We made it!

After sixty-nine hours, and much less sleep than is healthy, I have finished Mass Effect: Andromeda with 94% completion. I’m not going to bother reviewing the game, except to say that the critics were overly critical. Andromeda is enjoyable, thrilling and has a strong story comparable to the original Mass Effect if you don’t spend all day looking for things to complain about.

Andromeda Ryder
Sure, these do appear to be the cold, dead eyes of someone a little too fond of guns.

However, I am going to complain about something – romances. This complaint isn’t unique to Andromeda, but it is specific to Mass Effect. Bioware has cultivated a brand that automatically suggests inclusion. Two separate teams work on developing their main IPs; Mass Effect and Dragon Age. Both games have similar characteristics and mechanics, and both games implement the romance features that have become a Bioware trademark. Pains me to say it, though; the Dragon Age team does it better.

Peebee Andromeda Kath Rella
OK, Peebee, I get you’re not happy, but let me explain, eh?

Before I get into this, I should explain that I know video games are expensive. We’re long past the time when three men in an attic in Derby could put together a critically acclaimed title with only a few lines of required dialogue. Expectations are such that most games have to feel like interactive movies and only movie-like budgets can pull it off. Therefore, resources need to be prioritised. In Bioware games, squad members get the largest slice of the dialogue pie.

Mass Effect Andromeda Crew Kath Rella
We all have more lines than Shepard! Hurrah!

Unfortunately, this hurts romances; or rather, it hurts romances when Bioware provide so few LGBTQ+ squad member romance options. To date, there hasn’t been a transgender romance option in any Bioware game. I’d like to think it will happen but they’re cautious about how to implement it, as a poor representation could do more harm than good. Gay, lesbian and bisexual players are catered for but in Mass Effect, not particularly well.

Staying in the Background

Over the course of the four Mass Effect games, only Liara, Traynor, Peebee, Suvi and Vetra (three of whom came in Andromeda) are able to be romanced by a female player-character. If we consider Bioware’s own lore, then Liara and Peebee are not technically same-sex relationships due to the mono-gendered nature of the asari. I’m not going to lie, throwing asari into Mass Effect 1 always came across as pandering to an element of Star Trek fans that wanted a bit of blue alien nookie, but with Jadzia Dax replacing Captain Kirk.

Liara Mass Effect
Still, at least Shepard wasn’t an asshole like Javik, right Liara?

For gay males, the options are even worse. Cortez and Gil are the only Mass Effect characters to date that are gay, with Kaidan Alenko (ME3) and Reyes Vidal as bisexual options. Only Kaidan is a squadmate, which means the others lack the breadth of content that a straight option like Cora gets. Again, I understand this, but it presents difficulties in building a decent, believable relationship.

Mass Effect Gil Scott
I’m no expert, but these expressions also seem unbelievable.

Let’s take Suvi, as an example. You can flirt with Suvi from the get-go, and there’s a cute, amusing scene where Sara Ryder gushes out her words while trying to indicate her interest. But if you’re taking the game slowly to complete as much content as is possible, your romance with Suvi hits a brick wall. After a while, she will no longer have any dialogue, aside from a possible comment on a mission you’ve just done. When your conversations with Suvi result in her asking how it’s going, only for Sara, presented with no new content, to reply she should get back to things it’s difficult to believe in the relationship; perhaps more so since Suvi’s farewell seems to always be “Sound’s good”.

Suvi Anwar Mass Effect
Saying “Sounds good” whenever someone claiming to be interested in you has to leave does send a certain message.

Traynor from ME3 suffers a similar fate. You can respond to her interest following the Citadel coup mission and have sex and then… well, nothing much. A handful of auto dialogue flirty conversations aside, there is nothing else until the end-game (or Citadel DLC, if you bought it). I suppose you could rationalise it that there is an apocalyptic war going on and perhaps it isn’t the best time for romantic overtures, but then what better time to make the seconds count? You can piss away half your war budget on an aquarium after all. Sometimes Shepard’s priorities are not in order.

Dragon Age: Romances

Contrast this to Dragon Age, where virtually every same-sex option has been a squadmate. I can only think of Josephine in DA:I as a non-squad choice. I’m inclined to ignore Dragon Age 2, however, where every romance, except Sebastian Vael, was a bisexual option. DA2 was like an all-you-can-eat buffet at the expense of characterisation and development. Isabela was established in DA:O as bisexual, so continuing that into DA2 is fine but the others… not so much. One particular romance in DA2 strikes me as creepy and manipulative, but that’s another matter.

