Meeting BioWare Halfway

BioWare has to scale back on the time spent on the romances in the grander scheme of the project. "The follower characters in general are enormously complex," Gaider says. "They're a massive investment in terms of gameplay and storytelling."

"We try to push ourselves," Laidlaw adds. "We try to do things we haven't done before. We try to explore characters we haven't done before, but there comes a point in which you can afford only so much crazy."

The team often has to reel themselves in, and they're well aware of criticisms about fans wanting more detailed, realistic romances. Still, these aren't the main focus of the game. "We could make relationships more detailed," Gaider says. "We could add a lot a more nuance and stuff, but really it's a question of, 'How much content do we want to put for something that's essentially optional?' It's not a romantic adventure. It would be cool to do, but in this case, it's something the player pursues because they're interested, and it's not really the point of the game."

Senior writer Luke Kristjanson agrees. "The player has to meet us halfway," Kristjanson says. "If they're going on an adventure with a love interest in the story, again that entire adventure is part of their romance, whether we label it romance or not."

Another tough question the team tackles is integrating this content seamlessly into the plot to where the game still feels cohesive. One answer is to make them grow naturally. "Our romances tend to grow out of a friendship, out of necessity, almost more than anything else," Gaider says. "We want a player who isn't romancing a character to still get a sense of who that character is and feel like they have a relationship. You're going to walk the same path, but then at some point, you're going to grow into the romance, and that's going to be separate content."

BioWare is looking for more answers to balance the romance extras with Dragon Age's core experience. "We still want the heart of that character to be available to anyone," Gaider says. "So for us, it's, 'How do we make that seamless?' And if it's seamless, the player isn't going to be able to distinguish between those two paths necessarily." That's the biggest challenge BioWare is tackling: Finding a way to make the romance content feel unique while still allowing players to get to know a character even if they aren't wooing them. The new seamless approach the team is working toward for Inquisition may be just what the franchise needs.

Romance In Inquisition

What it comes down to is BioWare deciding on the story they want to tell with the romances and making sure they don't double up on any similar narratives. The team is constantly asking itself what territories have remained uncharted. "We're doing a few of those things in Inquisition, trying to tell some romances of a style that we have not done previously," Gaider says.

Criticisms regarding stock romances and approval ratings dictating relationships have been looming. Fans should be happy to know that approval ratings are playing a different role this time around. "Previously, we had a lot of the follower content gated by your approval rating. Whereas what we're doing now, we're having a lot more of your content event-driven," Gaider says. "The approval you're at informs the nature of the conversation."

That means you shouldn't have to agree on everything to befriend or romance another character. "They're like, 'Yes, you've chosen a thing that I disagree with, but we're good friends,'" Laidlaw says. "So that's going to change the color and tone of [those interactions], so [they're] more nuanced. I think that's going to take them beyond what's been done in the past."

However, that's hardly the only portion that's changing. BioWare is striving to make the whole cast more interactive and aware of what's going around them, including the choices you make as Inquisitor. This allows for realistic reactions to what's happening at a given moment, whether it's in relation to the mages, Templars, Chantry, or a bigger threat.

"Your interactions aren't just, 'Hello, I'm here by my tent waiting for you,' but instead something that feels like an outgrowth of all your adventures together and the kind of things that you've been doing," Laidlaw says. "In my ideal scenario, your interaction with the character isn't just about having interacted with them; it's about your interaction with them in relation to the whole game that you've chosen to play. So if you make really sweeping decisions in other parts of the game, that may actually change the nature of those interactions."

BioWare isn't elaborating any further on the romance front for now, but it appears it is considering feedback and trying to make it better mesh with the storyline. For now, we'll just have to wonder who is taking on the role of our Inquisitor's number-one squeeze, as BioWare has not announced any of the characters that can be romanced yet.