"Have you ever considered the joys and pleasures of sexual congress with a wildshaped Druid?" propounded Baldur's Gate 3 lead writer Adam Smith alongside today's showcase. "Because at Larian, we have, and ultimately landed on the side of giving the people what they want: tender, consensual romance with a man temporarily transformed into a grizzly bear." Alright man, you know what, sure.
The joys and pleasures of sexual congress with a wildshaped Druid are not quite for me but I keep an open mind, and watching Larian demo one such romance scene at its final Panel From Hell preview presentation of Baldur's Gate 3 between fan favorite elf vampire Astarion and the hunky druid in question, Halsin (who eventually goes full grizzly bear mode), I was struck by the sheer amount of effort put into the scene.
The lead-up features a tasteful sprinkling of Austin Powers-esque scenery censorship when our duo gets in the buff, the second time we've witnessed this "king of all gags" in gaming in less than a month—thank you, Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth. There seem to be a myriad of ways the scene with Halsin can play out, including vanilla, bear mode, and "sorry, I think I've got a headache tonight," which can be opted into or out of at various points in the conversation.
At the final moment of ursine coitus, the camera cut away to a nearby squirrel watching from a tree branch—the little guy dropped his little acorn, mouth agape like something out of Shrek, and let me tell you, I was hooting aloud.
The earlier demoed date in downtown Baldur's Gate with tiefling barbarian companion Karlach Demonsbane was a little bit more familiar and tame, though she does seem to have some manner of hell-bomb surgically inserted in her torso. Just like the grizzly scene we saw earlier (badabing) this sequence looks both impressively bespoke and well realized, but also open ended. Do you request a bottle of wine from your grumpy half-orc server, like a regular Don Juan, or opt for tea for the table like some kind of fuddy duddy? Getting lucky with Karlach Demonsbane hangs in the balance.
That's what has me excited for BG3's romance storylines, just like the wider game: this promise of über high production values coupled with a classic RPG sense of choice and reactivity. In the presentation, Larian's writers described how its romance subplots have a large number of permutations depending on how you approach them, the main quest, and side stories, with some companions even being open to polyamory and others wanting to stay exclusive.
Look, I'm not trying to dunk on Starfield here, I'm really excited for it, but romance has never been a strong suit or even really a focus for Bethesda. Remember how in Skyrim you'd just wear the amulet of "I'm single and ready to mingle," then bring an NPC back to your house where they'd just kind of hang out and sleep in your bed? At least Skyrim seemed to know what kind of game it was, but beginning with Fallout 4 Bethesda started chasing more authored companion love stories that just never landed super well.
Starfield's got plenty of its own selling points, but in terms of those four dopey astronaut employees you'll get to start workplace relationships with, buddy, there's just no chance—they are gonna get annihilated by Larian's stable of demon girl mommies and freaky bear druid daddies.
I sense a change in the wind: the great slumbering masses of Tumblr-core BioWare romance fans, the type of gamers who made fan cams of Anders and Fenris in Dragon Age 2 have been reawakened. CD Projekt has offered something similar on occasion, but with BioWare having gone dark for so long, this sardaukar has wandered the wastes of the internet with no unifying cause. If BioWare was Rob Stark (I guess Anthem is the Red Wedding maybe?) Larian is Jon Snow. Baby, there's a new King in the North. Get ready for an unprecedented economy of Astarion-fueled fan cams and fanart.