First off, let me clarify that I know that one of the main dev's has explicitly said he does not like/enjoy romance in games. As such, I am fully aware that the majority of people backing a game made by such a man mostly share his notion.
Here's why I fully disagree with this sentiment.
A disclaimer first, since I'm largely anonymous in that no one here knows who I am nor cares; I'm just gonna give my view on romance and sex from my experience and hope that people take it at face value.
A short introduction; I was heavily picked on as a kid, didn't have any real friends up until I was 16+ and during the first years of drinking and socialising (16-19) I literally had to drink myself ****faced to even talk to women. And even then, the first few times I'd actually tremble. Hell the first time I made out with a woman my legs were shacking afterwards (even when drunk) because it took such a toll on my weak confidence. Then I did my conscript service and noticed I'd grown up to be a fairly good-looking person. Tho in truth I was still a wreck in my persona, I followed the whole "the game" view of sex and interaction where-in I'd be someone I was not to gain something I truly didn't want: Sex, and gratification; Only the person they had sex with was not truly "me", it was this person I played to have sex with them.
I became a sex addict because I wanted validation, I slept with more women than I can literally count and although I will admit there is a great learning in this (as we learn from mistakes) and some great adventures, there was also a heavy toll on my psyche. I became a alcoholic and I've been batteling depressions for more than a decade (I'm 27 now). Nowdays I'm pretty zen about all this, I never ponder or care for sex in the sense that it bothers me... If I find someone interesting and we share mutual interest and sexual affinity then it happens, if not who cares: The point herein is that it's not a "goal"; I don't start talking to anyone with a pre-defined agenda where sex is a goal, because in that I automatically will form myself to achieve said goal instead of just having a normal human meeting with no hidden intentions.
It is here gaming and romance comes into the picture. I feel that a lot of times, romance in video-games follow the first road I traveled. You instantly recognize that what the writer and character has in intention is sex. Given, this is not always wrong; Sex is in truth extremely healthy and fun: Thousands of years of religious oppression and control has taught us otherwise, to feel shame when masturbating or showing sexual intent. We make love behind locked doors and don't speak of it, but we'd gladly express hatred and anger towards things as if that was somehow better feelings to show. I mean just ponder the fact that each and every human that has ever lived, a estimated hundred billion humans, was ****ed into existence! And probably not on the first try! That's a lot of sex.
So my point is simply that, when handled "correct" (or my perception of what is healthy, natural and honest) sex and romance is not something to shun. When it follows the first path, the path of intent before reason, then yes it becomes a trope. It becomes a cliché, it becomes a rulebook of how to engage in all ways except being natural and "self".
Now let me bring some examples to the table to discuss when romance is handled well, and when it is not. At least in my opinion.
Anyone who has played "Indigo Prophecy (Fahrenheit)", Knights of the Old Republic (1-2) and Halo will know what bad romances are. Let me explain; In all of these games, for no apparent reason the protaganist and a female will somehow develop a bond, or rather the woman will covet the male, without any real reason. I love Halo, but Master Chief has no persona (shown in the games, I don't care if he has a library of books on the side; What we are shown is what we are allowed to judge upon), yet for some reason Cortana loves him in a semi-romantic way. I find that these kinds of "romances" are blatant whoring for the male player-base... Much like boothbabes.
Now I don't mind women having sexuality, or being the ones to engage, on the contrary I am all for it. But if there is no real personal journey, no real discussion of character, who "we" are in these games, then why the hell would anyone love us? What these "romances" are, are not romances at all, it's abusing our inherit care for our main character from a perspective only we have been able to see, yet somehow the females just suddenly want to sex the protagonist for reasons they could never know unless they'd seen them through our eyes. And even then it's unrealistic at times. Worse yet is when, as in KOTOR, the developers still shoehorn romance into the game but are so deathly afraid of sex (thanks to americas churches) that there's no sex. And sex is a natural godamn thing, it's as natural as friendship, smiling, breathing. But instead of just treating it as another urge within humans, one that in no way defines us, but is a part of us, some games tip-toe around it making it to a huge elephant in the room.
There are some middle-ground romances that are both positive in one way, but negative in another. A good example here is Morrigan in Dragon Age, and Jack (the female bionic) in Mass Effect 2-3. See both of these characters are quick to show a sexual interest in the character, and at first I actually thought Jack would be this badass woman who knows what she wants and takes it, but then also has a deeper side (which most people do have, even when sexual deviants). Nope. Turns out she's a damsel in distress that in the end just wants to be held by a big strong man. This is bad romance, even if it is good storytelling. Same with Morrigan, she comes out strong, then even needy and vulnerable... But for no apparent reason, sex without feelings is sex. Sure we can develop feelings but unless you're 13-19 years you'd be a godamn idiot to "fall in love" with someone if you have no godamn clue who that someone is; You're not in love with that person then: You're in love with the image you are projecting upon them, your perceived idea of who they are, "The statue in the marble block".