Merrill Dragon Age 2
Not to suggest anything by putting this picture here, of course…

DA:O introduced bisexual squad options Leliana and Zevran, and DA:I introduced lesbian Sera, gay male Dorian and bisexual Iron Bull. These options all had ongoing content to build the romance. Sure, progressing the romance was gated behind completing storyline quests but not to the extent the Suvi relationship is gated in Andromeda. Indeed, storyline gating is a small part of the Dragon Age experience. While played down in DA2 with the Rivalry/Friendship mechanic, DA:O and DA:I both utilised approval meters. If characters had an overall negative view of your words and actions, then you weren’t getting anywhere with them. As approval increases, more ways to cement the relationship emerge. Non-squad romances (Josephine and Cullen) aren’t restricted by the approval mechanic, which is a quibble, but I don’t doubt that again it is to do with budgetary restrictions due to the extra lines of dialogue required.

Dragon Age Inquisition Iron Bull
It doesn’t take much for this guy to think someone wants to ride the bull, mind.

Furthermore, Inquisition plays to the romantic aspect of these relationships. Romance Sera and you can trigger brief cutscenes on the roof or balcony whenever you’re in Skyhold. If you woo Josephine, you can take a stroll in the garden. Romances also have unique cutscenes/quests specific to that romance – Sera’s declaration of love, a duel for Josephine’s heart, Cullen’s gift, etc.

Fleshing It Out

In both DA2 and Inquisition, your party can make comments on your relationship with other party members while out in the world. In Inquisition, every party member has at least one exchange with your partner and this adds to the idea that the relationship exists outside the boundaries of dialogue wheels and cutscenes. It’s become an actual thing; a part of both your character and your partner. This leads to some heart-wrenching comments from your partner during the Tresspasser DLC where they openly express their concern for your well-being as the anchor begins killing you. In Andromeda, even with Ryder’s penchant for dying, there is no clear and believable reaction during a mission to Ryder’s situation even from a romanced Peebee.

Dragon Age Sera
Sera is delighted that everybody knows she’s with the Inquisitor

The original Mass Effect games almost never managed what Dragon Age has done. Andromeda has improved to a small point, but again, it has pushed same-sex relationships onto mostly non-squad characters and consequently confined the relationship to a self-contained box. Gay male characters won’t get to hear their lover bantering with others out in the field because their lover will never be there. Only Liam’s movie night hints that the relationship exists, and is known, to others in your team. You’re also unable to trigger Inquisition-style scenes where you simply spend time with your partner.

Cookies Sera
Cookies on the roof? My kinda girl!

Even back in Origins, you could trigger bedding cutscenes while at camp, as well as track down gifts for your loved ones. Mass Effect lacks these details, instead favouring small dialogue changes to standard scenes and portraying the romantic high point as sex.

We’ll Bang, Okay?

And let’s discuss the sex. Bioware has grown bolder over the years; sex between Sara and Peebee is explicit by video game standards, although I’m unsure as to just what Peebee is straddling on. The gay male scenes, however, are very tame in comparison. I can understand not going the whole hog and depicting a full sex act but fading to black as things get heated does come across as a slap in the face for people, especially when girl’s butts, boobs and the oh-so-evil nipple are displayed without a care.

Mass Effect Sara Ryder Peebee
And this scene is incredibly romantic and touching compared to the grimacing from earlier.

You don’t have to show throbbing male members and penetration to portray satisfying sex with a committed partner. Why not show the intimacy and closeness of two people who have found each other amidst the chaos? There is no reason to shortchange gay male players in this area, only a requirement to be more imaginative as to how you depict the act. Television has managed it over the years, and we know from Dragon Age: Origins that Bioware can do it as well. I’m not saying Inquisition is better in this regard, though, as it refrained from graphic sex depictions, and other than a shot of Dorian’s naked bum, nudity was again reserved for females.

Dorian Dragon Age
Not sure how to caption this…

Gay men are shortchanged with possible “fling” options, as well. If we cast aside the mono-gender complications, female Shepard can have a quick encounter with the asari Consort. They can flirt with Kelly Chambers – with no effect on carrying through a romanced Liara save – and later watch the strange, slightly uncomfortable dance scene. In Andromeda, casual sex with Peebee is an option even while pursuing another romance, and Keri T’Vessa is offered as another fling option. For a gay Shepard or Scott Ryder… erm… not much casual fun to be had.

It’s the Details that Count!

In truth, the Bioware team behind Mass Effect could learn something from the team behind Dragon Age. Romances in the Dragon Age series are just better because they’re more romantic. Tiny little details like ten-second cutscenes kissing your lover on a balcony might seem extraneous, but they add something that goes beyond the Mass Effect-style sex-scene payoff. Relationship-exclusive quest content also adds something, especially to non-squad relationships like Josephine. Again, Mass Effect is found lacking. And for those who fancy some no-strings same-sex fun, female characters have more options which leads to imbalance. Most of all, in the next instalment, Mass Effect needs to start making same-sex romantic partners (especially human ones) squad members, so that someone pursuing a same-sex relationship in the game feels less short-changed.

