...why didn't you?
By "you," of course, I mean... the mainstream blogosphere. I don't mean the fans of the series, who are writing about them furiously on wikis and posting countless videos to YouTube, enough that I can easily browse through the options I am missing by playing female Shepard.
But generally it seems like the critics didn't like them. I guess "why didn't you" is the wrong question because I do know why. Because you can't be gay. Or you can be at least a gay female, but not gay enough or consistently gay. Or the romance options are "grotesque" aliens.
But I am a little voice in the darkness! I liked the romance options and I wonder if that makes me "a fangirl" or something and not a serious business game design critic thinking about serious social issues and the implications on gender or race or society etc. As a feminist who takes a lot of other minor things almost way too seriously, I guess I just thought that the romance options were at least friendly toward straight women and rather charming, even with, or especially with, the alien men.
There are some spoilers here, so I'll be polite and cut. Also, a small confession - I'm not entirely finished with the game, but I am pretty close to the end now I think based on how many missions are left to do on my map. I've recruited all party members (save of course Kasumi, who only started existing today).
Let's look back for a moment. I had fairly solidly pegged my Shepard as a lesbian in the first game, and this is due to a couple of factors. Some of the options that are just "default" for male Shepard were not removed, or at least were left unchanged, in the case of playing a female Shepard. For example, Asari dancers are present in the clubs (in both games), and you have a decidedly male posture if you should happen to choose to click on one and sit down. In the first game you can also encounter the Asari Consort fairly early on and get a sort of bonus sex scene with her that's easy enough to trigger.
It felt natural to romance Liara. Kaiden didn't hold any interest to me at all; his personality felt a little whiny, and boring to me. Though Liara isn't a perfect character I sort of dig the little freckled ingenue thing she has going on, and just for contrast, she made a fairly good counterpart to my almost solidly Renegade Shepard (not evil, no, but certainly ruthess in her persuit of intergalactic justice). And by this point I already figured that Shepard was gay anyway. In fact, the only thing that didn't work in that whole situation was, talking with Liara before the romance scene, Shepard seemed to display a little confusion about romancing another female, even from a single-gendered race. She never displayed this nervousness or confusion before in examining other Asari female with "default" male gaze style options, so it was weird to me that that was an issue at all, but, easily overlooked.
That being said, there was definitely a character that my Shepard saw eye-to-eye with more than any other, and that was Garrus. If he had been an option in the first game, I definitely would have rethought my stance on my Shep's sexuality because she and Garrus just seemed to agree on every point and be a great match for each other. He wasn't an option, however, so I had to go elsewhere and choose from what was available.
But now he is. And I am excited. My Shep will happily go straight for the "grotesque" scarred alien! He has a great voice and a great personality. Talking to my other female gamers, I'm not the only one pleased to see this option included. When he agreed to have an encounter with me later in his dialog, I threw up my hands in a little cheer.
As for the other options, I think Thane is also charming. Hell: he's a single father who has seperation issues with his young son, he's dying of a terminal illness, and he's a ruthless contract killer... it's like the perfect "hurt-comfort" "nice badboy" setup that women go gaga over to the point where it almost feels like too much. I definitely see the appeal there. I like Jacob too... he has a pretty solid personality. And, while obviously I go for personality on these characters and backstory interests me the most, Jacob also has a really attractive model and voice on top of it. Jacob is largely uninterested in my ruthless Shep though, even though I did help him out with that dad thing. See, early on, I meant to just casually ask about his past relationship with Miranda, as I figured it might turn in to a problem later on that would distract him. But somehow Shepard started flirting with him, which, since up until that point I had been pretty sure she was a lesbian came across as a little jarring to me. Jacob and I immediately backed away sort of embarassed that it came up and he's been awkward with me ever since. No huge loss though at least for me since I already knew who I was interested in.
(Speaking of Jacob, is there any applause out there for including a non-stereotypical black character in a game/shooter like this? Is it Ok to say, hey, at least the diversity of human race and the handling of race in general in Mass Effect is really pretty good? I know we're supposed to accept this as being the norm rather than having to point it out at all, but maybe that puts game writers in the trap of complaining too much.)
I'm not playing the game as a male Shepard, but to explore his options briefly, well, Jack seemed bisexual at least to me. Am I stereotyping because of the shaved head and bitchy attitude? Maybe a little, but mostly it's because when Jack first came on board, Kelly said something about how she seemed 'casual toward sex' even though she was talking to my female Shep. I assumed at that point that Kelly knew something I didn't, or that Jack would be an option for me as well, though she apparently isn't. For the straight men, Miranda seems basically poised to be a sex object right from her introduction, but, she's sort of pretty and I'm not really offended by it. Watched her sex scene on YouTube - it's pretty hot, and my husband chose her for his option. She's got both a great model and voice, and the impact again of the voices picked for these characters can't be underestimated (which sort of makes it suck that male Shepard's delivery is so famously flat, really). Miranda's scene turns out to be much hotter than the Tali scene. Color me kind of disappointed Tali does not take off her mask. That would've been a nice reveal, worth the price of admission, even if it's more work for the artists for an extremely optional scene. The way it stands, I kind of got the impression from it that Tali never does take off her mask even during the part of the scene we don't see, which is just...odd. She's a really cute and likable character though: again, great personality, great voice.
Kelly Chambers is an option for everybody, and though my female Shepard hasn't shown interest I got the impression from elsewhere on the net that dating her on the side wouldn't count against my "real" love interest. If you're playing Shepard as a full lesbian and not bisexual, you can choose Kelly and stick with her. You don't get an Achievement for dating her. But serious game critics spend so much time explaining why they don't care about Achievements I am not sure why this would be a factor.
Alternatively, you can get shot down by Samara, or stay loyal to Liara (or Kaiden I suppose if you chose him, and he isn't dead). My Shepard hadn't picked otherwise yet, so I got a big kiss from Liara upon running in to her again, even if it seems like her personality has done a total conversion in this installment.
In conclusion, it seems like a lot of complaints about the Mass Effect 2 romance options stem from the fact that they aren't friendly enough toward homosexual options. I understand this, but I don't see enough people that are pleased that they're giving more interesting and viable options for the "straight female" path. If I were to play straight female in the first game, I had one option, and he was not an option that I was interested in. Mass Effect 2 gave me more compelling options and I am much happier with this.
I'm not meaning to say that the complaints of people who wanted, say, a compelling male/male relationship as well are not valid, but I wanted to be that little person in the corner who expresses that I was personally sort of happy with it, and at least as far as the het female options are concerned, Bioware did something right. Consider that women are a smaller portion of the hardcore gamer population by far than men, so, it was nice of them to cater to my 'niche' with more than one compelling option this time around.