"Dragon Age: Inquisition" (2014): Why Cassandra Is the Best Romance
Dragon Age: Inquisition is the third installment of the Dragon Age video game franchise, and Cassandra Pentaghast is but one of many characters that can be romanced.
I've been in love with Cassandra since Dragon Age 2, where she first appeared interrogating Varric about the whereabouts of Hawke. Her shouting "Bullshit!" and slamming Varric around was pretty entertaining. She was also just beautiful, fierce, and a strong, good woman.
Why wouldn't I want to romance her?
I bought Inquisition specifically to romance both Cassandra and Solas.
I wanted to romance Solas because I had read the book The Masked Empire before Inquisition's release, and I had the suspicion that Solas had something to do with the events in that book, that perhaps he was a Dread Wolf agent like Felassan.
Basically, I thought romancing Solas would give me some insight to the story. So I romanced him first and . . . I hated it. The entire romance is him being a condescending prick to Lavellan and ultimately abandoning her to die when he eventually brings down the Veil.
He emotionally abused her the entire time (lying to her, manipulating her, belittling her culture both to her face and behind her back in party banters), while using her and her organization for his own ends . . . I will never understand why the Solas romance is so popular.
To be fair, though, there were some parts of the (very bare-bones) romance that I liked. The ball at Halamshiral, for example, is probably the best part of the entire base game romance with Solas. Lavellan can tease Solas about whether or not he can dance (he insists that he can), and at the end of the quest, when she is tired and unhappy, he will offer to dance with her to cheer her up.
To me, it's the only part of the romance where Solas is genuinely caring and sweet. He sets aside his bitter anti-Dalish bullsh*t and takes care of the Inquistor when she's emotionally drained. But it's just one instance, and it doesn't make up for everything else he pulls, unfortunately.
But whatever. After ditching Solas, I rolled a male Lavellan and romanced Cassandra.
She was the Only Good Female Option
Let me pause here to say that I will be forever depressed that Cassandra is straight.
The first reason is that I love her character so much and dislike playing a male just to romance her. The second reason is that the romance options for lesbians in Inquisition are . . . pretty bad.
Sera is emotionally abusive towards Lavellan, often insulting her culture and threatening her with violence. It's a highly toxic relationship.
Yes, I realize that the romances would be boring if all of them were fluffy and happy . . . but lesbians have so few choices as it is. Why make a romance for us that is depressing and abusive? Why can't we ever have the fluffy happy shit for once?
Sera is the first lesbian character in the entire Dragon Age franchise and she is also the biggest asshole in the entire Dragon Age franchise. I hate her more than Fenris and Solas combined. Why are all the elf characters so bitchy?
I don't play these games to be depressed. I play them to have fun! And as someone who loves playing mage Lavellan, trying to be with Sera—the only lesbian in the game—is damn depressing.
I'll forever hate the way Sera's (ugly) face twists up when you first meet her and she sees that you're an elf. She basically sneers on you in disgust. I understand that she is lost, going through an existential crises, and thinks meeting the Herald of Andraste will help her find peace and a place to belong. I understand that she has expectations (that the Herald of a human religion should be, well . . . human), but at the same time, she completely dismisses the fact that the Herald is a person with feelings and maybe she shouldn't sneer at them and insult them?
And for people who think it's "stupid" to accuse Sera of abuse . . . what the hell do you think abuse is? Abuse is continuously subjecting someone to emotional and/or physical cruelty. Sera ridicules and insults the Inquisitor's body, appearance, decisions, culture, beliefs, and relationships, peppered with repeated threats of violence and dismissal . . . I mean, she's continuously, unapologetically cruel.
This is abuse.
And trying to emotionally manipulate someone into rejecting their own culture and beliefs? Also cruel and also abuse.
Geez. The number of people who will make excuses for her . . . It's amazing how few people seem to grasp what emotional abuse actually is and what it looks like. No wonder it isn't taken seriously.
And on top of being a royal asshole who constantly mocks Lavellan's culture and laughs in her face during her most painful moments (she laughs at you when Solas dumps you, even if she's your friend), Sera is just . . . ugly. I think of her as a butterface. She has a nice body . . . but her face.
As a lesbian who waited several years to finally see a lesbian in these games, Sera was the ultimate disappointment. I mean, even Fenris can successfully date a mage Hawke without insulting them directly and abusing them.
