Months after Baldur’s Gate 3 was released, one man continues to haunt me. His face appears on all of my feeds, he has been the focal point of several fan controversies, and he feels like the logical progression of some of my most beloved BioWare companions. Astarion remains intriguing, and he has more than deserved his place in the hall of fame of RPG allies. I am not the only one who feels this way.
It is fascinating that Astarion is at the center of so much debate, considering he isn’t the most popular romance choice in the game. He trails behind Shadowheart, Lae’zel, and Karlach. But the discussions about him are of a specific intensity, as fans thirst over his character, relate to his heartfelt story arc, and examine the intricacies of his personality. Even months after Baldur’s Gate 3 was released, new updates and mods related to Astarion stir up controversy. Fans analyze the dev notes, compare various cutscene variations, and occasionally clash in defense of their favorite vampire companion.
Astarion has an immediately noticeable appeal: He’s a charming vampire. Pop culture is filled with variations of this archetype; everyone remembers a few years where Twilight’s Edward Cullen was displayed everywhere. But beyond his immediate appeal, Astarion proves to be an amusing companion. He’s witty, at times passive-aggressive, and incredibly petty. It comes as no surprise that he continues to inspire memes and jokes.
I’ve observed an abundance of humorous memes portraying Astarion with a gun or adorned in clown makeup, and based on my own experience, he inspires these tributes at a higher frequency than the other Baldur’s Gate 3 companions. This is largely due to the performance of recent Game Award winner Neil Newbon, who does an excellent job portraying every facet of Astarion’s personality. A lesser performance might have tempted players to stake the thirsty vampire early on, but Newbon enhances even simple scenarios with a perfectly dramatic delivery.
This carries significant weight with Astarion’s earlier appearances, but Newbon adeptly handles the portrayal even as the game becomes much more serious. The closer a player gets to Astarion, the more they uncover about his tragic past. Astarion is a vampire spawn, turned by Cazador Szarr. Cazador is a harsh sire, subjecting Astarion to torture in order to enforce obedience. This is why Astarion is much less perturbed about the tadpole in his head than the rest of the party; the affliction grants him freedom to walk under the sun, free from the oppressive control of his master.
Astarion’s relationship with Cazador shapes his personality. He’s manipulative, willing to leverage his physical charms, and incredibly self-interested. Ultimately, his story is one of the cycle of abuse. The player finds that Cazador was abused by his own master, and when he assumed power, he inflicted that same pain on Astarion. Everything culminates in a final choice for Astarion: He can Ascend, breaking the bonds of both Cazador and the tadpole and becoming a powerful vampire lord himself, or he can turn down the power, accept his weaknesses, and live as a vampire spawn in the darkness.
It’s a compelling story, and one that can be experienced in many ways. The player can be Astarion through an Origins run, and if they’re playing Tav or the Dark Urge, they can befriend, romance, or betray Astarion. It’s commonly accepted that Ascended Astarion is the “worse” ending for him, one that opens him up to continue the cycle of abuse. But that’s not a universally believed theory; some players, thanks to the decisions they make and bonds they form, think that they can trust Astarion with that power. Others are more skeptical.
That conflict is further complicated by the fact that Astarion himself works to manipulate the player. When I first learned about the Ascendancy ritual on my Tav run, I expressed my concerns to Astarion… who then gave me the biggest puppy-dog eyes and said it would thrill him to Ascend. “Don’t you want me to be happy?”
It is masterful writing on Larian’s part — it takes more than just romancing Astarion to redeem him. Instead, it takes genuine friendship, sincerity, and vulnerability by both parties. Despite all the saucy Rule 34 art fans have drawn of Astarion, the moment where I felt most connected to him was in Act 2, when we just held hands and made eye contact. If I had made other choices, things could have turned out very differently. Protagonist Tav can manipulate Astarion in return, and break the vampire’s heart in the process.
Astarion’s plot is full of nuanced, messy, painful writing, and that’s what’s inspired such a long-lasting, brightly-burning fandom for the character on social media. There are the silly, surface-level memes about giving Astarion a gun, but there’s also a ton of players who connected with his inner struggle and see themselves reflected in his scars. That depth of characterization is what has inspired such a fervent fandom, and I am sure I’ll see Astarion arguments on my feed for months, and likely years, to come.