Romance with a close friend and ally has always been a selling point of the most well-known of BioWare’s RPGs. Whether you were traversing the stars with Bastila Shan or Garrus Vakarian or riding through the rugged hills with Blackwall, there have been several prospective partners for our characters to end up with at the end of the games’ stories.
The Old Republic is of course no stranger to this, boasting no fewer than twenty-two full-blown Companion romances, four semi-serious one-time flings (with two Companions and the two ‘poster’ NPCs for Rise of the Hutt Cartel), and two gender-dependent diplomatic marriage opportunities for the Agent on Voss.
As diverse as the options are, they have noticeably begun drying up since the game has begun expanding beyond its initial form, with Knights of the Fallen Empire attempting to reinvigorate matters, even if the success here is limited.
Compared to Hutt Cartel and Shadow of Revan, Fallen Empire does accomplish a marked success. In both of these previous expansions, your romanced Companion of choice would only acknowledge that you and they were in a relationship in the opening cutscene and this would never feature again. In both cases, you could romance the one-time Romance options Cytharat, Lemda Avesta, Lana Beniko, and Theron Shan while your partner could be standing right by your shoulder, and there would never be any acknowledgement of their feelings on this matter.
To compare this last point to a noteworthy example from the vanilla game, if you were a male Trooper who was romancing Elara Dorne, you would receive Dark Side points (and the appropriate negative points to affection if Dorne was tagging along) if you subsequently attempted to flirt with Jaxo when you and she caught up following the Quesh snippet. Of course, you can no longer lose Influence with Dorne, but it can safely be assumed that the Dark Side points are still given in this scenario.
Returning to the comparision between the current expansion to the previous expansions; in Fallen Empire, the romances with Lana Beniko and Theron Shan can actually go somewhere, and your previously-romanced Companion actually acknowledges their relationship status verbally when they reappear. There’s also the opportunity to fully-romance one of the brand-new Companions; in this case, it’s Koth Vortena.
Sadly, this success is very limited.
Whilst the original Romances weren’t as ‘free-talking’ as games such as Mass Effect are – you can initiate a conversation at any time in which you could repeat the same conversation regarding your relationship with them once it has started – each regular one-time separate conversation regarding the romance is at least different and advances the relationship until the eventual marriage proposal.
Fallen Empire romances are handled far too strictly. There’s the initial scene where the romance is locked-in, whether this is via reunion or a steady build-up of flirting, the possible break-up scene, and the scene where your romance option approaches you before you ride off to the final confrontation and shares a little moment with you. This notably has happened in all three Mass Effect games as well, and it makes sense from an ‘easing the tension’ perspective.
This doesn’t seem too strict in of itself, but this isn’t considering the fact that a romance can only occur if you romance Koth, Lana, or Theron throughout or if you have previously romanced a Companion who has already returned. Of course, this is currently limited to Aric Jorgan, Kaliyo Djannis, Torian Cadera, and Vette.
This is particularly limiting for those characters who have yet to see their appropriate Romance option return and those who are instant-60s. In both of these cases, the only romances which can be locked in are Koth, Lana, and Theron, although there is curiously the opportunity to flirt with Kaliyo regardless of your class or character’s gender.
It is a real shame that there isn’t more that can be done in this regard. Whilst I do believe that making every returning Romance a possible option for every character – although I would be interested in seeing certain Companions responding to romance appeals from classes whose ideals and career align with their own – is too much, the option should at least be there for an instant-60 character to initiate a romance with their respective Romance options.
They’d be able to spin a nice emotional aspect to it as well; in the case of a character not initiating a romance due to being too focused on their duty (or some such situation), they might have realised that – having very nearly died – they had made a mistake in not making their feelings known beforehand. Granted, this is also a fair bit of pressure to put onto the respective Companion at the time, so I can see many people being uncomfortable with this happening.
In my case, I have only initiated one new romance in my characters’ playthroughs of Fallen Empire – Gunslinger Calph has actually initiated a romance with Koth Vortena, who, due to the professions of both Lana and Theron, was the only option which ‘suited’ her. The only character who had gone through previously was Sniper Pippera, and my intense dislike of Lana guaranteed that the only ‘suitable’ option for her was not even worth considering, so my experimentation with Fallen Empire romance had to wait until it was Calph’s turn.
Needless to say that neither Theron nor Lana will ever be romanced by me. The Trooper is the only class which I can see would suit Theron without special circumstances – a defected Agent would also suit him, but this is a very special circumstance – and I consider Dorne and Jorgan to be two of the strongest Romance options in the game. Whilst I’d say that Lana definitely suits an ambitious Dark Warrior and Inquisitor more than their respective Force Romances, not to mention being the professional ‘equal’ to the Agent, I still wouldn’t bring myself to romance her.
Koth is the most ‘neutral’ Romance option, even if public opinion of him is such that it wouldn’t be widely-recommended. Personally, I’d say that Koth is actually pretty damn decent as a romance option, if only because he isn’t given any opportunities to whine or moan as he is prone to do an awful lot.
It also helps his cause in my case that Calph’s only possible Romance alternative is Corso Riggs, who isn’t exactly the best option available…
It is disappointing to say that romance in Fallen Empire isn’t as worthwhile as it could be, as romance is something which a lot of people are deeply invested in. The very strict limitations imposed on instant-60s as well as those who have yet to see either of their Romance options return are particularly annoying.
At the end of the day, romance in Fallen Empire is still far better handled than it was in either Hutt Cartel or Shadow, which is very nice to say. Furthermore, as nice as the romances were from the vanilla game, there was little ‘substance’ to them after the fact. All a romance did was open up new gift preferences for the respective Companions.
It would be interesting if, in future, a romance acted as a “performance booster” in-tandem with how Influence works now. Say for example you have a Companion at Influence 10 and a Romance option at Influence 5; the Romance option would, due to being ‘invigorated’ by the romance, perform to a similar extent as its higher level fellow, although this boost would eventually be lost if you raised both to Influence 50. At least in this way the Romance actually would mean an increase in more than just gift preferences, even if the boost would eventually amount to nothing if you increased their Influence enough.
As it is, the gift preferences are currently broken, so maybe it’s a good thing they haven’t done anything further yet, as this would potentially be broken in turn.
Considering that of the Companions who are slated to return in the next expansion(s), only three (assuming that the datamined Zenith mission will make an appearance in a possible 4.9) are non-Romance options, it will be interesting to return to this topic once all of the possible romances have returned.
Until then, it's just having to cope with limited opportunities which, sadly, render the possible romances as really quite uninteresting outside of these very limited moments. It would have been more interesting and investing if we could have had even the smallest of moments with our romance-of-choice between Chapters IX and XVI just to help us as players develop a similar - if understandably far more platonic - connection to these characters as our own characters had done.