This is also probably why I loved the Leliana romance so much. No toxic drama, no abuse. But it was only like that because there was an option for male players to romance her. And god forbid male players should ever have a romance that is toxic and abusive. Meanwhile, most of the female-targeted romances (Alistair, Zevran, Fenris, Anders, Blackwall, Solas, Iron Bull) can end with betrayal, death, and abandonment. (And given that those characters are all male, gay men get screwed over too.)
I'm tired of having to play a straight male just to get a happy ending. Gay people deserve fluffy romances, too!
For the curious, I waited for an actual lesbian to romance in Dragon Age because sometimes, romancing a bisexual woman when you're a lesbian sucks, and Isabela from Dragon Age 2 is a prime example of this.
Isabela simply won't shut up about d*ck and d*ck jokes. For a lesbian, this is going to get tiresome fast. I don't want to be with someone who's always talking about men or how much she loves f*cking them. For a lesbian, it's gross.
Yes, I'm aware that Isebela seems to prefer women. She even has a banter with Bethany about women being more fun and having more parts. It doesn't change the fact that she talks about men constantly.
In the first Dragon Age, you can have a threesome with her and Leliana, plus Alistair and Zevran if they're in the party. I don't mind having a threesome with just Isabela and Leliana, but I find it annoying that Isabela is so attached to Zevran that she tries to get him in on the threesome.
But you rejecting Zevran's invitation as a female Warden means losing approval from Zevran. Meanwhile, Alistair can object to Zevran being there and his sexuality as a straight male is respected without griping and complaints. No demands that Alistair's sexuality be "fluid."
This entirely annoying situation only happens because Isabela is bisexual.
And it carries over to Dragon Age 2. In the sequel, Isabela won't shut up about men and keeps making gross jokes, while flirting with every male in your party. Then later, Zevran makes a cameo, and she tries to trot off and have sex with him, even though she's in a relationship with Hawke.
She won't go if Hawke gets upset, but the fact that she's constantly trying to bang a male when you're with her is . . . Ugh. Why would any lesbian want to deal with that in a relationship?
This is why I thoroughly enjoy flirting with Tallis in The Mark of the Assassin. For the first time, Isabela gets a taste of her own medicine in that Hawke can flirt shamelessly with someone else right in front of her. And if you're playing Marian Hawke, it's feels even more vindicating because Isabela actually gets jealous at one point and borderline threatens Tallis to back off.
You don't have to go through any of that will Merrill.
So you can see why I would have been so disappointed with Sera. Sera is childish, ugly, mean, vindictive, the list goes on and on. Probably the only good thing about her is that she doesn't make d*ck jokes unless you're playing a male (and even then, the jokes are not continuous).
That said, Josephine's romance is very sweet and fluffy, but once again, that's because it was written with a straight male Inquisitor in mind. Again, male players get to have nice, fun romances where they aren't abused and nothing bad really happens.
So when Josephine was written, the writers were trying to appeal to their male audience. It's obvious in the way the animations are all male during every cut scene in her romance. For example, during the duel scene where Josephine runs and the Inquisitor picks her up, this was obviously animated for a male human (the original default protagonist) as the animations just look bad when playing a woman or dwarf.
I recall rather painfully how my dainty female Lavellan sat in Josephine's office with her legs spread like a dude . . . Ironically, that's how I sit in real life. But the fact that the male animations were used in Josephine's scenes speaks volumes about who they expected to be romancing her.
So once again, the bisexual character gets a fluffy romance because it was written for straight male players, while the lesbian character gets a shitty romance if they're playing an elf or a questionable romance if they're playing any other race.
If you're a dwarf, she infantalizes you. If you're a qunari, she fetishes you. It's like Sera can't see that you're a person unless you're playing a human.
And on top of all that, Sera is very young. She's barely nineteen, while the Inquisitor I would peg to be in their late twenties. To be fair, your Inquisitor can be any age you want, but to me, there always seems to be a huge gap in emotional maturity between the Inquisitor and Sera, which makes a romance between them . . . icky.
Does Sera even have the emotional maturity for an actual romance? She is literally a crazy lesbian trope.
But let's not make this a rant about Sera. Let's get back to Cassandra.
