Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Dragon Age: Last Flight review

    The latest book out from Bioware set in the Dragon Age universe, I poured through Last Flight in a single night. Like all of the Dragon Age novels, it's a cut above your typical Dungeons and Dragons fair, and has a lot going for it. Still, I feel the book is somewhat marred by its ending and has somewhat less interesting subject matter than previous volumes. Those who enjoy the setting, however, will adore several revelations about the game world's lore and it is a good fantasy novel.

    Just not a great one.

    The premise of Last Flight is a group of mage refugees from the Mage-Templar War, set up in Dragon Age: Asunder, have joined the Grey Wardens to escape the fighting. They are put to work studying the ancient lore of the Grey Wardens and one of them stumbles on a account of the Fourth Blight.

    Blights, for non-fans of the game, is something akin to a combination of zombie-invasion and Orc attack. This account sheds light on the extinction of the griffon race, the morality of the Grey Wardens, and the dangers of Blood Magic.

    I'm not a fan of books which don't have anything to say about the real world and I'm pleased to say this book does have a message. It's an analysis of the consequences of an "ends justify the means" mentality. While the protagonist of Dragon Age: Origins can be anything from a bog-standard fantasy hero to a ruthless murderer to Mage Jesus, the Grey Wardens he belongs to have this as their bailiwick.

    Grey Wardens swear to do anything to stop the Blight, no matter how heinous, and are willing to give their lives to do it. Indeed, every Grey Warden does give their life to stop the Blight because the source of their powers eventually kills them.

    A lesser writer would have universally condemned this attitude or puffed it up. Liane Merciel, however, presents ruthlessness' upsides and downsides. We see why the Wardens do what they do and the sometimes disgusting things they need to do. We see them abandon refugees to die, lie to the public, literally prostitute themselves (a male for once), and animal experimentation. None of this is presented as a good thing but sometimes it works.

    Not always, though.

     Much like Zombie Apocalypses, the Blight is an excellent way of exploring the extremes of human morality. When faced with a natural disaster meets war situation like the Blight, what are the limits to what a person should be willing to do to survive?

   The Grey Wardens believe anything is justified and while the book doesn't go into some of the worst things I've seen in such fiction, it touches on enough of them you get the idea how this sort of attitude can blind you to other options. When you assume ruthlessness is the path of the strong, you begin to think any other way is weak.

   This is embodied in the treatment of the griffons. The griffons are gigantic eagle and lion hybrids which are used as flying mounts by the Grey Wardens. They represent the best in the Grey Wardens and are symbols of their higher natures. Despite "only" being animals, the griffons are presented as noble, beautiful, and intelligent beasts. They trust the Grey Wardens and should, theoretically, be treated with respect in return.

   Instead, the Grey Wardens find a means to make them more effective fighting machines at the cost of the griffons' lives. What follows is a story of exploitation, cruelty, and the consequences of messing with nature's delicate balance. It's a good metaphor with Blood Magic serving as a nice stand-in for both science and industry but sadly gets undercut by its ending.

    Without spoiling anything, I can't help but feel the story of the griffons' extinction would have been better without the sliver of hope provided at the end. It worked in The Lorax but in real-life, there are no take-backs and the world is diminished every time we let a species go extinct. Letting them stand as a monument to the selfishness of humanity, even in theoretical good-cause, would have made the story more powerful.

    In conclusion, Last Flight is a book with a lot going for it. It is an interesting premise, gives good insight into what a long-standing Blight is like, shows how Blood Magic works in the setting in greater-detail, and has something to say about morality. The environmental message is neither heavy-handed nor easy-to-miss. I liked the majority of the characters, even though only a couple of them were underdeveloped. In short, I suggest you pick this book up if you like fantasy or Dragon Age in particular. Just don't expect to be blown away.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Purge review

    One of the weirdest complaints I have ever heard about a movie is "this could never happen." This was frequently leveled at The Purge when it first came out. Now that its much-improved sequel, The Purge: Anarchy is out, I thought I'd revisit this title and why I think this is an odd complaint. There's still plenty of flaws with the movie but the one I hear most is one I just do not get.

    The premise is, for one day a year, all crime is legal with a few minor restrictions on weaponry as well as who you can kill. This is stated to have increased the economy, reduced unemployment, and reduced crime across the board. The price for this is the poor, homeless, and unloved by society are preyed upon by an increasingly bloodthirsty public. This is a pretty big pill to swallow and where most audiences either tune in or tune out. However, it's actually the backstory for the movie rather than the "main plot."

    The main plot is, sadly, considerably less interesting than then setting. A 'New Money' family locks itself down for the night until their young son takes in a homeless man fleeing an angry mob. The mob decides killing the homeless man is worth breaking into their home and the family must decide to turn him over or fight off the invaders. Some commentators have uncharitably stated the only reason the titular Purge exists is to justify why the family can't call the police. To that, I say, "that's not the entire reason. Probably."

Who could possibly think this man is unreasonable?

