and tall races got to have a romance. If you wanted to play a dwarf, gnome, halfling, or half-orc, you are out of luck. Second, if you were a male character, you had a choice of three romance possibilities, all of which were with women. If you were a female character, you had a choice of one romance, with a dude. Apparently, there was another possible romance for a female character (also with a dude), but it never made it to publication. Third, at some point you had to rescue the person you were romancing from vampires (one of the female characters actually needs to be rescued twice).
Bachelorette No. 1: Aerie is a good-aligned winged elf, but she was enslaved and her wings were cut off. She is portrayed as very young, damaged, and naive about the world. Your job, as her romancer, is to encourage her to be more self-confident. Eventually, she’ll offer to sleep with you. If you say yes, you “lose” the romance. If you say no, you continue the romance, and eventually marry and have kids, while continuing to adventure. Aerie’s romance seems designed for the person who wants to be the “white knight.”
Sample dialog from Aerie:
“I’m such a silly woman. Whining and crying…I must seem so ridiculous and petty. No man will ever want me I think…I feel so embarrassed.”
“I…I will show you my body (char name)…and I hope it pleases you. Would you…would you stay with me this night (char name)? Will you show me what true love consists of?”
Bachelorette No. 2: Jaheira is a neutral-aligned elven fighter/druid. She is portrayed as tough and arrogant, and speaks with a Russian accent. She was married in the first Baldur’s Gate game, but her husband is killed in the prelude to the second game. Your job, as her romancer, is to comfort her for her recent loss of her husband and, later on, to help her out with a tricky political situation involving the Harpers. Eventually, Jaheira will offer to sleep with you. Whether you say yes or no, you can continue the romance. You end up having a long-term relationship with Jaheira, although you never actually marry her. Jaheira’s seems, to me, the most well-written romance of the three. Unfortunately, in the original game it was very buggy. It was almost impossible to complete the Jaheira romance without help from user-created mods.
Sample dialog from Jaheira:
”Heh, you and your jokes make me smile far too often, even when I do not want to. People will think I am getting soft.”
“(char name), I care for you. I have not always shown as such, and my words may seem harsh on occasion, but my feelings are true just the same.”
Bachelorette No. 3: Viconia is an evil drow elf cleric. She is ruthless, mean, and always urges you to take the more evil option in quests. Your job, as her romancer, is to prove that you are strong enough to be worthy of her. Viconia is also, surprise, all about the sex. Unlike the other two female characters, if you don’t sleep with her, you “lose” the romance. Viconia breaks up with you at the end of your romance plotline, but the epilogue indicates that you get back together again and have a child.
Sample dialog from Viconia:
”I have been watching you for a time as we travel. You have a pleasing look about you, I think. The sort of musculature that would make a woman swoon with desire.”
“Oh do not look at me in such a manner. Does your manhood wilt from talk of using Drow knowledge of the erotic to survive in your world? Is it so terrible?”
Bachelor No. all of them: Anomen is a human fighter/cleric who aspires to be a paladin. Anomen, to put it bluntly, is a total ass. He’s self-absorbed, whiney, and rude. Your job, as his romancer, is basically not to piss him off (in other words, don’t call him on his rudeness), and to help him decide whether or not to seek revenge for the death of his sister. You can sleep with Anomen without “losing” the romance. You spend a lot of time adventuring together and then marry afterwards.
Sample dialog from Anomen:
“Hmph. I find it hard to believe that one woman alone could have performed such deeds. … Well, of course you had fellow companions who aided you then as now.”
“My lady…I feel most terrible about my burst of temper the previous day.”
In short, these romance options allow you to play out only the most stereotypical of fantasy stories. Here’s some things I would like to see in the Extended Edition of the games.
1. Romance should be for everyone. Really, it isn’t that hard to add a few lines of dialog so that every race and gender combination can have a romance with every “romancable” character. This is a game that added an entirely new voice set so that we could laugh when Edwin accidentally changed himself into a woman with a magical scroll (and yes, that was played for all the predictable jokes you are imagining now). Adding text dialog to explain why the half-orc in the party might be able to romance the drow shouldn’t be that hard. Allowing same-sex relationships should not be hard. These options don’t detract from anyone’s enjoyment of the game, and they make the game more enjoyable and accessible for the very diverse group of people who will be playing it.
2. Not all the female romancable characters need to be elves! I want to emphasize this, because apparently the new romance in the Extended Edition is, you guessed it, an elf girl. Moreover, it’s an elf girl who needs comforting and encouragement because she is a wild mage who doesn’t understand her powers. We’ve seen this story before a hundred times. Dare to break the mold!
3. Female characters should not get stuck with the jerk. If Anomen is an ass, that’s fine. If you want him to be romancable, however, it should not be required that we put up with it. Especially if there are no other characters that can be romanced by a female PC. Add some more male options for romancing, and please don’t make them all knights in shining armor. That stereotype gets old very quickly.
4. Try to remember that women can want sex and still be lawful good. There is a disturbing relationship between how evil a female character is and how interested in sex she is in this game. No sex with the good aligned girl, but mandatory sex with the evil girl (who coincidentally is portrayed as a dominatrix) just repeats the tired madonna/whore tropes we see too often in fantasy games and literature.
5. The theme of the protagonist listening to the NPC’s tale of woe, providing appropriate comfort and advice, rescuing them when they get kidnapped, and then marrying them is fine for one or two romances, but need not be done for all four. A romance between characters that are closer to equals would be nice, as would the opportunity for your lover to help you out, rather than just the other way around.
6. For the purposes of this story, a “failed” romance might be just as interesting as a “successful” one. In terms of alternate endings, I would not assume that love, marriage, and children needs to be the end goal. I could easily see a “Spiderman” sort of moment where your character decides to break things off rather than get your lover involved in the terrible stuff that you are dealing with. It would also be nice to see a relationship end, but the characters remain good friends.
I’ve pre-ordered the game, so I am being pretty optimistic that some of this stuff will be improved in the new edition. But the description of the only new romance plotline announced, which basically boils down to ”elf girl in need,” certainly gives me second thoughts. I hope that the team can move past what has been done so many times before, and provide some new options to explore.