Romancing Cassandra as a Mage
Keep in mind I romanced Cassandra when the game first came out, before we had a Bi Cassandra mod. And even when the mod was released, it was taken down because of absurd fan backlash (Sexuality is not "fluid" except for bisexuals and no one can "identify" as a biological sex. Being a lesbian doesn't just mean you only date women. It means you're only attracted to women. Sigh. But the author of the linked post is otherwise on point.)
I can't imagine why it should matter that some players want to pretend Cassandra is bisexual or even a lesbian in the privacy of their own games. I recall reading some infuriatingly ignorant comments from insecure male gamers who insisted that Cassandra couldn't like women because she liked romance. Like . . . what?
Being gay has nothing to do with your personality. Sexuality is a biological reaction that happens in your pants when you find someone attractive. It doesn't determine your hobbies and interests. For f*ck's sake.
These guys were so threatened by the very idea of a make believe pixel woman liking other women. I mean, sure. I was bummed that Cassandra was straight but I didn't boycott Bioware over it. I just played a male character and went on with my life.
I chose to play a mage because I already knew that Cassandra had loved a mage in her past and was angry that he had died at the conclave explosion. It was the entire reason she was so aggressive with the Inquisitor and took her rage out on them, believing they had killed her old love (who, for the record, she wasn't actively with during the time. But naturally, she still cared about him and his death hurt her deeply).
It seemed fitting, if not ironic (given that she's pro-Circle), to make her fall in love with a mage again. Especially since she vows to protect the Inquisitor with her life and not let him die like her former lover. It's so sweet.
I managed to create a very handsome male Lavellan with long black hair. I found some old gifs of him from about four years ago and you can see them above. I ripped them off my old blog.*
I loved male Lavellan's default name, which was Mahanon. He's probably the first time I ever really enjoyed playing a custom male character in a video game, and that's largely because of Cassandra.
He was a very snarky but kind-hearted and brave mage who was bitter about Cassandra's rough handling of him and enjoyed teasing her alongside Varric for the first act. It was good roleplay because Varric was bitter against Cassandra for the exact same reason, and it was a way for the two of them to bond.
Also, Cassandra's comebacks and playful threats are hilarious. The fact that she and the Inquisitor start off disliking each other is a cliche (tsundere) but it's a thoroughly enjoyable cliche and it makes for an entertaining romance without it being overly toxic or abusive like the other romances.
The worst Cassandra does to Lavellan is shake him roughly and question his elven faith. Cassandra wants and expects Lavellan to worship Andraste because she truly believes he is sent by the Maker.
But unlike Sera, she never insults Lavellan, puts down his people, or degrades his culture. She loves him for who he is and accepts that he is not Andrastian and perhaps never will be. She never gives him an ultimatum or threatens to leave him. She always knew who he was and accepted it.
This stands in sharp contrast to Sera, who also always knew who the Inquisitor was ("elfy") and yet expected them to change for her. And when they didn't, she used threats and pleas to get her way.
No one has to date someone whose religion they don't agree with. But instead of threatening the person and demanding they change, what you do is end the relationship like a mature adult and walk away. The problem is that Sera is not a mature adult, while Cassandra is.
That's what makes romancing her so wonderful compared to Sera when playing a Dalish.
*If you happen to find that blog, please keep in mind that I was not mentally well when I was running it. I was being drugged and abused, and as a result, I did a lot of angry, random, incoherent rambling there. It's sad. To this day, fans still go to that blog and pick apart everything I said. People took my posts way too seriously. I wasn't in my right mind. I would delete the blog but I lost the password to it.
The Most Hilarious Romance
Aside from the fact that she doesn't abuse you and loves you completely for who you are, romancing Cassandra is just hilarious.
Nothing pleased me more than the fact that Cassandra is all holy and pure and serious and yet secretly enjoys smutty romance novels. I remember laughing so hard at the scene where the Inquisitor convinces Varric to let her read an unreleased edition (I think that's what it was. I haven't played this game since 2015).
It's just such a great, fluffy, fun, sweet romance without being remotely boring (poor Josephine) or toxic (ugh, Sera). And of course, it was written for men.
I say that Cassandra is "pure," by the way, because she has a pretty innocent view of the Inquisitor. She sees him as someone holy and chaste, so when he makes an allusion to the fact that he's not a virgin, she gasps (in the cutest manner ever) and is so shocked. Meanwhile, the Inquisitor stands there chuckling at her. All their interactions are cute like that.