     Describing the story, I can see plenty of readers rolling their eyes and shaking their head at such a ludicrous idea as legalizing crime for a single night. You know what's also ludicrous? Vampires. Zombies. Video tapes which can kill you in seven days. The list goes on and on but we expect these premises because they're the basis of the story.

     Of course, I understand the suspension of disbelief is something you need to maintain. The thing is, I don't think the movie's 'message' is meant to be taken literally. It's not a story about how, if we were willing to outlaw crime, then everyone rich would become bloodthirsty psychopaths profiting from the suffering of others.  No, I think the movie is one extended metaphor.

    A parable if you will.

    The America depicted is a religious, materialist, and patriotic society which prides itself on its civility. The New Founding Fathers, the unseen architects of the Purge, have convinced the entirety of America that legalizing crime one night of the year is in their best interests. That the rich and middle-class of society should utilize this time period to enact their most violent fantasies on those who haven't got a prayer of defending themselves. They even state, unironically, this is religiously good as it purges them of darker emotions despite the families involved being ostensible Christians.

Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey do a good job portraying a "normal" American family in very abnormal circumstances.
    Now, I understand, this makes no damn sense on a literal level. Why would legalized crime encourage people on murder-sprees? Wouldn't they be looting instead? Getting themselves a new TV? How about big corporations? Wouldn't the IT guy be emptying his employer's bank account? How in the world would any of this be helping the economy? Well, that's because this isn't about the premise. It's not like, "Today + Purge = Movie."

    It's about America today as is.

    The Purge is an angry movie. It's a smarter movie than it has to be the fact it's mostly just a bog-standard home invasion story. The stock Hollywood horror plot is used to talk about how Americans have blinded themselves to the suffering of the poor, destitute, and needy while convincing themselves they're the good guys. The family in the film isn't evil but they are the very definition of privileged. Blind to the darkness around them or just willfully self-deluded. It's only when directly confronted with the consequences of their apathy they are forced to make a moral choice.

    The acting is top-notch with Lena Heady giving a great performance as the moral center of the film. Rhys Wakefield gives a deliciously over-the-top performance as the leader of the yuppie psychopaths. I also liked Ethan Hawke's attempt to be his family's patriarch despite being both emotionally and physically weak. I cared about the family and wanted to get through the disaster alive. That, at its most basic level, makes it a good horror movie.

    Now, does the movie have flaws? Oh, immense ones. As mentioned, the actual execution of the movie is a bog-standard home invasion story. Countless times, it seems like someone is going to die only for them to get saved at the last minute by someone off-camera. Their house is also, apparently a labyrinth since they can't find a single guy hiding out in it.

The Purge is about American hypocrisy the same way Dawn of the Dead is about consumerism. That's my take, at least.
    That's not counting the fact they're not smart enough to see they're alone in the house to begin with. I'm also more than a little peeved our "heroes" didn't even bother to learn the name of the one black character in the movie (nor did the movie feel obligated to share it).

    Still, I think The Purge is an excellent movie. Is it original in anything but premise? Hell no. The social satire, however, elevates the material. The performances are very good for a movie of this caliber, though, too. In short, the movie skates by with a bit of political commentary and an emotional core which makes you care about the victims. That's all a horror movie has to do and it does a little bit more besides. So I give it an "above average" score. Watch it if you're bored and want to be entertained.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Dresden Files: Fool Moon review

    I didn't like this book.

    Well, no, that's unfair. I think this is the least of the Dresden Files novels but there's nothing that offended me. There's even some good in this novel, more so than plenty of other lesser urban fantasy novels I've read. If one were to read Fool Moon, however, one might walk away with an impression the series is much less than it is. As a result, if one were to skip any book in the series, I'd argue this is the one to do so.

    The premise of Fool Moon is Harry Dresden is investigating a series of werewolf attacks which are occurring throughout Chicago. Harry learns there are multiple different kinds of lycanthropes in the course of his investigations and not all of them may be evil. Even the good ones, however, are dangerous.

    Harry must make several moral decisions throughout the course of the book and determine whether his allegiance to the White Council's Laws of Secrecy trumps his friendship with Lieutenant Murphy of the Chicago PD. If he continues to lie to her about the supernatural he runs the risk of alienating her forever but if he tells her the truth, he will be responsible for any deaths which result.

    The relationship between Harry and Murphy in Fool Moon is the most troubling element of the story as the latter's behavior comes off as, in my humble opinion, deranged. She insists on complete truth from Harry despite the fact she ostensibly considers him an expert in the supernatural. I understand breaking off their relationship if she doesn't want to be lied to. However, Murphy goes the extra mile in this novel and arrests him at once point in order to blackmail him into telling her the truth.

    People die as a result.

    A lot of people.

    Worse, the book treats Harry Dresden as the one in the wrong. Repeatedly, Harry makes prudent and wise decisions before the book punishes him for it. He always ends up being the one to apologize too and there's times it becomes eye-rollingly bad. I desperately wanted an apology from Murphy for her actions but she remains unrepentant until the end and I've never really forgiven her for this. Even many books later, I don't quite like her character nearly as much as the author wants me to.

