How a hipster Anders ruined Dragon Age 2

(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.

I’m an abomination now. You probably don’t know what that is.

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.

Actually I’m not an abomination. An abomination is a label.

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.

Nice cathedral… seems to be missing something though… oh right, it’s not on fire.

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.

I only help the mage cause ironically. And by ironically I mean…

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!


About A. R. Whitehead

I'm an aspiring author, with a degree in English and Creative Writing. I love books, comics, games and film. My favourite genres are Science Fiction and Fantasy.
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4 Responses to How a hipster Anders ruined Dragon Age 2

  1. GamerDame says:

    While I think Anders’ change in personality is believable (I attribute it mostly to Justice, but Anders does mention in DA:A he thinks mages should have more freedom) that didn’t stop me from disliking him. He’s just so whiny & pushy in DA2, especially since I was going for a middle-ground approach (support more freedom for mages but not naive enough to think they didn’t need some oversight). This was made worse by the fact that, if you question him before agreeing to distract the Grand Cleric, he gets angry, says you’re not his friend & basically calls you selfish. At least Hawke can get angry & basically says, “I’ll help, but I won’t forget this.”

    • lightbleeder says:

      My personal opinion is that by trying to shoehorn more depth and story potential into a likable character they ruined what they already had. BioWare has a history of whiny characters (Carth, Kaiden, Alistair, to name but a few) but DA:A’s Anders would have bounced off of Isabela perfectly and made for some fun times in Kirkwall.

      I’ve always thought of DA:A’s Anders to be more selfish, but interested in the mage’s plight at a distance. I think he would have had more to say on the subject had he been accurately translated to DA2, but I don’t think it would have been the only thing he ever talked about. Literally everything to do with Anders in DA2 seems to revolve around emancipating mages.

      Also, thanks for the comment! You’re officially the first person to comment on my blog that wasn’t already a friend of mine and hasn’t been nagged into doing it!

  2. Shannon says:

    I personally don’t feel he ruined the story. I also don’t feel Bioware was trying to make you sympathize with a terrorist. If anything it’s the opposite. You watch a decent person spiral down throughout the game. His actions and behavior become increasingly erratic. You see this especially in a romance with him. I remember thinking it was sweet at first, if a bit intense, then I remember feeling increasingly uncomfortable and thinking “this feels obsessive/unhealthy to me.” By the time it gets to him trying to use the “if you really love me you’d help me” line to get Hawke to help in his plot to blow up the Chantry, I realized that he’s lost at that point. I like the Anders character and to a certain extent I feel for him although what he ended up doing angered me. What started as good intentions, helping Justice and standing up for freedom, becomes something destructive and changes him to the point where he’s obsessive about his cause and that obsession bleeds into every aspect of his life. I personally felt that was what the writers were going for…a tragic character. Not to feel sympathy for and agree with but to feel pity for as he spirals out of control and you hope you can reach through to him and save him from himself. It’s like watching a train speeding off the rails and wishing it’d get back on track but realizing there’s nothing you can do to stop it. I felt an emotional impact with his story arc. Not anger at the writers for changing a character…the change was logical given his possession and the fact that his anger twisted Justice into Vengeance. Not anger that he was too whiny…a term that i don’t care much for when I hear people describe characters. I feel like it’s just a general term thrown at anyone someone doesn’t like but it’s never truly elaborated on. Because honestly it could be argued that most characters are whiny at one point or another. Maybe it’s because I see it used so much without any other reason to why a character is awful. It seems anyone who isn’t happy constantly or has some personal issue or demons they’re dealing with is instantly labeled as whiny. Not that thats what you were doing…just what i notice a lot do. Each character will have their issues, flaws, and often causes. I guess i just never felt he was “whining” about mage problems. I felt at first that he was simply passionate about the issue and later obsessive as it became increasingly all he talked about in an intense way. Also he did still crack jokes in DA2 but there was always just a slight hint of weariness to the tone of them or much of what he said that indicated he was being worn down by both the circumstances in kirkwall and the possession. Again…his terrible act at the end packed an emotional punch (for me, as I’d been thoughtful of his character progression the whole game) which is what a story should do. It wasn’t what I wanted to happen…but that doesn’t make it bad. I would’ve loved to see him get some damn sense back…I wanted him to not go down the path he was so deadset on. I loved the Anders character and hated what he did (if it was even really him anymore at that point which is arguable) and for me that’s how it was meant to play out. His story just happened to take a sad turn. I enjoyed giving so much thought to all these characters, their internal issues and motivations, so for me the Dragon Age games give me a diverse array of characters and personalities interacting and clashing in a way that shapes the story into something complex and thought provoking. This is just my opinion though. I’m also falling asleep as I write since it’s 5 am and I haven’t been to sleep yet lol…so this whole thing hopefully makes sense at least. I just see so much hate for certain characters and thought I’d share my own take on one. I actually enjoy most if not all characters in some way or another…if the personality is one that rubs me wrong (as in: “i probably would not like this person in real life”) than I enjoy the dynamics of how that character plays into the story as a whole. They’re flawed games but I’ve always thought the characters were well done and the best part of them. Maybe it’s just the sleep deprivation talking 🙂

  3. Hey Shannon, thanks for the comment, and for taking the time to read my rant!

    First, may I say that I enjoyed reading your opinion on the character. It’s always interesting to see different points of view.

    I had intended to send a longer response, but sadly ended up losing it, so I’m sorry if this doesn’t touch on all the points your raised.

    Anders’s actions certainly can be justified via the explanation that “Justice made him do it”, but unfortunately that just isn’t a compelling reason. What Origins did beautifully, was portraying its characters with very human motivations and flaws.

    Anders is not human. He’s literally an abomination, and his motives can be explained via the obsession of the spirit inhabiting his body. That might be interesting in any other setting, but it’s a poor substitute in this one, for an original character – say a Kirkwall apostate – whose motives might have been more personal and realistic.

    I do agree with you, however, that “whiny” is all too often used to dismiss characters. On this occasion, I believe the term fits. The plight of the mages of Kirkwall is not Anders’s plight. He has imposed himself upon it – or Justice has, but that’s not much better. It also doesn’t help that it makes up so much of what he talks about.

    You also might be right that the original intention is not to sympathise with Anders’s actions, but be disgusted by them, but you have to understand the context in which this article was written. At the time, there were dozens of threads of people gushing over how wonderful Anders was – knowing full well what he did, and often attempting to justify it. In the light of a certain real world terrorist attack in Norway, I found this unsettling.

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