I’m about 20 hours into Baldur’s Gate 3, and I’ve picked the most basic-ass romance for a person attracted to men: Gale. He’s a human wizard who is sassy and kind of annoying but also sweet and tragic in a way that tickles the part of my brain that writes fanfiction. With Gale as my chosen romance, t my canon couple in Baldur’s Gate 3 looks pretty boring compared to what others will likely pursue. It got me thinking about all the weird little podcast boyfriend/e-girl coupling options that exist in Baldur’s Gate 3, an impressive collection of permutations available because Larian Studios imposes no race restrictions on the relationships you can pursue. Maybe it’s time games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age followed suit. The weird little freaks of our favorite RPGs deserve love, too.
In fairness, a lot of the romance options in Baldur’s Gate 3 are pretty much exclusively hot bipedal people. Each of them, even the Tieflings and Githyanki characters you can take to your tent, are pretty much all conventionally attractive humanoids with some non-human elements sprinkled here and there (although one of them can change to a bear when you do the deed). But with Baldur’s Gate 3’s expansive character creator, you can introduce a freaky monster man to the mix, and the game’s characters are into it—so long as you don’t do something terrible that they take umbrage with. So there are no restrictions on characters like a reptilian Dragonborn or a short-statured Dwarf getting some love.
The most direct comparison people will make to Baldur’s Gate are BioWare’s Mass Effect and Dragon Age (the studio did make the first two Baldur’s Gate games, after all). Despite the wealth of alien and fantasy races between both games, there are only a few chances for players to romance anyone who is not humanoidYou can’t have a steamy love affair with a reptilian Krogan, a short in stature but big in personality Volus, a hulking quadrupedal Elcor, or the jellyfish-like tentacled Hanar. In fact, a lot of the weirder species in these games never really get to be part of a love story, or at the very least, not an earnest one that isn’t played for a gag.
Comparatively, Dragon Age doesn’t have quite the same breadth of species that Mass Effect’s intergalactic civilization does, but it handles interspecies romance in a different way from Mass Effect, which only lets you play as a human in its story. In Dragon Age: Inquisition, there are select romances that are gated by whether or not you’re playing as a specific race. Cullen and Solas both are only willing to enter a relationship with you if you’re a specific race. To some extent, these make sense in the world, as Solas’ romance is so tied to elven lore that it seems appropriate that his relationship is tied to a shared history. But there are no dwarf romance options, despite the series’ dangling Varric in front of fans with all his snark, whimsy, and chest hair. The series’ inclusion of a Qunari romance in Inquisition felt like it was acknowledging that players may want to expand their horizons, and not just kiss a human or an elf.
In some cases, BioWare’s romantic restrictions play into storytelling in a meaningful way. Gil in Mass Effect: Andromeda and Dorian in Dragon Age: Inquisition both have aspects of their storyline that highlight their identities as gay men, so making those exclusively for characters of a certain gender allows them to touch on their respective worlds’ culture and how different people navigate them. There’s an actual narrative utility to only allowing certain characters to pursue certain romances.
But Baldur’s Gate 3’s expansive customization options and lack of restrictions remind you that even when RPGs get into the weirder sides of sci-fi and fantasy love, like letting you fuck a boney bird man in Garrus or a horned beefcake like Iron Bull, it could always get weirder.
We don’t quite yet know what the next Mass Effect will look like, but I hope whatever form it takes learns a lesson from Baldur’s Gate 3. Let the weirdos fuck, BioWare. Let me see what’s under that Volus’ suit (in a way that will not result in his death), let me experience an Elcor putting its whole body weight on me, don’t sequester a Hanar’s tentacles to fanfiction and Source Filmmaker.