    All because of this book.

    Perhaps the part I liked most about this book is Jim Butcher going out of his way to establish there's multiple kinds of werewolves. We get each of them described as well as a basic taxonomy of what their role is in the supernatural world. Some of them are quite powerful, others relatively weak, and others still just psychotic. If more authors took the time to do this kind of world-building, I'd respect their work much more. Fool Moon may not be my favorite book in the series but it creates a very interesting set of werewolves which I'd wished we'd learned more about.

    There's quite a bit of good in this book, despite my complaints. I enjoyed the nightmarish werewolf attack on the police station, Harry speaking with himself, the Alphas, and Bob's exposition. These just don't outweigh all the bad. They just sort of sit evenly with it, making a book which is neither bad nor good.

    Just there.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Social Satire of Dragon Age: Mages and Templars part 3

Part 1
Part 2

    There is also the issue of the Tevinter Imperium when dealing with mages. One of the standard warnings against mages gaining their independence is fear for a new Tevinter's rise. Cultural memory of the abuses the Tevinter have committed plus ones continuing now remain in the psyche of Thedans everywhere. Fenris, former slave to the Tevinter, often cites his former masters as a reason mages cannot be trusted in general. Lord Seeker Lambert, furthermore, cites his own experience as a Templar in Tevinter as proof that the culture of magicians lends itself to corruption.

    This is not completely illogical or a false analogy. One of the issues raised in the Cold War was to set down one's weapons was to invite attack. The possession of nuclear weapons was considered a strategic necessity if any country was to matter on the world stage. This led to not only the arms race between the United States and Soviet Union but countries like France as well as the United Kingdom to possess nuclear weapons.

    Lord Seeker Lambert mentions he was close friends with a number of mages, including the Black Divine, but that his friend became corrupted by Blood Magic. This is not due to, as one might ascertain, an inherent moral failing but the fact he required it as a means of counteracting other people who possessed it. Fenris mentions that Blood Magic is proscribed within Tevinter but that it is passed around in secret and alludes that there is a culture of, "if everyone else is doing it, why shouldn't I?" This becomes even worse with a culture of in-fighting which encourages mages to resort to any means necessary for social prestige.

    One might argue this is a recipe for legalizing (or proscribing less strenuously) Blood Magic but a much-more sensible argument in my mind is to maintain much stronger prohibitions against its use. Thedan history, arguably like our own, shows that any advantage will be exploited in the name of gain and normalized. War is filled with prohibitions against various types of weapons from the crossbow to poison gas but which are used extensively unless every culture in the world agrees to outlaw them with harsh penalties.

    Thedas is a continent ruled by a military aristocracy who derives their power from force of arms. If mage freedom exists, how likely is it that beings which much more power than weapons will rise to the top? How much damage will be caused by people resisting this? What are the possible consequences given that said abilities can rupture holes in reality. There is a strong argument that Tevinter is a hellhole because of an "evil" culture than, simply put, magic being insufficiently regulated.

    The ambitious rise to the top and normalize dangerous and immoral activities because it serves their purposes. This leads to things like Arl Vaughn abusing the elves of the Denerim Alienage simply because he can. How much worse are these abuses going to be when one can mind-control subjects or create an inexhaustible army of demons at your commend? What seems necessary is an intermediary.

    Which is where the Chantry comes in.

    The Chantry is an organization which exists, theoretically, impartial to the Mage and Templar struggle with the organization serving as a buffer between them. While I have mentioned the hatred of magic that the Chantry engenders, it is fair to admit they have probably done more for the safety and security of mages than anyone else in Thedas.

    The Nevarran Accord, signed in 1:20 Divine or roughly eight-hundred years ago, permitted mages to be able to practice their arts inside the Circles without fear of reprisal by the public. Prior to this, magic was illegal in the Empire of Orlais. The mages heroism during the First Blight helped win them a limited amount of respect from the public and Chantry in particular. This treaty changed the Inquisition into the Templars and Seeker Orders, which merged with the Chantry despite prior independence.

    The Templars, despite accusations of such by Anders, are not just their jailers but also their protectors. The mortal Cole which the spirit is based on from Dragon Age: Asunder was almost killed by his father for the "crime" of having magic while his mother was outright slain. Rhys comments that Cole's story isn't all that uncommon amongst those born outside the Circle and displaying magic is a mortal sin in the eyes of many. Templar Evangeline is able to thwart an impromptu lynch mob when they are traveling through the Orlesian countryside while the mages, themselves, are unable to intimidate the public.

Carver Hawke is a Templar and brother to two Apostates. He protects the innocent as well as mages. You know, when he's not screwing up.
    Without the Circles, it's entirely possible mages would be subject to violence and slavery. The Qunari, giant horned humanoids from an island-continent above Thedas, demonstrate what a less-forgiving system might look like as mages have their mouths sewn shut while being literally collared. They are used only for killing enemies of the Qunari. It is implied even this would be forbidden if not for the fact magic was so damned useful.