Mass Effect Traynor Toothbrush
At least Traynor got the toothbrush scene… and if you’ve not played Citadel DLC, NO, it doesn’t go anywhere near there!


  1. lol it doesn’t need to learn anything from Inquisition. In fact learning from Inquisition is what caused Andromeda to flop. They tried to make it like Inquisition and we fans of Mass Effect were not having it. All the relationships in Inquisition were trash. You got a Qunari who bangs dragons, and literally talks about sex 24/7 during questing. They also pretty much retconned and destroyed Qunari lore in the process. Then there’s Dorian who can’t seem to stop talking about what he does with his tongue. Sorry but keep that crap out of Mass Effect. We need well written characters not sex addicts into kink and bdsm. There’s porn for that.

    • I’d say what caused Mass Effect to “flop” (although EA’s own financial reports suggest it didn’t really flop at all) is the pressure put on a rookie team to deliver a game in 18 months by a publisher that couldn’t give a hoot whether the game was finished. There is also the small matter of EA believing No Man’s Sky was going to be the next big thing so wanting to copy that (because EA has the creative wealth of a rabid pigeon) and then nixing it part way through because that did actually flop.

      Other than the departure from ME2/3 corridor-shooter into an open world, Andromeda and Inquisition don’t have anything particularly special in common over and above the usual continuities between Bioware games (dialogue wheel and such). The open-world is hardly new to the series either since ‘exploring the galaxy’ was one of the major marketing points of Mass Effect 1. Of course, in retrospect, the technological limitations leading to environment repetition is all too obvious.

      Regardless, that wasn’t really the point of this post, and nor was the individual characters and their sexual proclivities. I discussed the development and narrative structure of relationships between the two games, which in almost all areas I strongly feel Inquisition comes out on top.

      There is simply more content – the little repeatable cutscenes, exclusive LI quests and more situational content out in the world or during main missions when having your LI in the party yields unique dialogue. They may seem small inclusions but when the objective of the game is to tell a story, then having the additional material enhances the experience.

      Relationships in Andromeda seem to exist inside the same narrative cell that they existed in throughout ME1 to 3. Only Liam seems to have any dialogue relating to a Ryder/Peebee romance and only pre-scripted events such as Movie Night show Ryder and their LI together. During missions and out in the world, there is almost no acknowledgment of the relationship.

      Gay men, until a later patch, couldn’t even romance a squadmate in Andromeda. I’ve not tried Scott/Jaal yet (haven’t actually played through as Scott yet) but if Sara/Peebe is anything to go by, I’m not holding my breath for the relationship to be acknowledged much outside of its cell.

      It’s fine to not like the options available. I don’t like every potential romance option. I did like Iron Bull’s but that may be because I enjoy BDSM. I haven’t tried Dorian’s yet as I still haven’t played a male character. And hey, it’s fine to dislike Inquisition as well but even if you do hate the characters and hate the game, it seems a little rash to dismiss everything Inquisition does as bad when there is extra content there that can help you build strong, believable player characters and their romantic interests.

    • Kayla – Origins had Zevran and Dragon Age 2 had Isabela. Both talk about sex a lot. I’m guessing you hated both of those games too which makes me wonder why you even bothered with inquisition? Also Iron Bull doesn’t bang dragons.

      • Zevran was also a well written character who went deeper than that, sex is alright when you don’t rely on it solely, Witcher, Origins doesn’t and Mass Effect never did. Inquisition did. In Inquisition all the characters are is their sexuality. Dragon Age 2 just plain sucks pure and simple. I agree with Kayla what made Mass Effect superior to Dragon Age was not only it’s writing and characters (circa ME1, ME2 and the first half of 3) but how real the characters felt. In Inquisition I feel like i’m in a damn sitcom, Varric and Cassandra were the only decently written companions. Bioware screwed up when they tried to turn Mass Effect into the same mmo fetch questy mess that was Inquisition, there’s a reason most of the old fans hated Inquisition compared to Origins, also a reason it performed badly. Bioware’s mistake was trying it with the Mass Effect fans who are even MORE vocal than DA fans. And yes, Iron Bull DOES speak to the Inquisitor about finding dragons erotic and stimulating, even talked about beating off to killing it. Iron Bull himself is pansexual which means he finds even creatures sexy. He does not care about the gender nor species of the being as long as he can “dominate” them.

  2. Zevran was also a well written character who went deeper than that, sex is alright when you don’t rely on it solely, Witcher, Origins doesn’t and Mass Effect never did. Inquisition did. In Inquistion all the characters are is their sexuality. Dragon Age 2 just plain sucks pure and simple. I agree with Kayla what made Mass Effect superior to Dragon Age was not only it’s writing and characters (circa ME1, ME2 and the first half of 3) but how real the characters felt. In Inquisition I feel like i’m in a damn sitcom, Varric and Cassandra were the only decently written companions. Bioware screwed up when they tried to turn Mass Effect into the same mmo fetch questy mess that was Inquisition, there’s a reason most of the old fans hated Inquisition compared to Origins, also a reason it performed badly. Bioware’s mistake was trying it with the Mass Effect fans who are even MORE vocal than DA fans.

