BioWare's latest, Dragon Age: Origins has same-sex romances. According to various little quips from the company, the world does not villify these romances, though it is seen as not necessarily the norm. My encounters with other people of non-heterosexual proclivities was rather sparse, though I have heard of small appearances here and there by other players (and in a game so large, I may well have missed something. Please, feel free to comment on any you found.) The only other male with whom my character flirted was a male guard later on, which surprised me.
That is to say, the primary gay characters in the game are the two bisexual companions, and yourself (if your character is--I know many a person who has rolled a female to similarly roll in the hay with Alistair). The comment that homosexuality is not really treated different is then to assure the players that their choices will not have any triggers or fall into the trap of diluting the romantic options (at least, at this point; this will be a series of games, more than likely).
So, with all this said, what of the romance with Zevran? We have seen the YouTube clip of sex, but what of the romance itself? Well, I waited until I finished the game to write this up, and I am glad to hash out my impressions for you. There will be spoilers below this fold.
The romance with Zevran starts simple enough. He flirts with you, specifically a male, and makes reference to your male sex. Among the options of conversation replies is asking him if he is hitting on you, as one man to another. He will explain that he loves beauty of all kinds, and having grown up as he did, the son of a prostitute, on the streets, and then being bought to essentially be indentured to the Antivan Crows, his life has led him to believe sex can be found with anyone for the appropriate reasons (like, taking their lives).
What makes these conversations particularly delightful is that Zevran has among the best senses of humor in the game. Unlike Morrigan, he can take criticism well. He rolls with the punches other companions may give him during conversations that occur while walking about, and this applies to your own conversations with him. They are coy and filled with innuendo and wordplay.
The achievement for sleeping with Zevran is Easy Lover, which is applicable because he (and Morrigan) are the easiest to bed in the game. They see sex and romance as discrete, and not necessarily having to relate to each other to be enjoyed. Which is not to say that it has to stay that way, for Zevran at least.
Yes, you read correctly, you can have a romance with Zevran beyond just the sex.
In fact, after the first 'assassination in my tent,' the question came up of how this was to proceed. Quite simply, I told him we could keep this as is for now, and did not have to complicate things. After all, I am off to save the world, I did not need to futz around with a relationship.
A few things changed for my playthrough, however. Wynne said much the same, but she rubbed my character the wrong way, so I began to realize, why should I not give this a chance (Wynne really, really rubbed this character the wrong way, and I was glad to hear both Shale and Zevran talk about her sagging bits to her consternation)? Second, an event later in the game had Zevran criticizing me for my initial decision, and actually found myself agreeing with him because of not wanting to ruin our relationship.
At some point, Morrigan propositioned me, and seeing as this character is bisexual, I wanted to see how that developed. In much the same fashion, she also wanted a no strings attached affair, which was fine with me. Until later, when both she and Zevran confronted me about this. Her basis was that she was not a sharer. His was that Morrigan was not a sharer. He seemed very cavalier about the entire affair, and it made me wonder if I was just pursuing a false hope.
Therefore, when I later went to camp and asked him to come to my tent with me, and he refused, the conversation that ensued was enlightening. To put it simply, in a very discreet manner, he admitted he loved me. He started caring about me, and he was not sure he could deal with that. That is not how he was raised, not what he was taught, and you are able to steer a conversation that tells him that you feel the same, and that this is new to you as well. You are able to ask him to take a chance and experience something new with you.
You basically say I love you back.
Then there's the end. Here is where my opinion changed drastically in one early, early morning, when I kept thinking the game would end, but it kept me running as if BioWare had some Nutella on a spoon dangling before my nose. I finished the game, defeated the Archdemon, invested seventy-two hours, and cared about my romance with Zevran because it was not some wishy-washy, poorly-written piece of drivel that made my eyes roll.
At the ending coronation, I walked up and spoke with all the characters, saving Zevran for last. As was typical, he joked about how I was a target for the Antivan Crows, but not to worry, he would have my back as long as no one paid him a handsome sum. This was directly after telling me he hoped he could travel with me, as he didn't want to leave my side.
Walking out of that chamber and into the little text that describes how my decisions shaped the world, I came across this:
I angrily sent out a few Tweets, made a note of this on a Dragon Age Google Wave in which I am participating, and went off to stew for a bit, angry. My thoughts centered around, "Heterosexist piece of garbage that decided until the very end to ruin my experience."
Calming down, I did a bit of hunting in the BioWare Dragon Age forums to find that this was not an isolated bug for me. Yet, a fellow game blogger I know had gone through the same romance and not had any such difficulties. He even chose to travel, like my mage did.
Come to find out, my experience not an isolated incident. Thinking on it, I realized that the PC release was finished months before the console versions, and that this was an oversight corrected for both the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game [Edit: As a commenter notes, this also happens in the PS3 version of the game, though my friend played it on the Xbox 360, so PS3 players also beware]. That did not fix my experience, but it made me ponder a bit more about the issue.
For one, the romance with Zevran probably plays out the exact same as it would had I been a female character. In fact, one thing that impressed me about Zevran early on when talking about his sexuality is the fact that he admits he is bisexual, but tends to prefer the curves of a woman. He is not just some bland bisexual character that had little thought given to his tastes.
At the same time, I realized that I had bought into a hype machine, thinking of Zevran as primarily the interest of the gay community, while the fact remained that he was likely written first as a heterosexual romance option. While my experience before this leads me to want to say the bisexuality is not just an afterthought, it does still leave me somewhat sour about the entire ordeal.
Hopefully BioWare can release a patch to fix this for future gaymers who may wish to walk this path. Overall, excepting the last bit, I will say I was impressed with how the romance both addressed Zevran's sexuality, and allowed a full-fledged same-sex romance in terms of the conversations and sex--not treating it as some other entity incapable of having love develop.
So, yes, Zevran may be easy to bed, but it is inversely difficult to win his heart.