(Please note that this post contains MASSIVE SPOILERS from DA2.)
Something stinks in Dragon Age 2, and this time it’s not the obvious. It’s not the fact that DA2 is set entirely within Kirkwall and a few neighbouring patches of land. It’s not about the fact that companion armour can’t be changed, save for rings, belts and weapons. It’s not even about the co-called “awesome button”. This time, it’s all about Anders.
We are introduced to Anders in Origin’s somewhat half-arsed expansion Awakening, wherein he appears as a cowardly, childish, but ultimately likable addition to the team. His character closely resembles that of Alastair’s, and as the wise-cracking buddy character, he seems to fit the role nicely. The main difference is that where Alastair spends much of Origins contemplating his naval and using humour to keep the player at a distance, Anders is actually pretty open about his life, and remains quite positive throughout.
If his back-story in Awakening is to be believed at all, he’s had a reasonably good time of it, even by mage standards. Mages in Thedas largely live in fear of losing themselves to demonic forces, and are severely oppressed by templars because of it. Having said that, the templars in Ferelden have shown themselves to be pretty lenient. Anders claims to have escaped many times, and each time he was hauled back, presumably for a slap on the wrist as he somehow avoided being executed or worse, having his powers and emotions stripped from him. Again, proof that templars aren’t just mage-hating psychopaths.
Anders is a free spirit. He doesn’t want to be tied down. The ending of Awakening makes this clear as well, when in spite of becoming a Grey Warden (or not, the choice is really down to you) he decides to go off and adventure on his own for a while. He displays no real loyalty to anyone but himself and the player character in fact, and certainly seems to lack any grand plans beyond staying out of the way of templars, and enjoying himself.
This is where DA2 comes into play, and the real problem begins to rear its ugly head. In DA2 Anders’s character has sobered completely. So much so it would seem that even his voice actor has been changed (though oddly, Greg Ellis does return to play Knight-Captain Cullen, another character guilty of a personality transplant). The most striking thing about DA2’s Anders is that he’s not fun anymore. He’s not really the type of person to have a laugh with. He’d much rather whine about the cause of mages, something that never really seemed to bother him before. At all.
Now the reason for Anders’s change of heart could be attributed to the fact that he is now an abomination, having fused with the spirit known only as Justice. This would, regrettably explain a lot of the inconsistencies, but for all that he still comes across like an arrogant foreigner hell-bent on improving the lives of Kirkwall’s natives whether they like it or not. If it weren’t for the fact that nearly all of Kirkwall’s inhabitants speak with English accents anyway, he’d be the poster boy for colonialism.
But the real and most hideous problem with Anders 2.0, is that he’s a terrorist. Not content to be a whiny busybody with a messiah complex, Anders also wants to take bloody vengeance on the templars, and does so apparently, by blowing up a cathedral full of innocents, most of whom were neutral and/or sympathetic to the mages cause anyway. Oh Anders, you’re so amazing! /swoon.
One saving grace at this point is that you can actually put the bastard down right there and then. Unfortunately for my lawful Hawke there was no option to put him behind bars. You can either kill him, or let him go free… and that to me is a tad troubling.
It’s clear that what BioWare was trying to do was make you care about a terrorist and understand his plight. Apparently this was actually quite successful as his fangirl following is considerable and his valiant defenders innumerable. Somehow these people manage to separate the man from the act, and while that is curious in itself, it remains a little disturbing. Does it make it okay because you romanced him? Do the ends even justify the means for that matter?
It’s worth considering that Anders’s act of terrorism may have caused more harm than good. Many of the mages in Kirkwall panic and are quickly turned into abominations. In fact, even the First Enchanter is implied to be protecting blood mages, and is confirmed to be one at the very end of the story. Not only this, but because of the rebellion in Kirkwall, civil war breaks out across the continent as mages attempt to overthrow their captors.
Is this a good thing? I’m not actually sure how it can be. Anders himself has never visited Orlais, or Antiva, or really anywhere other than Ferelden and Kirkwall. In fact his sole experience of mages comes from his time in the tower in Ferelden, which, by Kirkwall’s standards is an almost charmingly friendly place to be. Not only that, but with the right choices in Origins you can emancipate the mages, thus showing that it is possible to get to that point without violence. Apparently my Anders forgot this. Convenient.
What disturbs me the most though is the awkward timing of this revelation. Around the time I was playing and completing DA2, another Anders was out in the world killing innocent people. Now I’m not going to be foolish enough to fall into a debate about whether real individuals can be compared to video game characters, or fictional characters in general. That is a debate I am destined to lose, but what I’m saying is that it’s kind of creepy.
In spite of this, DA2’s ending does come as a surprise, and is a brave choice on BioWare’s part. The game’s plot is largely non-existent, so the scene does make you feel like finally something big is happening, even though it serves mostly to pave the way for DA3. Still, it can’t be ignored that Anders 2.0 holds not even a passing resemblance to the joyful Anders of Awakening. This perhaps is a blessing in disguise, as I would be far more torn were I convinced that he was in fact the same person, rather than a guy that just looks a bit like him and happens to share his name.
Somewhere in the games development, Anders became the mage equivalent of a PETA activist. Though I’m not entirely sure if I would hate him less or more if his plan had been to release a nude poster for his “Whose Robes Are You In?” campaign.
Anyway, that’s enough of me gabbing. What do you think? Was Anders change of personality a believable one? Do you think he added to the story? Or do you believe like I do?
Whatever you opinion, I want to know it!