Some amazing anti-examples of this is Baldur's Gate 2, where especially the "good" and "evil" romance really goes above and beyond character-development for not only the companions characters but their growth in the relationship as well. If you play the expansion together with the main game, the "good" romance interest will (SPOILER if you haven't played Baldurs Gate 2) go from a near helpless, naive and vulnerable girl to a fierce protective mother and partner in the expansion. This is romance done great, because even if the romance starts out with perhaps ulterior motives, it's nearly impossible not to fall in love with the character itself... We actually understand why our character would love them, and our journey also shows us why they would come to love us, the player.
Another good example of this is Garrus and Tali from Mass Effect. In the first game they're not even romance options, and Liara is a good example of the bad kind of romance where there's no real explanation as to why either person would come to become drawn to the other (or well, Liara to Shepard because Shepard runs around doing great things, but Shepards interest in Liara comes down to less than 5 minutes of talking and the fact that she is sex-able). But Tali, Tali says it best in Mass Effect 2 when Shepard slyly asks her if she's flirting with him, "What, would I somehow develop feelings for a daring space-caption who not only saved the universe but also my life on two occasions? Heavens forbid!"
And it is in these cases I find the lack of romance extremely detrimental to a role-playing game. If I am given a world and a character where romance seems a distant sparkle, like say Gear of War, well of course I won't expect or care for it. But give me a world so deep as Pillars of Eternity and it becomes downright absurd that no one would somehow not want to **** another character. Christ, put any amount of humans in any situation and sooner or later they will have sex, it's part of how we've evolved to be and to deny that is to break character.
I'm not saying every npc, female or male should suddenly want to have sex with you, quite the opposite. But I am saying that if I spend literally days, weeks, months on the road with companions. Friends I learn about, share stories infront of the camp-fire, laugh with as we explore deep caverns, bleed with as we fight monsters, that we'd go through all of this and for some reason none of the people involved would find a kindred spirit?
Disclaimer about sex: And no, it's not because I want some "rule 34" situation, if I wanted that I'd go to the site, if I wanted porn I'd go watch porn. We gamers don't play games to fap (well most of us, most of the time). We play games to get engrossed in fictional worlds, to explore, to live lives we'd never live anywhere else, to see and experience things. And to experience all feelings of the spectrum, sorrow, anger, hatred, friendship but for some reason leave out one of the biggest parts of being human (or a mammal for that matter) just seems so bizarre to me.
Skip the sex scene for all I care, biowares barbie-bodies never did make me do anything but cringe. But I still remember Viconia from Baldurs Gate 2. Hell this was years ago, it was after I'd stopt ****ing around like a idiot, and it's insane to admit it but part of her writing stuck with me harder than half of my real-life sexual encounters. It was a moment when my character asked her how she was holding up, in the back of my head I had intent on consoling her to show her I cared, but she rebuked and instead said to me "Enough about me, how are you feeling?" I just sat there, in the dark of the night, with pale-blue light reflecting on my face... And I just started crying. It was the first time in so long someone had honestly asked me that.
Now there's good writing. I'd been so engrossed in the world and my character, that when she asked my character that, it was as if she asked me that. That's the kind of romance I'd like to see, where the character we choose to play resonate with other characters who find mutual grounding.
TLDR See, to me romance is just something natural. It either happens or it doesn't, not much too it and it's not a big deal. Some characters we enjoy the company of, others we hate, other we want to murder and yet others still we want to help. I just don't get why one of these many basic human emotions are boycotted because it is somehow a cliché? It's only a cliché for as long as we make it one, and the sooner we start acting like it's a big deal the sooner it will stop being a big deal. Just look at "Hatred", everyone goes ape**** about it but most gamers didn't care, "Doesn't look like a good game" and that's that. Whilst traditional games media tries to drum up a ****-storm, no one else cares. So why are we afraid to add writing that would only solidify the realism of a fictional world? Because to me, it just becomes silly when all the other feelings are readily called upon to create realism, "devout", "stoic", "proud", "loyal", but love or romance is absent? To me that's not a realistic world, it's a world that seems to readily avoid a basic fact of reality: Attraction and procreation.
If you've read this far I thank you and I hope I didn't repeat or rant to much. I just wanted to share my own thoughts and views on this since I do realize that romance is a hot topic in gaming because it is so often wrongly called upon and used. I just think that it is our job as "mature" gamers to transcend this absurd debate, just as we've transcended violence in gaming. Instead of the old "only virgin boys want romance go play waifu similatur you loser" we could just admit that a great many people see and have sex as a normal part of their life, and there's nothing extraordinary, special or whatnot about that.