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Star Wars: The Old Republic Column: Is Romance Important?

By Michael Bitton on February 16, 2011

BioWare is renowned for (among other things) the interesting romantic relationships players can have with characters in their RPGs and given the fact that Valentine’s Day was this week, it’s as good an opportunity as any to discuss romance in Star Wars: the Old Republic.

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Love has always been a crucial part of the Star Wars mythos. Harrison Ford (as Han Solo) famously ad-libbed the lines “I know” in response to Leia’s “I love you” before being encased in carbonite in The Empire Strikes Back, Anakin’s love (and subsequent fear of loss) for Padme served as a catalyst for his eventual fall to the Dark Side in the prequel trilogy, the Expanded Universe books and comics are replete with romances, and of course, the Knights of the Old Republic series also allows players to romance their companions.

Unsurprisingly then, it’s been confirmed for some time now that players would be able to romance their companions in Star Wars: The Old Republic. While this would initially come across as a given when taking into account BioWare’s history of allowing for this in their games, I’d say it’s probably a first for the MMOG genre and that is certainly worth considering a bit deeper.

BioWare games have featured romances going as far back as Baldur’s Gate II, where the player can romance (and even impregnate) the character Aerie or influence the alignment of Viconia through romance dialogues. Later, the original Knights of the Old Republic game allowed for players to romance their companion characters, and these romances added a gratifying extra layer of depth to Revan’s struggle between walking the Dark or Light sides of The Force. Of course, the more recent Dragon Age and Mass Effect series took companion romances to a number of different levels.

So, what do we know about romances in The Old Republic so far? Well, for one, like many of BioWare’s previous games, being involved in a romantic relationship with your companion is totally optional. If you’re not the lovey dovey type, you need not fret.  Romances will also be a bit more PG or PG-13 in Star Wars: The Old Republic. I’m not sure if that simply means we won’t see situations such as the possibility for a threesome (a’la Dragon Age), or if the types of scenes and content will simply be a bit toned down.  However, I do feel confident in saying that if you’re expecting to play out some crazy erotic Star Wars fanfic In The Old Republic I’m sorry to have to crush your crazy dreams here.

Also, similar to a few other BioWare RPGs, you’ll be able to engage in a romantic relationship with several characters at once, though your lovers may not be too happy with you if they find out. Smugglers and Imperial Agents will probably run into these opportunities a bit more, as they seem to have a knack for flirting with the opposite (or perhaps even same) sex at every chance they get. Finally, Daniel Erickson has also strongly hinted at the fact that Jedi characters involved in a romance may find themselves treading down the Dark Side of The Force, noting an early storyline on Tython which introduces players to the restrictions placed upon the emotions of Jedi.

If you care about the potential for romance in your SW:TOR character’s storyline, I’d say there is a good deal of information available to assure you that possibility will very much be there and be fleshed out. However, I have to ask, is it really important?

Obviously, this is going to be something that fans will have vastly different opinions on, but for me I say yes, it is fairly important, at least for the game’s storytelling. Romances in general offer a good deal of added depth to most storylines and this is especially true given the nature of Star Wars and taking into account that players will have to make difficult decisions (Morrigan disapproves, anyone?). It’s one thing to affect the influence of your stalwart Wookiee companion, but what if one of the characters you are affecting with your actions is your romantic interest? How does that affect the storyline?  Face it, you’re probably going to be a bit more invested in such a character, and perhaps even more so your own character as you may feel that their fates are a bit more intertwined.

Obviously, I don’t know to what extent BioWare will allow for romantic storylines to affect your character’s overall story (especially since they are optional), but I am also thinking about the possibility of using the implicit trust stemming from a romantic relationship with a companion to manipulate them and exercise your influence upon them in a stronger way (think Atton Rand in KOTOR II). On the flip side, it would be interesting to see a companion reject the player character’s influence and the relationship deteriorate or even completely fall apart as a result.

Earlier, I mentioned that this is probably the first time an MMO would allow players to explore romantic relationships with other characters, and so that is also one other angle to look at it from. There are new opportunities here that simply aren’t available in single-player RPGs. For one, the story doesn’t necessarily end, which means romantic (as well as platonic) relationships with your companion characters all have the potential for a lot more depth and permanence. The romance doesn’t need to end because the main storyline does. New content could offer new and different opportunities to explore your relationships (again, both platonic and romantic) with your companions. Also, speaking of permanence, it’s one thing to decide whether or not to kill the Captain on the ship, but it is another to say, lose out on a chance for a romance with Vette, or (if the game allows for it) make a decision that completely ruins the romantic relationship. I don’t know that companions will outright abandon you as a consequence of certain decisions or alignment (e.g. Leliana or Wynne from Dragon Age), but there’s nothing to say your relationship with that character may not become completely business, and, well, there’s no ability to quickload and reconsider your actions (though you can make small corrections to your Dark/Light meter using Diplomacy missions).

I don’t know that BioWare will explore the various opportunities to take their romance storylines to different levels with Star Wars: The Old Republic, and even if they didn’t it wouldn’t bother me all too much, but it’s certainly been an interesting exercise giving it some thought this week.

With that said, I’d like to hear your thoughts on the subject. Do you think that the fact SW:TOR is an MMO offers BioWare unique opportunities to evolve their romance storylines? If so, how? Share your take in the comments below!

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