Cassandra is an adorable mix of mature and yet naive, innocent and yet world-wise, vulnerable and yet strong. I actually hated Inquisition and I feel it's the worst of the Dragon Age games so far. But I would play it again in a heartbeat for Cassandra's romance.
Trespasser Only Enhanced the Fun
I'm still bitter that the actual ending of the game was packaged in a DLC (that wasn't even available on all platforms!), but aside from that, Trespasser gave a hilarious and sweet conclusion to Cassandra's romance, whether she became Divine or not.
If Cassandra doesn't become Divine, there's a funny scene where she thinks the Inquisitor is proposing to her (thanks to Varric's trolling) and the baffled Inquisitor's reaction is priceless.
Meanwhile, if Cassandra becomes Divine, she gets a pretty awesome set of golden armor and it's mentioned that she continues the relationship with the Inquisitor behind the scenes, it becoming a scandal among the Orlesians.
I'll always be somewhat disappointed that Cassandra didn't get a wedding like Cullen and Sera. I believe this was done because the developers didn't want to alienate fans who chose to make Cassandra Divine, but that's ridiculous. You make choices in these games and you must live with the consequences. So if you make Cassandra Divine, then it only stands to reason that you don't get to marry her.
I mean, if you wanted to marry her that badly, that's what second playthroughs are for!
Trespasser also brought out Cassandra's vulnerability for the first time . . . ever.
During the main game, Cassandra very rarely breaks down or shows sadness. She is more likely to show frustration or anger, but not tears.
During her personal quest, for example, when she discovers other seekers are being killed, she refuses to cry or show emotion, instead focusing with cold anger on her objective, even as the Inquisitor can be roleplayed as trying to coddle her.
Later, when she discovers that Varric was hiding Hawke, she has a moment of defeat and the Inquisitor can comfort her, asking if she would rather have Hawke than him. She doesn't show sadness in this crisis scene either, just tired frustration.
And last but not least, if you take Cassandra with you during the alternate universe quest In Hushed Whispers, she can be found in her jail cell, calmly pained by her suffering but not crying or devastated.
I'm not saying it's a bad thing that Cassandra never shows her vulnerabilities. I'm saying that it's a side of her we never see because she always hides it, even during her romance.
One point of romances in Bioware games (besides entertaining us) is to show us a side of the character that we would never see otherwise. People who romance Solas, for instance, see how helplessly infatuated he is with Lavellan and how passionately he lusts for her. Solas always wants female Lavellan whether or not she returns his feelings (in fact, Sera and other NPCs can comment on it) but you don't really know how much unless you romance him.
Unfortunately with Cassandra, you don't get to see a softer side of her when you romance her. Even during her sex scene, she's pretty much the same as always. It isn't until Trespasser that her soldier's mask cracks and she is practically in tears, frightened that the Anchor is killing you.
Honestly, Trespasser was a Band-AID in that it fixed things that should have been in the base game: Sera has personal growth, Iron Bull finally thinks for himself, the Inquisitor finally has a moment of real crisis, romances get a real conclusion, etc.
I enjoyed Trespasser, true. That doesn't mean I'm not going to criticize it.
She's the Best Person in the Game
And Cassandra isn't just beautiful and strong. She's one of the best people in the entire game, and she's a Seeker (it's remarkable because the last few Lord Seekers were monstrous people).
Cassandra isn't afraid to admit she's wrong about the Herald. She also isn't afraid to hand over leadership to them when it makes sense to do so. She doesn't let her pride get in the way of doing what needs to be done for the good of Thedas.
Solas admires this in her and points out that it's a rare quality in a party banter. Cassandra and Solas have some really interesting party banters, for that matter. I always loved having Cassandra, Solas, Varric, and Cole interchangeably as my party. I really don't care for the other followers . . . yep. I'm not even joking.
She has flaws (Sera calls her out for referring to the poor as "common" or something and her views of the Exalted March are typical for a human Andrastian) but she's not toxic. She's a good, honest, straight-forward, and humble person, despite the fact that her entire up-bringing set her up to be a pompous spoiled brat.
She has a Great Backstory
Cassandra is pretty much a Nevarran princess who was raised by her uncle after her family was murdered in the typical royal plot for the throne. Or something like that. Again, it's been a while since I played this game.