    The Circles themselves are run by the mages and College of Enchanters with many of the abuses like Tranquility being something they actively participate in. First Enchanter Irving is willing to sign off on making Jowan Tranquil because he believes him to be a threat (which he is). Later, it is Irving's desire to prove mages capable of policing themselves which allows Uldred to assemble his army. We see that, even as late as Act III of Dragon Age 2, the First Enchanter holds near equal authority to the Knight Commander. The Rite of Annulment can only be performed with the say-so of the Grand Cleric so there is a system of checks and balances in place to prevent abuses.

    The Circles are, in a sense, independent nation within the ranks of Thedas which are merely supervised by the Templars. While we may think of being taken from one's families and held prisoner in the Circle as a horrible thing, it's also important to remember that in addition to the safety issue, that "freedom" is not something the Circles are without a great deal of as compared to the rest of Thedas. Aside from their lack of ability to breed and raise their children, something which would compel me to rebel admittedly, the Circles are more comfortable than anywhere but the homes of the high nobility.

    Possibly more.

    Anders and Morrigan speak much of freedom but the right of property is one which has always determined whether people are free in history. Those who do not know where their next meal is coming from, whether they will have a roof over their heads, and what sort of medical care they will get when they're sick can never be free. A Circle mage, due to the generosity of the Chantry, has these freedoms whereas the average City Elf or Fereldan peasant does not.

Anders murder of the Grand Cleric starts his war for freedom. However, it's very much HIS war. It wouldn't have even begun if not for Meredith being corrupted by Red Lyrium.
    The Circles are post-race in a way unknown in the rest of Thedas. Elves and humans sit together in the Circles as equals whereas the former are ghettoized elsewhere. The Rite of Annulment is horrific but nothing prevents an Arl from doing the same to City Elves in the Denerim Alienage or the citizens of Amaranthine should events dicate such. Indeed, it's far harder to enact the Rite of Annulment than to simply murder the helpless lower-classes of Thedas. Mages have power and importance, peasants do not.

    Indeed, whereas the Chantry has a vested financial investment in the existence of Tranquil, so does it have in thinking-living mages. The Qunari have invaded Thedas in the past in order to convert the public to their religion. Mages contributed a great deal to repelling their invasion, countering the Qunari use of gunpowder-based weaponry.

    From a practical standpoint, the Chantry wants to keep mages happy as well as dependent on its good graces. This is in sharp contrast to the City Elves who, unlike mages, have no real capital to barter with. Mages are a minority which may be despised but is still possessed of influence while Elves are not. I leave the comparisons to real-life minorities and their plights to you.

    There is even, theoretically, a check on Templar abuses of power from the Seekers. Knight Commander Martell attempts his own brand of mage-backed terrorism in Dawn of the Seeker, planning to institute a draconian anti-mage agenda before it is thwarted by Seeker Cassandra.

    While his treason is against the Chantry as a whole, Cassandra works with a mage to bring him to task and gains respect for their role in protecting the Chantry. Sadly, it is Lord Seeker Lambert, the presumed head of that organization, whom is the party which dissolves the Nevarran Accord. So it's possible for the entire system to come tumbling down.

Leliana does everything she can to prevent war between mages and Templars. She fails because, on some level, neither WANT peace--or so it seems. Better to say both sides have FACTIONS who don't want it and they win.
    It is a testament to just how functional the Circle system was that so much needs to go wrong in order to compel the mages to rebel. In addition to Anders act of terrorism, Meredith's Annulment of the Kirkwall Circle (spurred on by red lyrium), the Annulment of the Rivain Circle, the rise of a liberal Pro-Mage Divine, and the discovery for a Tranquility Cure are all required to happen in very short order for things to come to war. While Dragon Age 2 implies the war begins immediately after the Kirkwall Annulment, David Gaider retcons things in Dragon Age: Asunder to require much more.

    This is perhaps more realistic as revolutions are rarely built in a day. Even with long-simmering resentment, there is usually a trigger event required or a series of them. It is noteworthy that, for all of the abuses mentioned in part 1 of this essay, many mages seem content. Wynne expresses desire to reform the Circle but from within as she views the Chantry as a source of protection as well as oppression. Finn, from the Witch Hunt DLC, expresses his overwhelming happiness at Circle life due to the luxuries he experiences as a Loyalist. A Circle Bethany finds more fulfillment as an instructor of mage children than as a "free" mercenary or Grey Warden.

    The mages who express the most dissatisfaction, if not outright hatred, are Apostate Morrigan (who has never been to a Circle before events of Origins) and terrorist Anders. Also, possibly the Protagonist of the Mage Origin, amusingly enough. Uldred is able to get a full-scale rebellion going in the Fereldan Circle, something First Enchanter Irving clearly did not anticipate, but it is notable that only a minority rebelled.

    Mages are divided into factions akin to political parties. Of them, only a single one advocates divorcing themselves from the Chantry. Others desire reform from within or to use their powers to do good, regardless of how this affects their personal freedom. One of them is devoted to making money, which implies mages are able to own property and accumulate wealth despite their Circle-bound lives.

