Saturday, July 13, 2024

The Waylanders Will Change How We See Video Game Romance For Good

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll have noticed that The Waylanders, an RPG that is heavily inspired by both Dragon Age and Baldur’s Gate, was released on early access back in June of this year. And like most things, people were wondering if, with all the lovely companions The Waylanders offered, would any of them be up for a bit of smooching and romance?

As the resident RPG nerd here at Gayming, this new game from Gato Studios struck my interest for two reasons. One, I love fantasy, romance, and drama, and two, I needed to know just how gay The Waylanders was going to be. So I did two things: played the game and talked to Lead Writer of The Waylanders, Emily Grace Buck.

Without going into too much detail and spoiling our early access review, what I saw was the beginning of a game that could very much right the wrongs of the video game RPGs that it’s inspired from in every single way. For this article, I’ll be focusing on that statement in regards to romance and characters, but will touch upon the gameplay and the story’s narrative in my full review.

At the time of our conversation, the romance system has yet to be included in the early access of The Waylanders. It’s not hard to see why – romance is a complex thing to include in video games, particularly when you’re implementing features such as polyamory, time travel and how both of them can affect how relationships are approached in-game.

“We’re [also] tracking multiple relationships with each other,” Buck tells me. It’s important for you to know that because, as I found out, you are not the single most important thing in these character’s lives. They can care about and love you a lot, but you aren’t their whole world. Hell, sometimes they may not want you – but someone else instead. It’s very reminiscent of how in Fire Emblem games, characters can end up together instead of falling for your charms instead. Though if you’re looking forward to how in-depth that goes, Buck tells me that their version of relationships between characters – romantic or otherwise – isn’t going to be “as complex” as it is in Fire Emblem. Still, I’m impressed at the thought of in-game relationships that I’m not involved in. It may not fit into your ‘gaming fantasy’ – in fact, it most likely challenges it, but that just makes The Waylanders even more interesting to me. Besides, I’m a shipper at heart.

With The Waylanders being so character-driven – not to mention providing us with our fair share of companions and important characters for us to talk to and romance – it wouldn’t be too off the mark to wonder just how these characters will interact with one another without it being a system overload. After all, the game has time travel and while it isn’t the first to mess with that concept, tracking character development and relationships sound beyond difficult.

Amergin, one of your companions and a potential love interest.

“I think it can be [difficult].” Buck acknowledges. “You run the risks of creating too many characters or creating characters that are awesome in their own right but don’t necessarily connect to the larger plot or larger themes of the story. Trying to wrangle all that is probably the most difficult aspect because you can see even in huge budget examples where that gets totally out of hand, like Game of Thrones.” As for The Waylanders? It’s a challenge that Buck loves, as the emphasis on character and how you can help shape their destiny, personality and see them in new ways – falling in love or becoming closer friends – that makes writing for the game feel extremely satisfying.

As for the difficulties of time travel… Well, writing it is one thing, but trying to juggle a relationship or two? That’s where things get really difficult. How? Even if you’ve been flirting with a character from the Celtic Age, it doesn’t mean they’ll still have the same feelings for you when you travel into the future. Hell, if you’ve been romancing a mortal character, they may not even be the same person you remember!

“Some of them are still going to be all about you. Some of them are not going to be thrilled that you kind of popped out of existence and stopped back in.” Buck explains. “But also, those [previous] romances evolve as you go back and forth, because the more you do in the past, the more that affects the future. It’s a tricky balance, but it’s a lot of fun to think about. And for the reincarnated characters, whether or not you choose to romance them again in the future, or they choose to romance you is based on a lot of factors. I mean, they’re the same soul but they’re a different person who grew up in a different environment. They’re not necessarily, you know, the same age, they don’t look the same – they were born into a completely different body and that could mean any number of things for both you and them, that you’re going to have to grapple with as you move forward.”

Romance in video games has been analyzed time and time again. What we loved before with Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect aka, picking x and y to get to the sex scenes, has grown stale. In The Waylanders, there are personal, companion quests that can help with romance, but your actions throughout the main game matter too. If you mess up in the future and vice versa, that’s going to affect your companions relationship with you. “Some of [the quests] determine that timeline of how things will progress forward in the future.” Buck further explains. “So there are a few quests that are a bit puzzling, like something is happening in the Medieval era, and part of how you have to solve it is to go back to the past and change something as well. Whether that’s you know, a person’s mind or something physical, like knocking down a wall. It differs depending on which quest you’re doing.”

Nazhedja, an important Mourian character and a potential love interest

Outside of quests, the personality of the character you’re romancing is also going to dictate how you approach them. As Buck tells me, some characters are very much “down to fuck” the moment you meet them – similar to how Jack in Mass Effect 2 was handled – but you’ll have to work harder to get to know them. Others are “polyamorous” whereas others are “aggressively not polyamorous” – so you’ll need to figure out how you’re going to determine each of your relationships.

We know that polyamory is going to be part of the game, but another question that was on my mind harkened back to my time with BioWare games and my discovery that I could be queer in them. Would this be possible in The Waylanders?

Let me be blunt: Buck confirms that The Waylanders is gay as fuck and, being queer herself, was something that has been on her mind since day one of the job. Queer content can be found in the RPGs that inspired The Waylanders, but unlike those, it goes a step further by allowing players the chance to pick their pronouns, body type, and voice separately. That with these options, players will be able to play as non-binary or trans if they wanted to. And it doesn’t just stop there. The majority of the romances in this game are not going to be gender-locked, but they will acknowledge differences of gender in your relationship. For example, if you romance Berath as a character that identifies as male, he will react differently if you’re a female. It isn’t going to be the same dialogue all the time.

With the two different spaces of time – Celts and Medieval – romance and how your romantic relationships in general are perceived will be a little different.

“[In a lot of ways] the ancient Celts were much more sexually and gender progressive than our current culture. When it comes to the Medieval era, when you’re in Catholic Spain that…is a little bit different, obviously.” Buck tells me. Of course some queer players may not be all that down to have their sexuality labeled as an ‘affront to god’, but Buck reassures me that Gato Studios is handling everything with the care it deserves and they do not want to “trigger queer players.”

Berath, a companion and potential love interest

Nor does Gato Studios want to queer-bait. Players of Dragon Age: Inquisition – which has largely been praised by critics and players alike – may remember moments where flirtatious dialogue would be indicated by a love heart. You’d be forgiven for thinking that would be enough to win the heart of your chosen love interest, but after so long, a character may reject you because they either don’t swing that way or they’re just racist (sorry Cullen fans.) While not as offensive as Fire Emblem: Three Houses queer-bait, it still left queer players in the lurch, and that’s something Gato Studios are doing their best to avoid by leaning away from any sort of romance text type choices that cannot go past a certain point.

There was a lot more discussed about The Waylanders, such as the handling of other cultures, combat, and the constant comparisons to Dragon Age, but we’ll be saving that for another time. As for romance, queer and otherwise, we’re cautious but excited to see what The Waylanders has on offer when it finally adds it into the game. After all, it still is in early access and there’s a lot more to go before we can play the game as intended.

For our full review of The Waylanders early access – as well as a sneak peak on who we plan to romance – keep your eyes peeled as there’s a lot of content for us to cover! In the meantime, if this article has got your interest piqued, you’re able to follow The Waylanders on Twitter, Facebook, Steam, and GOG.

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