    • Although EA is rarely forthcoming with statistics, their earnings reports suggest Inquisition did pretty well. It was the best performing Bioware game in history at launch in terms of units sold and racked up over a hundred million hours of playtime in single-player within the first few weeks.

      Inquisition has multiple issues, sure. There’s no big payoff battle in the main game (half-awake Corypheus in Legacy is tougher than Inquisition). Party-convo occurs too sparsely unless you’re on the PC and can download a hack – a particular issue given how much characterisation is revealed through party banter. Take Varric to the Winter Palace and your chances of unlocking all potential resolutions take a nosedive. Very few of the zones have any sort of storyline or clear objective. I could go on criticising Inquisition, but I have problems with all of these games. Even Mass Effect 2, which I know some people think is a perfect game, to me has no real story. The majority of the game is doing favours for people, and most of those favours involve decimating mercenary companies. Yeah, the characters are great. Won’t argue that. I’ll also say that no game I have ever played has topped the first time I played the Suicide Mission. The story, though, is just something you drop into now and again.

      Regardless of one’s feelings towards the gameplay choices and central narrative structures of the respective games, this post was never about Dragon Age being better than Mass Effect, nor did I suggest that every future Bioware game should be exactly like Inquisition. This post is about a specific element of Dragon Age that I feel is implemented better than it is in Mass Effect, particularly from an LGBT perspective.

      The original Mass Effect trilogy treated sex as the climax of a relationship arc with a small number of exceptions, such as Traynor where it is the start of the arc. Origins and Inquisition handled relationships better, in my opinion. There’s ongoing flirtation, there are those little cutscenes and asides you can have with your LI. Even the gift-mechanism in Origins is a nice mechanic to have, like giving Leliana a nug. It might not further anything from a storyline point-of-view, but it’s a little extra immersive element. Other characters talk about your relationship, moving outside of the bubble a relationship seems to almost exclusively exist in ME with a very small number of exceptions. Every relationship has its own ‘crisis-point’, unlike in Mass Effect where once it’s locked-in, it’s locked-in and you’ll live happily ever after – at least until the next game. Even the approval mechanic in Dragon Age adds a bit of depth to relationships, as drops in approval can trigger confrontations or break-ups. Unlike ME, you’re never the centre of the romantic universe so acting in a way your LI disapproves of can result in a trip to Dumpsville.

      ME3 started to fix some of the issues with relationships (particularly with the Citadel DLC), but even so, if you import a save with a romanced Liara, re-affirm the relationship at the start of ME3, you still have to lock it in again after the Citadel coup, and there is nothing that prevents you from switching to Traynor before that. You don’t even get a scene like the ME1 two-timing scene. Liara just apparently moves on without a care. And it makes Traynor look like a bitch since she is happy to try it on with someone who is supposedly in a long-term relationship transcending multiple star systems and death itself!

      I disagree that all of the Inquisition characters amounted to their sexuality. Dorian’s sexuality obviously plays a large part in his personal quest, but there is a lot more to him, such as his upbringing, his views on Tevinter society, his flawed beliefs regarding slavery, his personal regrets regarding some of the things that happen. Unless pursued by the player, Sera’s lesbianism is only mentioned a small number of times in party-chat; certainly, fewer than Zevran’s bisexuality is brought up in Origins and of all the things you can lose approval with Sera for, unlike Zevran, she doesn’t drop approval because she’s mistaken you talking to her as a sexual interest. If you don’t pursue a romance with her, then Josephine’s sexuality is never discussed, much like the heterosexual relationships available with Blackwall, Cassandra, Cullen and Solas.

      The writing of the characters really comes down to personal preference. There are characters I’m not fond of, but it’s not because I find them to be poorly written. It’s because I don’t like aspects of their personality, like Vivienne’s disingenuous gamesmanship, or Liam’s idealistic impulsiveness in Andromeda. I’m not fond of Jacob Taylor’s rigid “I’m a soldier” mentality, nor do I care much for Velanna in Awakenings who seems to go out of her way to take everything the wrong way. I can see why each of these characters is the way they are, their histories and circumstances that have led them to be the way they are. They’re as real as a collection of voice-acted pixels can be, they’re just not high on my list of people to engage in conversation.

      Just to clarify another point you have made on the reply to Sam – pansexuality does not mean you find creatures attractive. It is an attraction to people regardless of sex or gender identity. I appreciate this is a fantasy world with a degree of inter-species coupling but it still seems that sapience is at least a prerequisite when determining acceptable partners.

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