    Another thing to note about all of these rights and privileges is, however, they weren't achieved all at once. The Divine Ambrosia II attempted an Exalted March on a group of peacefully-protesting mages who demanded greater rights to use magic. The mages' nonviolent method worked and it's been implied that mages have achieved greater freedoms by working within the system. Many of these freedoms were repealed after the Kirkwall Annulment, which contributed to the Mage-Templar War, but that played right into the hands of mage radicals.

    Either way, it becomes an interesting question of Freedom vs. Security when the system breaks down into violence. When one group being oppressed in the name of security, rightly or wrongly, refuses to submit or negotiate then war is the result. Barring the Quarian and the Geth War or the conflict with the Reapers, genocide is not usually the result of military conflicts. The decision by the College of Enchanters to revolt en masse as well as the Templar Order to break away from the Chantry to destroy them means one side or the other will triumph in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Then the very hard question of "what next" will occur.

    When two sides are at peace, negotiation is possible but wars tend to result in one side dictating terms to the other. Concessions may be made (and almost always are) but what those may be is often up in the air until the final blow is struck. Perhaps the thing real-life is most similar to Dragon Age regarding is that neither the Templars or Circle seem to have any idea of what the final result is going to be. "Freedom" is not a goal. Neither is "Justice" or "Safety." These concepts are too nebulous and ill-defined to serve as proper war-time goals. Revolutions and wars based on them have created some of the worst atrocities in human history before degenerating into absolute chaos.

Ask the City Elves what they think of their freedom as compared to Mages.
    If the Mages defeat the Templars, forcing their disbanding or acceptance of the Circles' independence, they will have significant challenges to face. They no longer have the funding, support, or protection of the Chantry. Getting new mages will be difficult and while they can breed new ones, this still leaves countless members of their "people" scattered across the land. Nothing will prevent hostile nations from attacking Circles now since the Chantry is not their ally.

    Mage-friendly nations like Tevinter do not feel obliged to help their fellow magicians and, indeed, consider them possible rivals. They may ally with existing governments as Loghain offered but doing so means they will be divided as a Fereldan Circle's mages war against a Orlais Circle's.

   If the Templars defeat the Mages, going back to the "Old System" will be a challenge. The Circle system worked as well as it did due to the participation of the mages within it. Apprentice mages were trained by senior mages in how to avoid the temptations of demons as well as what sort of benefits they derived from assisting the Chantry.

    Even the Tranquil Solution or killing all new mages isn't a real option as families which care for their children will be more likely to hide them than give them over. Apostates would have no reason to surrender to the Templars, encouraging more Blood Magic use than ever. The Templars might never be overthrown but countries around the world have to deal with guerrilla warfare over a course of centuries because of unchanging hardline tactics.

    That's assuming the Templars, themselves, can reconcile with the Chantry because while the Mage uprising is bad--the Templars have rebelled every bit as much. Such a flagrant violation of church authority means that the Templars can no longer be trusted to follow the orders of the Chantry's leadership. Likewise, the precedent of Kirkwall will never be forgotten. Even if every mage who rebelled is killed and a new Circle is created, there is history that the Templars can be defeated (or escaped if Hawke sides with Knight Commander Meredith).

    In short, when you go to war for freedom or security, be careful you don't lose both.

The Social Satire of Dragon Age: Mages and Templars part 2

Part 1
Part 3

    Perhaps even more controversial than the Rite of Annulment amongst mages, however is the Rite of Tranquility. As mentioned before, this is a procedure which removes the ability of mages to feel emotions. The resulting figures, called Tranquil, are supernaturally calm and reserved. They are (apparently) immune to possession and, thus, no threat to their fellow beings.

    Dragon Age: Asunder shows that, instead of being immune, they are simply undesirable as hosts to demons but this is functionally the same as immunity. A Tranquil is less appealing to a demon than a non-magic-using human and thus not likely to endanger other beings by his mere existence.

    The first encounter with a Tranquil mage in the Mage Origin is one of horror and curiosity as we find someone who was once feeling but has since become otherwise. The Tranquil we meet, Owain, says that he is content with his life but feels no emotions. He can be neither happy nor sad, though he expresses some vague displeasure at the horrific destruction wrecked by demons during the "Broken Circle" questline in Origins. Mage player-characters can insult or abuse this figure, calling him an automaton, but this is a poor response given he has already suffered a grievous violation (whether willingly or not).

    Knight Captain Cullen, a figure presented as more-or-less reasonable example of the Templars, has the idea that Tranquility is a moral alternative to executing every mage who proves incapable of resisting demonic temptation.

    But is it?
Without emotion, without feeling, without love, without hate, breath is just a clock. Ticking.
     Much as lobotomies were considered to be a corrective surgery for certain mental illnesses, the serious side effects of the procedure call into question how anyone could believe this to be humane (or even a lesser evil). The sheer horror mages like Anders and Jowan display for Tranquility go a long way to explaining the violent insurrections which take place across the Circles in the Dragon Age games.

