Anders broke my fucking heart. And he told me right from the start that he would. I just didn’t listen.
Listen, you must know the drill by now: Bria plays a BioWare game and has a lot of feelings about it and then writes about them. Except this time, this isn’t my third play-through of Mass Effect. It’s my very first play-through of all the Dragon Age games and I am somehow mostly spoiler free. However, this is BioWare so I knew to expect two things: romance and devastation. This game absolutely delivered on both fronts.
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably played Dragon Age II before and you know what happened. I romanced Anders and made him fall in love with me despite his hesitations and worries that he might hurt me. We were together for YEARS in Kirkwall, first as friends and then as lovers. There was supposed to be trust between us but then he asked me to provide a distraction but wouldn’t say why. It’s not until later that I found out why: so he could blow up the Chantry and force a confrontation between the mages and the Templars and hopefully spark a rebellion in the mage Circles throughout Thedas. It’s murder though, plain and simple, but it does get his intended result. It’s war in the streets of Kirkwall and rebellion elsewhere. I sided with the mages because Anders’ crimes weren’t theirs and I hate the Templars with a burning passion. I could never support them and their Right of Annulment and I’ve wanted to stab Knight-Commander Meredith for AGES.
But that left me with Anders and what to do with him and that choice was essentially between letting him live or executing him for his crimes.
I let him live.
To some extent, I think I did it because I love him and I’ve loved him ever since I met him while playing as the Warden-Commander in Awakening. I couldn’t bring myself to cut off his head or stab him in the back in the name of justice. It didn’t feel right. In fact, if you take romance out of the equation, it felt too easy. Game writer Jennifer Hepler said she thinks of keeping Anders alive as “poetic justice” and holy hell is she right because Anders wants to die for what he’s done. He expects it. He understands it. He doesn’t try and run away and help his brethren. He sits there and waits for your judgment. All he asks is that you make it quick. I sat there for a while trying to decide what to do because what’s a BioWare game without an agonizing decision that causes you to grab for the nearest stuffed droid and hug it tightly?
Ultimately I decided that letting him live and making him fight in the battle and see the consequences was the harsher punishment. Over in the Star Wars fandom, we talk a lot about redemption and whether dying or having to keep living and working for forgiveness holds more weight. I fall into the latter camp. To quote yet another work of art… dying is easy, young man/living is harder. By letting Anders live, I haven’t done him any favors. He has my love still, yes, but not my trust and he has to live with the weight of all of those deaths upon his shoulders and will always have the lingering question in the back of his mind about whether they were worth it. Even with time, neither of those will ever fade and there’s no certainty of forgiveness at the end.
Maybe death would have been kinder.
Once I got past my 4am feelings (okay fine: somewhat past), I found myself loving the Anders dilemma from a story telling perspective. Don’t get me wrong: I’m still emotionally distraught from that part of the game and likely will be for a long time but from a writing point of view, the entire situation is brilliant. Unlike in Knights of the Old Republic or Mass Effect, there’s no morality meter in Dragon Age. You don’t have a little bar telling you how good or how bad of a person you are. Just like in real life, those decisions are yours to make and they often aren’t easy because right and wrong aren’t quite as starkly distinguished. I don’t think there’s a right answer when it comes with what to do with Anders. What he did was absolutely, completely and utterly wrong. Causing the deaths of innocents for a good cause doesn’t justify them, no matter what the cause. But what does even justice mean in this situation? Is there even such a thing? That’s the question that’s bothered me for the *checks watch* 31 hours since I finished the game.
All I do know is what my Hawke decided; my alternating sarcastic and diplomatic with a handful of direct responses scattered throughout Act III Hawke who’d already lost so many of the important people in her life and who couldn’t bear to be the executioner of one of the last one left. She hasn’t done herself any favors here either because she has to live with it too. Yes, she agreed to go with him and work to help free the rest of the mages from the control of the Templars but their relationship, if there even is one left to salvage, will never be the same. As if Hawke needed more tragedy in her life.
This is the beauty of Bioware’s signature video games. Yes, it’s all fiction and ultimately, you can walk away from that world and never look back but if you let it, the choices you make there and the events that occur will stick with you if you let them. And what Anders did and what I chose to do with him? That will be with me for a good, long while.