Coming into Dragon Age II, I knew which character I wanted to wind up in a relationship with. That character was funny, attractive, and seemed like the kind of person I would look up to. She’d even made a short, yet impactful appearance in the prior game in the series, Dragon Age: Origins, which told me that she had a good amount of staying power in the series. Not only that, but I was planning on playing a rogue and, as she was a mage, I’d be able to keep her in my party all the time without sacrificing party composition. Her name is Merrill and she was, in short, perfect for me.
And yet I wound up with Isabela.
Let me explain. Oddly enough, I played through the three current mainline Dragon Age titles in reverse order, starting by getting my hands on a copy of Dragon Age: Inquisition before moving on to II and then ending — for now — with Origins. This came with a variety of odd experiences, including the awe of seeing a character again, but before they’ve gone through much of their character growth or even before they’ve become a prominent figure, though that was primarily limited to the people that were still prominently displayed. I mean, it honestly took me a long time and a good bit of wiki searching to even remember that I’d seen Alistair as a king in Inquisition already when I got around to his first appearance in Origins. However, even for characters that I hadn’t gotten to see much of in my time with Inquisition before playing the prior games, I still had a way of knowing who the major players were and had even thought I’d figured out who I was going to romance when I got to those earlier titles. I am talking, of course, about the Tapestry in Dragon Age Keep.
I honestly messed up my first time playing Inquisition, having forgotten to actually complete the Tapestry to set up the world of Dragon Age how I wanted. While there are a few options in-game, the only way to decide what the prior player characters had done was through the Tapestry. I played for a good couple of hours, collecting things and completing quests, when suddenly I learned details about prior games. At that moment, I realised that, even though I’d imported my Tapestry like I was supposed to, I’d accidentally left most of the details with the default options in place. I stopped in my tracks, logged back onto the site, and worked through every little node on the site.
I hadn’t yet played II or Origins, so I mostly went with whatever sounded the best from my limited knowledge. I marked all of the quests as completed and every time there was an option to kill someone or let them live, I took the latter option. Upon reflection, that might not have been the best idea in some cases, but I was fine with it. Then I came to the option of who my prior heroes would have romanced. I wanted both of the previous protagonists to be women and for their lovers to also be women, so that reduced my options a little. Leliana won by default for Origins (though she also didn’t exactly work out in my first real playthrough — I am bad at picking partners), whereas I had two real options for II: Merrill, a cute elven mage, and Isabela, a ferocious pirate. They both looked as though they could be fun partners, but, for reasons I’ve already explained, I went with Merrill.
Fast forwarding to my first time playing II, I knew I wanted to try to play consistently with what I had selected in Keep’s Tapestry. That meant being Diplomatic, siding with the mages, and, most of all, falling in love with Merrill. Blessedly, she was everything I was hoping she would be, and more! I’m always a sucker for plots where beings or abilities thought to be pure evil are revealed to be, in fact, far more complicated, so Merrill’s use of Blood Magic and interest in Demons definitely piqued my interest. Overall, she was nice, kind, and extremely useful in all of my fights. Uniquely, I rarely felt like I had to pick the best options for her, with my own personal choices just naturally matching up with her tastes.
Yet, when I walked into the local tavern, The Hanged Man, Isabela was there. Her quests were fun, her dialogue lively, and her countenance beautifully vivacious. Each time she would flirt with me, I would fall further and further for the pirate. She was constantly in my party — even though that meant I had two melee rogues at the same time — and I loved to watch her carve through the battlefield.
Over time, I fell away from Merrill. We still clicked really well, but she seemed more like a good friend than a romantic interest. However, Isabela was different. She felt like someone I could easily be friends with, yes, but something about her just spoke to me. Her endless well of confidence was certainly a driving force on that front, but there was something else too.
In particular, what stood out to me was how she brought out my character’s more sarcastic attitude. Isabela tended to approve of these dialogue choices alongside my typical “nice and fair person” perspective, so I changed up how my character acted. I certainly know that, while I still liked being diplomatic and kind, many of the neutral and funny options were often the most entertaining and, by generally indulging in that less serious side of my character, even the nicer choices still held that tinge of humour. I was worried at first that I would be abandoning my kindness, but instead, I only added that edge of sarcasm and wit. I found myself actually liking my character more and becoming more comfortable with cracking jokes about situations. In some ways, that comfort even extended outside of the game. I’d always been a jokester of sorts, and now I was finding myself growing more confident in my own sense of humour and personality.
So, instead of just being an attractive videogame character, it turned out that Isabela made me reconsider my character, improving her to a point where I got so much more enjoyment out of the game, even when the pirate wasn’t actually on screen. In some ways, I even felt like a better version of myself in real life. I’ll admit, this was still a rather formative time in my life (though who’s to say one’s formative years ever truly end?), so I can’t up and give a fictional thief all the credit, but I also can’t discount how she made me feel.
Eventually, I made it into Act 2 and found myself with Isabela. With how much time I’d sunk into flirting with her, my decision had essentially already been made, but the situation still dawned on me. The pirate had stolen my heart, shown me a more fun way to play the game, and turned that title into one of my favourite RPGs. Even now, I feel a bit bad for Merrill, but at least in Dragon Age II, it’s the pirate wife for me.