    The fact the rite is meant to require both the approval of the Knight Commander as well as First Enchanter does little to mitigate the fear mages have of the procedure being forced upon them. We see, with Ser Alrik, Templars are quite capable of doing the rite on their own initiative.

    However, and this is where the procedure becomes relevant to current discussions regarding Freedom vs. Security--one needs to be wary of FINANCIAL considerations when discussing the Tranquil rite.

    The Second Iraqi War was criticized in some circles, justifiably or not, as having more to do with protecting American oil interests than overthrowing a dictator. President Eisenhower warned against the Military Industrial Complex using its economic might to force the United States into wars for the sake of profit.

    In the case of the Tranquil, they offer an immense financial benefit to both the Templars and the Chantry. This isn't just because they are obedient slaves, though that is a consideration. No, it is because of the fact Tranquil are capable of working with the highly-dangerous substance of lyrium.

    Lyrium is a mystical substance useful as both a drug, a power-source, and an explosive. It's perhaps most potent use, however, is being worked to create magical items. Magical glyphs, while not as potent in Dragon Age as other franchises, can transfer a bow or a sword into a weapon equivalent to a modern day firearm. While dwarves are capable of enchantment too, it is far riskier for them versus Tranquil.

Sandal's "quirks" may be the result of how dangerous lyrium is to even dwarvish users.
    Tranquil are capable of working day and night to produce weapons, armor, or otherwise for the Templars. Furthermore, these goods are sold as seen in the Wonders of Thedas shop, for great amounts of gold. Which causes one to wonder if the Chantry does not have a vested interest in always making sure there's Tranquil regardless of the actual capacity of mages. Even if all the money goes back to the Circle, as indicated by the Tranquil at Ostagar, that just shows there is a benefit to the Tranquil's existence beyond preventing possession.

    As we find out with Libertarian mage Adrian and the "recovered" Tranquil Karl (before he returns to that state), many mages would prefer death to Tranquility. Others, horrified by dreams or fearful of the Harrowing, consider it their only hope of salvation and being "freed" from magic. Ex-Tranquil Pharamond expresses less horror than Karl at his past existence but is quite happy to have his emotions restored.

    Which brings us to the Harrowing. The Harrowing is a rite of passage similar to the Jedi Trials or, in an odd way, a driver's test. A mage who passes the Harrowing is no longer an apprentice and receives the full respect of his peers. He is accorded certain rights and privileges like a theoretical immunity to becoming Tranquil.

    Before becoming a Grey Warden, Anders becomes an apostate seven or eight times with only a year in solitary confinement (bad as that may be) due to his having passed the Harrowing. The rite of Tranquility cannot be used punitively by Templars acting within the law. Not that it was ever meant to be used that way to begin with.

    The Harrowing is a test by which a mage is mentally sent into the Fade and displays his ability to fight, resist temptation by, and outsmart demons. At its most basic level, it is meant to demonstrate a mage does not have to be feared as a "possession risk." Theoretically, they are not the sort of beings the general public should have to fear. Unfortunately, the Harrowing is a flawed rite from both the Mage as well as Templar side (more so the former than the later).

Mages can become Abominations voluntarily. Even if this is beyond stupid. Why? Because humans (and elves) are stupid.
    As a test, it is runs the risk of being immoral and as a means of demonstrating a mage is not dangerous--it is decidedly lacking. The Templars kill any subject who becomes an Abomination during this procedure, despite the means to free them being in close access (as we saw with Connor--it is possible to free possessed mages), but this is not necessarily a bad thing given the danger even a single one of their kind can pose.

    As we see with Uldred, even powerful run the risk of possession. The Baroness, a cruel and powerful Orlesian Blood Mage, actually becomes a Pride Demon rather than being possessed by one. Grace, one of the apostates taken to Kirkwall's chantry, becomes a Pride Abomination. Evelyn, another renegade, accepts the help of demons to escape the Templars.

    Anders, himself, accepts a benevolent Fade spirit into his body with their clash of personalities warping the other into an unrecognizable fusion. First Enchanter Orsino believes becoming an abomination to kill more Templars is an even trade-off during a moment of despair (which doesn't work out for him). In short, no mage is entirely free from the risk of possession and the Harrowing is merely a comforting lie which pretends otherwise.

    Worse, the culture around the Harrowing is vile from a moral perspective. Apprentice mages are terrified of the Harrowing and some, like Jowan, resort to drastic means (such as Blood Magic) because of their fear. Some even elect to become Tranquil rather than take it. The fact the Enchanters neither allay the fears of these subjects or have an alternative to it is highly questionable. The ability to fight demons physically does not provide any insight into whether a mage has moral fiber to resist possession nor does the former provide any insight into the latter.

    The fact the mages know they will be watched during the Harrowing makes it a dubious test for one's ability to resist demonic temptation. Only a complete moron, for example, would make a deal with a demon while a Templar is literally standing over their unconscious bodies. The fact mages are forced to take the Harrowing and sometimes die, on a frequent enough basis to go uncommented on as we see in Dragon Age: Asunder makes it use questionable. In some ways, it is political theater, demonstrating a false triumph in order to allay concerns about a person.