Nevarra is an intensely sexist environment. Women there are not allowed to rule as queens (there are only ever kings) and are objectified to boot. They exist as the tools of men and are expected to stand around looking pretty and little else. Cassandra even describes how her uncle forced her to wear gowns and sit "on a shelf" like a porcelain doll.
In other words, if she hadn't broken free of that life, she would have gotten married to someone she didn't love, had children she didn't want, and sat around looking pretty and doing nothing (so "on a shelf") while constantly worried about pleasing a husband she might possibly have despised.
This bit of backstory helps us to understand why Cassandra is physically strong, has short hair, is willing to take command . . . She is basically everything her oppressive culture told her should could not be, did not have the right to be, because she is a woman. By living life on her own terms, she fully embraces the humanity that was denied to her in Nevarra, and looking at it in this light, it's no small wonder that she admires and respects Marian Hawke, a woman who "built herself from nothing."
I still remember when Cassandra's appearance was first revealed for Dragon age: Inquisition in what is now known as "the Crestwood trailer," and p*rnsick dudes were complaining that she was no longer wearing makeup, had scars, had messier hair, and thus looked "like a man."
No. Cassandra looked like a strong, beautiful woman in her natural state. Her look was directly tied to her character, in that she hated being forced to turn herself into a doll with makeup and dresses for the sake of the men who objectified her. With that kind of backstory, it would make no sense for her to wear makeup now.
Why should Cassandra be worried about looking pretty? Aren't there more important things than looking f*ckable to men in the middle of an apocalyptic crisis?
Yes, I know I said Sera is ugly (she is), but her being ugly has nothing to do with her lack of makeup and more to do with her face . . . just being ugly. I think Cassandra and Josephine have beautiful faces, so I don't know what these male gamers were on about back in 2014.
A quick Google search will bring up pages and pages of their whining and complaints about how ugly Cassandra and Josephine are and how Bioware is trolling them by being "feminist" (aka treating their female characters like people and not sex objects).
The more I think about it, the more I realize that Cassandra actually is a feminist character. And what the hell is wrong with that? The only people who seem to have a problem with it are male gamers who are used to female characters in video games being treated like their virtual p*rn.
I know I criticize Bioware a lot, but I'm glad that some of their games are moving away from objectifying women. The fact that we've gone from characters like Morrigan (who walked around shirtless for the entirety of Dragon Age: Origins) and Isabela (who literally walked around in nothing but her underwear and some boots for six years) to characters like Cassandra is pretty great.
Ironically, I've become a retro gamer and can't be bothered to be ripped off anymore by video game companies. So I won't be playing this new era of less trashy games. Even if they are more progressive now.
So male gamers complain, but straight female gamers got Blackwall (ugh, a pot belly and beard. He looked like evil Santa), Iron Bull (tiny head, giant body, just ugly) and Solas (ugly arrogant racist grandpa egg). The only remotely good-looking male for straight females was Cullen, who looked like a Backstreet Boy (yes, a lesbian can identify that a man is attractive. She just can't feel any attraction to him. I can tell flowers are pretty but I don't have any desire to f*ck them).
And yet, oddly enough, you won't do a Google search and find page after page of entitled female gamers whining about how ugly the male romances were. I think they were just happy to be included in the game at all. And I envy them. I wish I could say I had four lesbian options instead of one hideous asshole that got on my last nerve for 70 hours.
As much as I loved Cassandra's backstory in Dragon Age: Inquisition, I was a little disappointed with it regardless. David Gaider has a way of writing the same character over and over (Rhys, Aveline, Evangeline, Maric) so learning that Cassandra was pretty much a mature female version of Alistair was . . . annoying.
But I really enjoy Cassandra as a character, so I don't mind too much. I particularly enjoy the fact that she loves it when the Inquisitor is snarky because I always play snarky, witty characters (the other options are just boring).
Cassandra has a great backstory that fully allows us to grasp and appreciate her character. Compare this to Sera, who doesn't have a background at all aside from some vague comments about her abusive human mistress and being rejected by the Dalish (which is alluded to in banter).
All in all, Cassandra is everything I could ask for in a romance. I love her personality, I love her backstory, I love her personal quests and her party banters.
Her love for the Inquisitor is genuine and pure, though it's a love you have to work towards, since you begin the game as her prisoner and suspect. And that initial friction, if anything, only makes the romance more interesting.
If only Bioware would write a lesbian romance like this.