Baldur's Gate 3: Is It Zooey? 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock recently, you’ve probably heard of Baldur’s Gate 3 – the newly released RPG based on Dungeons & Dragons. Warning, this article contains some mild spoilers for the game (especially for romance options), so this might be something to come back to in the future once you’ve beaten the game! 
        In Baldur’s Gate 3, you can play as one of several pre-made characters (that double as your companions should you choose not to play as one of them), or a custom character. It has an abundance of races and classes to choose from, including more animal-themed classes such as ranger and druid. It takes place primarily in the vast Dungeons & Dragons continent known as Faerûn, a land rich with both wilderness and humanoid settlements, as well as an abundance of magic and adventures ripe to be had.
        After several years of testing and over 20 years since the title prior to this one, fans of the series might have worried that the game might not hit all the right notes and that it would be over-hyped… but, luckily, Baldur’s Gate 3 is seeing massive numbers and has been extremely well-received, currently totaling over five million sales of the game and boasting Overwhelmingly Positive reviews on Steam. Yes, truly, Baldur’s Gate 3 has it all: immersive role-playing, characters with interesting and intricate stories, a beautiful soundtrack, and very satisfying game-play…  but, is it zooey?
        One of the strongest examples of zoosexuality in Baldur’s Gate 3 is probably the infamous “bear scene”. There is a character that you can romance called Halsin, he is a wood elf druid who often takes the form of a bear. In fact, it appears to be his preferred form – if you could choose to be a bear all of the time, wouldn’t you? And to the cheers of the zoo community, and even many non-zoos, there is a particular scene with him that points to relationships with animals of a more intimate way being fairly common in Faerûn, or at least more socially acceptable.
        Picture this: It’s July 7th, the day when Larian Studios (the game studio behind Baldur’s Gate 3, among others) is having a live show to exhibit some of the features of the upcoming release. As you watch, they proceed to show off a very intimate scene between Astarion (though when you play, it will be the character you choose to play as) and the druid Halsin. Among cheers, they select the dialogue options that make the druid shift into bear form as the two characters, well… do the deed in that way. Cue cheers and screams from the crowd, who certainly didn’t expect to see that today… but don’t seem to be too upset about it! As someone who made a bee-line to romance Halsin in their own play-through, I do regret to inform you that they showed the entire scene in the live stream. There is no explicit human-on-bear action, only a tasteful fade to black.
        That being said, the fact that you can have that sort of intimacy with a non-humanoid character in a popular, mainstream, and very well-received game like this, is optimistic for the zoo community as a whole. It’s very cool to see that this is an option at all in a popular, Triple A! It can also help to broach the subject with friends or non-zoos; “Hey… did you, y’know… with the bear?” I’m willing to bet that many people have, even if they wouldn’t call themselves zooey, considering the amount of cheers from the crowd and excitement in the chat when Larian showed the scene off.
        While that is the only true example of a sexual relationship between animal and humanoid in the game, there is some evidence for those sort of relationships being fairly common. If you ask about some of Halsin’s relationships, he mentions many past lovers, and he specifically recounts to you the tale of how he got his scars. Apparently, wild female bears don’t particularly like being spurned, and one had set her eyes on him. Additionally, there are a number of non-human flings the game puts in your path that you can choose to take part in, or not – including a devil and even a mindflayer. Even outside of the player themselves, you can stumble into NPCs of different species getting busy as well. This makes me think that in this world, sex and intimacy with non-humans is not seen quite as taboo as it is in our world.
        The druid enclave – and really, druids in general – have very zooey vibes. In the area, there are animals everywhere, each of them with their own complex thoughts. There are also druids scattered about, some in humanoid form, but many of them shifted into their preferred animal shape. If you have the ability to speak with animals, I definitely recommend it. There is a bird who will be pleased if you give him feedback on his nest, as he wants to impress his mate. There is a squirrel who is pretty territorial, but you can pretty easily persuade her that you don’t mean any harm. There is also a hog, which when you talk to him, your character makes note that this hog is very eager for a mate – which the druid Halsin is supposed to bring to him.
        Even outside of the druids in this game, animals are treated much better than they tend to be in other games. Nearly every animal in this game is voice-acted and has their own unique personality and dialogue. In most games, animals are treated as simple enemies or even just props in the world. A simple thing to kill for a few experience points, or just a pretty feature in the landscape – and while this game does have some strictly animal enemies, it definitely encourages you to talk with them more than anything else. 
        The best part is, talking to animals in this game is extremely easy for anyone to do! It’s completely normal to have conversations with creatures of all shapes and sizes, usually by means of a cast spell or a sip from a bottle of ‘Potion of Animal Speaking’ – or if you’re a druid, shifting into an animal yourself. Of the animals you can talk to, some of them will tell or show you how much they love their humans. 
        There is a strong example in Scratch, a dog you can meet while wandering the area, who refuses to leave his dead owner’s side. Eventually he can turn up at your camp and be one of your new friends, who you can pet and chat with daily. But it’s clear just how much he loved his former friend. Another creature you can befriend and have in your camp is an owlbear cub. If you are kind to him and help him adjust, he becomes fast friends with both you and Scratch. In my play-throughs, I make it a point to talk (and pet) both of these little guys every day. And in return, Scratch will occasionally bring you gifts, and the Owlbear cub will eventually grow up enough to help you in the final battle sequences, should you so desire.
        The list goes on and on, most of the animals in this game who have explicit humanoid caretakers will tell you how much they care for them – and in the few instances where you see an animal being abused or taken advantage of, the game generally gives you the option to help them. There is also something to be said in just how much you can do as an animal in this game. For all of our therian friends, if you play as a druid, you can be in animal shape for pretty much the whole time (outside of some cut-scenes, I believe). 
        So yes, all in all, I do find this game to be exceptionally zooey. Even though the intimate humanoid-and-animal relationships are few and far between, the amount the game wants you to look at the animals around as their own individuals, makes me believe so. It would have been so easy for Larian Studios to only allow you to sleep with Halsin in humanoid form, and yet, the game seems happy to let you bed a bear. It would have been so easy for them to leave the animals as un-voiced, to make them all say generic, basic phrases… but nearly every animal in this game has something to tell you! The game wants you to be kind to animals, which I think we all can agree is zooey as heck! Every time I spoke with an animal (which was extremely often – I will always use a spell slot on Speak with Animals if the option is there), I left the conversation with a smile and an even bigger appreciation for this game. It is a treat that is all too rare these days, and I highly recommend it to anyone with a love for RPGs.
Article written by Soren (September 2023)
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