    Which brings us to Blood Magic and Mage Terrorism.

Yes, use your aggressive feelings! Give into your anger!
    Blood Magic is a forbidden school of magic which was taught to the Tevinter Magisters ages ago by the Old God Dumat. During Dragon Age: Origins we find out it is possible to learn this school of magic from both studying it in books (as Jowan did) and from demons. As the Rite of Tranquility gives the Chantry a vested financial interest in treating mages as slaves, so does Blood Magic give mages a vested financial interest in treating non-magical individuals as chattle. Practitioners are known as Maleficar and they are some of the most despised individuals in Thedas for their activities.

    Blood Magic, itself, is amoral since it can be used by both moral paragon player-characters as well as villainous monsters. It is a tool, nothing more. However, like a gun or nuclear weapon, its uses are limited beyond inflicting harm. Blood magic deals with the control of demons, mind-control, and the harvesting of human life-force for mystical power. A few individuals, like the Blood Mage Avernus, have found medicinal benefits to the practice but the majority of practitioners seem interested in its use as a weapon or source of easy power.

    As we see with Jowan, feats impossible for a single magic without great amounts of lyrium, become possible with human sacrifice. Even strong-willed mortals like a non-mage Hawke, are incapable of resisting Blood Magic to kill themselves. The aforementioned Avernus used his Blood Magic to assist in the rebellion of Sophie Dryden against the tyrant Arland by mind-controlling individuals into supporting her.

    To say this is highly unethical is understating matters.

    Demons tend to be in the service of Blood Mages, often appearing in great numbers. Uldred's misuse of it turned the Circle of Magi in Fereldan to a charnel house. Even otherwise-moral Merrill ran the risk of unleashing a Pride Demon on the world despite her precautions. All mages risk corruption by demons but Blood Mages invite them in through the front door because they believe they can be made to behave.

    As we see with Jowan, a mystique has appeared around Blood Magic, and it encourages mages to study it despite the risks it runs to not only the mage themselves but those around them. Zathrian the Elvish Keeper's story shows it can bestow immortality but the price was a hideous curse on the Brecilian Forest's human inhabitants.

    The, admittedly biased, former slave Fenris indicates that many mages turn to Blood Magic because its benefits outweigh its drawbacks if one is immoral. Those mages who turn to Blood Magic are able to dominate their fellows and conquer lesser humans in a way other mages can only dream about due to their endless supply of magical power as long as there's bodies to sacrifice.

    The World of Thedas volume 1 talks about how otherwise content (for as much as one can be) slaves in Tevinter are horrified when their seemingly-benevolent master sacrifices their lives to gain an advantage against a rival. As long as people value their own lives above others, Blood Magic will be an "easy" solution to turn to. One can draw parallels to hardcore drug-dealing, weapons-trafficking, and other crimes which are insoluble as they're so good at providing what a subject wants at low cost save ethically. The ties between drug-trafficking and terrorism are something which need not be commented on.

    The public interest becomes more threatened by ambitious mages wielding Blood Magic than it does by possessed mages as Maleficar can intentionally inflict the mass-devastation weak-mages can do accidentally. The Old Tevinter Imperium holds a place of cultural horror and trauma in the minds of Thedasians due to the mass human sacrifices, mind-control, and unspeakable rites practiced by its leadership. Perhaps the worst of these atrocities being the infliction of the Blight on reality when they used Blood Magic to attempt to visit the Fade's Golden City. While the Chantry has mythologized the event, the existence of the Darkspawn Corypheus proves there is some truth to the story.

    In short, mages can destroy villages. Blood Mages can destroy the world.

    The issues become muddled with Mage Terrorism. You wouldn't think that terrorism would be a thing in a Medieval society such as Thedas but it is an on-going theme with the Templar and Mage struggle. The destruction of the Kirkwall Chantry by Anders is easily compared to a modern-day act of terrorism, blowing up a public building as well as civilian structure in order to make a symbolic strike against authority.

Blood Mages look like everyone else. They can also play the role of the misunderstood victim.
    We see another act in the transformation of Templars into Abominations via Blood Magic. Dawn of the Seeker shows Blood Mages working with renegade Chantry members to kickstart a war they both want by assassinating a liberal Divine. Senior Enchanter Adrian commits murder as well as other crimes to force neutral Rhys into turning against the Templars.

    These acts are not attempts to win a convention, or even guerrilla, war against the Templars but designed psychological strikes to demoralize their foe or invite reprisals that will harden their neutral associates. Real-life terrorism has been conducted with the aim of inviting crackdowns which will hurt the innocent, causing individuals to become more sympathetic to the terrorists. This is, in fact, Anders' own aim as the overreaction of Knight Commander Meredith kicks off the Mage-Templar War.

