Yesterday I made the hardest choice in Dragon Age: Inquisition. I decided not to romance Iron Bull.
This is my third playthrough of Inquisition. I wasn’t a big Dragon Age person when I started it the first time around. In fact, I’m not really a big fantasy fan, but the game had come highly recommended by several friends and I wanted to see what the fuss was about. That first playthrough blew my mind, and it became hard not to think of the choices I made as canon. Sure, I’d recruited the Templars instead of the mages on the second go around because I’d heard that “Champions of the Just” was a great quest, but everything else was more or less the same, just with a human instead of a Qunari. I still alienated Solas, didn’t get close to Sera or Blackwall, reunited Celene and Briala in the quest “Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts”. These are the choices that feel like the game’s canon, to me.
I may make some of those choices again, but I had to draw a line somewhere. In my last two games I romanced Iron Bull and this time I’ve promised myself that I won’t, because I want to finally experience something new.
As a person who grew up watching movies such as She’s All That, it was hard to say no to Iron Bull. He’s voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr, who is simply having a wonderful time. In a metatextual way, Bull was always the most appealing option. He was new to the series, like I was, and largely didn’t give a shit about the long histories and political tensions of Ferelden and Orlais. His romance isn’t a sweeping epic, unlike other options, which lay on the angst to an embarrassing degree. Bull is just a very large guy who likes to fuck. When the chips are down he’ll commit, but it’s always on your terms. He’s very open about being dominant in bed and he’s respectful of your boundaries. Sure he’s a spy for the Qunari, who seek to conquer the world, but at least he tells you about it, and allows you to decide for yourself whether or not you’ll trust him. That kind of gentle, kind love is my bread and butter. That’s the kind of thing that makes She’s All That fun to watch – you’re seeing two people learn how to trust each other, even if they make some mistakes along the way.
In this playthrough I’ve been eager to unlock the quest that will allow me to recruit Iron Bull. He’s just a great party member. I love his banter with the other characters. I like his gruff, no nonsense demeanour. I like that he is roughly the size of a truck and voiced by a ’90s teen heartthrob. No matter what, I want that in my party. I’ve come to realise, though, that I shouldn’t romance him for the third time.
I’m playing an elf named Shesta this time around, and while the Dalish elves are still outside of society, they’re more inherently ingrained into the politics of the world than my Qunari and human characters were. I’m trying really hard to play her that way. Whenever a character asks me if I believe in the Maker, I remind them that the elves follow their own gods, for instance. That means Shesta probably has more reservations about being with someone like Bull than my previous two Inquisitors did. I still feel as though I’m breaking the canon of my playthroughs, but this feels truer to the character I’m playing as now.
Instead, I’ve set my eyes on Cullen Rutherford, who first appeared in Dragon Age: Origins. He’s cute, my rough-around-the-edges warrior likes how awkward he can get, and she relates to his struggle to understand how to do the right thing when so much is on the line. The truth is that unlike the first time I played this game, I’m now already invested in the world of Dragon Age. I don’t need Iron Bull to be an anchor for me – I know what’s going on, I know what the ramifications of my choices are, and I feel as embedded in the world as Cullen is.
When I think about what I’m missing out on, it feels a little like a break up. I’m not going to hear Freddie Prinze Jr call me “kadan”, which means “my heart” in Bull’s native tongue, this time around. Being with him again would just be a repetition of the same choices I always make, though. In real life if you’re stuck in a rut in a relationship, breaking up is what you do. It’s scary to take that leap, but it gives you a chance to meet someone new, and fall in love all over again.