Since age 4 and Raphael the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, I have been a person who entertains enthusiastic crushes on fictional characters. Somewhere between then and now I got tired of being embarrassed about this proclivity and became an unabashed celebrant of my passion for a select group of fake dudes (and some ladies, but since I’m opposite sex-inclined I’m going to use masculine pronouns from here on out).
These crushes have focused on subjects lifted from books (holla, Duncan Idaho), movies and TV shows (everybody in the world has these, so nobody thinks it’s weird), and video games. Oh hell yeah, video games. I think it makes a lot of sense. (I would, wouldn’t I?) But really: you spend a lot of time with a character while playing, either controlling his actions or working alongside him to achieve goals. In games that include a love quest, the lure of furthered intimacy with your crush object functions quite handily as a carrot to keep you slogging along through main quest goals. Not that every main quest goal is a slog, but it’s always nice to look forward to gettin’ your flirt on between long fighting sequences.
A good game crush isn’t a necessary prerequisite for an enjoyable game, obviously, but it can do a great deal to enhance certain games. BioWare has used the romance quest to great effect in many titles, and I’ve enjoyed almost every one I’ve played. After last weekend, I may have discovered my biggest problem with my least favorite BioWare game, Dragon Age II: I picked the wrong guy.
Very Mild Dragon Age II spoilers to follow.
loved love Dragon Age: Origins fervently. Loooooove it, with that giddy gamer passion that causes you to wave your hands about in excitement for a minute when you meet someone else who loves it too. I loved the story, I enjoyed the gameplay, and I loved Alistair all over that damn campsite and made out with him in front of Morrigan at every chance. Though it had a wonderful ending and satisfying epilogue, I was sad to reach the end and say goodbye to my first playthrough.
(In addition to being a person who falls for fictional people, I am a person who becomes strongly attached to the first character I create in customizable games. After reaching the end, I have to let a game rest before I can affront my own personal canon with a brand new character. Ridiculous? Yes, a bit. But it’s just how I’m wired.)
But THEN came DLC! Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening let my character carry on the darkspawn fightin’ with new, really really fun content and characters! I adored it. I was pleased to see Oghren again, and delighted with a few of the new characters, particularly one apostate mage named Anders.
Anders was hot! Anders was charming. Anders was funny. Anders had a great voice. Anders could blast giant fireballs at enemies.
Anders liked cats and adopted a kitty who could bring my entire party back to life when deployed in battle. My original mage character, who had an opposite-side-of-the-tracks thing going with Templar-trained Alistair, would have strongly considered dropping Alistair(!!!) for Anders had that been an option in Awakening. Dude was that dreamy. So when I learned that Anders was set to reappear in Dragon Age II, well, no brainer! Here was my chance to finally get a piece of that Anders’ ass.
Dragon Age II started out strong. I enjoyed the storyline and gameplay, I was invested, I flirted with Anders. But Anders wasn’t, well, Andersanymore. I didn’t appreciate his personality change or the plot development that explained it. I didn’t like the new, dour Anders; I didn’t like his new look; I didn’t even like his romance quest dialogue! I didn’t like the new Anders one bit, but I hit it anyway.
In the meantime, the maps became repetitive, the fight scenes began to feel redundant, the plot didn’t seem to coalesce, and I didn’t feel connected. When I got to the part where that thing happens to Hawke’s mom, that awful thing when you can see something bad is coming but there is nothing you can do to forestall it and then THAT happens? I was pissed. I was pissed and my romance quest was nothing to write home about, and I quit. I put the game away and never played it again. After cooling off, I haven’t thought about it at all in a long time…
…until last weekend, when my sister-in-law-to-be introduced me to the magic that is Fenris.
Of all my friends, sis-in-law-to-be Hannah is not only the sole person to finish playing Dragon Age II, she made multiple characters to replay the game. Over a bottle of champagne, she offered to show me what kept her coming back to DA2: a certain white-haired, lyrium-tattooed elf.
I was skeptical. I thought Fenris was kind of a whiny emo (not that the new and not-so-improved Anders was better), and I disliked his continual mage-bashing. Then Hannah started loading saves and played through to a few key cutscenes, and I quickly changed my mind.
Dude has a story arc. It’s not all “mages suck,” all the time! The emo intensity comes off very differently once he starts glowing and slamming Hawke into walls for makeouts. And then he leaves! But you just know he won’t be able to quit Hawke. This is that carrot I was talking about, people. This is the kind of romance quest that will keep me happily revisiting those godforsaken smugglers’ hideouts again and again to further some plot development. That line about still remembering her touch like it was yesterday? Ooooof, my heart. And the pre-final battle kiss? Fenris put Mass Effect’s Kaidan to all kinds of shame, and has me seriously considering revisiting Dragon Age II.
A little tortured, broody elf lovin’ has the potential to make up for a helluva lot of repetitive gameplay sequences. Thanks for showing me the lyrium-tattooed light, Hannah.