BioWare Did Not Change Anders: A Refutation

I’ll preface this topic with the thing that always surprises me about conversations insisting that Anders was utterly changed to shoe-horn him into the Dragon Age 2 story line: I always assumed he was gay. The line about wishing for “a pretty girl on my arm” I presumed to be a figure of speech, a colloquialism rather than an actual expression of desire for female company.

Now, really, my Wardens were led to expect that everyone who knew her would adore a trip to her tent, so to speak. Morrigan was the sole exception and she didn’t like me anyway. Zev, Leliana, and Alistair were all but drooling on them. How could Anders possibly resist any of these amazing women unless he had no interest in female people?

Imagine my surprise at a male Warden’s complete inability to flirt with him, either. On top of that I find him eager to pursue a relationship with a LadyHawke in DA2. Apparently my Warden prowess had waned in Amaranthine. None of that has a blessed thing to do with Anders's personality. It’s mere sexuality.

If you really listen to Anders in Awakening you can hear the seeds of his bitterness, most clearly in his conversations with Justice. At the beginning he’s relieved at his reprieve from Templar pursuit and thrilled at his first tastes of freedom, certainly. For the first time in his life someone actively wants him to exercise his power to its full extent. Why wouldn’t he be a little giddy?

He’s still angry, however. He repeatedly expresses his frustration and guilt that the majority of mages are still subjected to the predation of the Templar Order under the Chantry’s rule. Combine his stated feelings with Justice’s single-mindedness et voila! You get Anders starting along that downward spiral. At the beginning of DA2 he’s still got his snark, he still shows sparks of fun, but he focuses less and less on himself and more on the injustice he perceives in the treatment of all mages in Thedas.

He tries to bury what he sees as his selfishness under a metric ton of sick and frightened refugees in Darktown but Justice sees right through that ploy. The real problem is not that Anders himself is free but that almost no other mage is. Once you talk to Karl—and Anders kills him—matters are only intensified.

Eventually the free clinic isn’t enough and he gets involved in the mage underground, smuggling people out of The Gallows. That assuages his guilt for a while but Justice gets harder and harder to control as the duo hear stories of what life is like in the Circle in Kirkwall. One step too far and he’s asked to butt out, essentially, thus removing an outlet for all that seething frustration. Is it any wonder he grows more and more withdrawn and defensive?

You can hear the resignation in his voice (and huge kudos to Adam Howden for the fantastic voice acting) when he finally settles on his ultimate plan and asks for help gathering the ingredients. It’s clear both in his animations and his words that he’s unhappy about deceiving you. I suspect Justice is no more thrilled with it than Anders, if you’ve taken the rivalry path and tried to keep their personalities separate. Neither can risk Hawke running to the Revered Mother, however.

From that point to the end it’s obvious how much his decision weighs on him. I imagine that, were the romance dialogue there, things would have gone downhill in the bedroom as well. All of his considerable energy has turned inward toward driving through his conscience to the ultimate goal: forcing the battle he deeply believes is the only way mages will ever truly gain freedom from Chantry rule.

Whether you agree with that conclusion or not (and goodness knows I’ve had Hawkes that fully bought into it and others that couldn’t have disagreed more) he’s utterly convinced of it. If anyone in Thedas might say it’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees, it’s the Justice-Anders he’s become by the end of DA2. Little as he likes it, he does what has to be done in his (their?) eyes.

From the first conversation you’re shown that Anders is a passionate, exuberant man. While Justice and Kirkwall strip his veneer of good cheer away under their combined, relentless assault he’s still the same person. When you romance him or go down the friendship path with him you get flashes of his humor late into the second act.

It surprises me that so many people confuse character development with a retcon. If you explore all of his dialogues you can follow his progress through DA: Awakening and DA2. It may not be what I would have wanted for his character but it made sense in the context of the story the writer’s wanted to tell.

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