    Mages are a despised minority in Thedas due to a combination of Chantry teachings, the Tevinter Imperium's abuses, and the actual dangers of both Blood Magic and possession. Mages are no better or worse than regular human beings and elves but the potential damage they can cause is disproportionately strong. Leliana, who is otherwise sympathetic to mages in Dragon Age: Origins, believes the Resolutionist faction of mages (liberation through terrorism) represents one of the direst threats to Thedas since the Blight. This may or may not be hyperbole as we will find out in Dragon Age: Inqusitition.

    There is no chance of mages winning a conventional war against the military forces of Thedas and they might only just be able to defeat the Templars as a whole. Even then, such is only the case with a united response from magi. For that, terrorists like Anders have to invite the full wrath of the Templars down in order to convince their fellows that revolt is better than compromise.

We'll get into Peace, Compromise, and Realpolitic with The Social Satire of Dragon Age: Mages and Templars part 3.

The Social Satire of Dragon Age: Mages and Templars part 1

Part 2
Part 3

    As has been mentioned many times before in this blog, I am a huge fan of the Dragon Age series. I have purchased all of the games, DLC, novels, and comics. It's a world which builds very much off the Dungeons and Dragons aesthetics and it does it well. This is no surprise since the same people who made Dragon Age also made Baldur's Gate, one of the all-time best RPGs of all time. I think Dragon Age is an improvement over that, not the least because you can romance the red-headed rogue. However, what sort of social commentary can be found in a setting filled with dwarves and elves?

    Quite a lot, in fact.

    The chief example of this and the focus of today's essay is going to be the often debated subject of Templars vs. Mages. It was a minor issue in Dragon Age: Origins but became a major focus of the storyline in Dragon Age 2 (indeed, some would say too much focus was paid to it). It's a conflict with much nuance and the source of many heated debates on the internet. Unlike many such arguments, there's a larger issue at stake which the conflict serves as a good metaphor for.

    Specifically, Freedom versus Security.

    For the purposes of this essay, we will define freedom as a rite of self-determination and control over one's body. There is also the freedom of property, both owning it as well as accumulating it. All of these will be addressed within this, rather lengthy, three-part essay. Security will be defined as the greater public good, including freedoms for those individuals who are not having theirs restricted. For example, locking up a slaver so he doesn't enslave other people. This essay will not attempt to forward either quality as inherently superior but understand all functioning societies contain an inherent balance of both.

    To understand this conflict, we need to understand the full scope of the issue and that will require an analysis of both sides' relationship to the other. This is going to be a lengthy discussion so please bear with me. Note: the use of the term satire refers to humorous works by but I find the label appropriate here given the use of fantasy characters to stand in for other issues. Others may disagree and are welcome to do so.

    The premise of the Templar and Mage conflict begins with individuals in the world of Dragon Age being born with magic rather than taught it. The powers manifest at adolescence and often in violent, destructive ways. In Dragon Age: Asunder, we encounter a child who killed her parents by summoning a fireball. This is the least of their dangers, however, as mages are a beacon to extra-dimensional monsters in the Fade (termed "demons" by the dominate religions of the continent).

The destructive power of mages.
    Mages who are possessed by a demon are called "Abominations" and present the single greatest threat to life in the setting after Dragons and the Darkspawn. We encounter our first Abomination in a young boy named Connor who is a Mage not sent to the Circle. Making a pact with a demon to save the life of his father, Connor is transformed into a Damien Thorne-style horror which summons hordes of the undead to serve him and mind-controls individuals to serve him in degrading ways.

    Without the heroes, its very possible Connor is capable of killing all life in a medium-sized village. We hear of another Abomination from Knight Commander Meredith, her own sister in fact, who destroys much of a town before she's put down. Meredith's family had concealed her from the Templars, only for her freedom to become a nightmare. Demons are wily creatures too and we see a young girl befriend a talking cat that, if freed, will promptly possess her and walk around in her body like a new suit.

The face of evil.
    The solution in Thedas is that all mages, once identified, are taken to the Circles. The Circles are, ostensibly, mage-run facilities where the children are educated in the safe use of their powers. Much like Charles Xavier's School for Gifted Mutants, children learn the dangers of their abilities but how to use them for the benefit of mankind. In a more light-hearted setting, this would be the end of it. Unfortunately, Dragon Age is "Dark Fantasy" and realism has a habit of on minorities divorced from the larger community by circumstances beyond their control.

    The Circles are run by mages but they are controlled by the Templars. A religious order of knights dedicated to Andraste, a messianic figure who overthrew a tyrannical magic-using regime, the Templars have authority to execute mages who they suspect of having been corrupted by demons. Furthermore, they have the option of giving a sort of "magical lobotomy" which removes the ability of mages to feel emotions but renders them immune to being possessed. This is called being made Tranquil. Theoretically, a Templar is only supposed to kill or Tranquil those mages who have succumb to possession, evil, or are too weak to safely use their powers.

    One might argue the public has a vested interest in making sure the mages are taken from their families to be placed in the Circles. Not only for their own safety but the safety of the mage in question. Quote-unquote "normal" subjects do not have the education to teach mage children about the dangers they might face.

    However, as we discuss later in this essay, Circle mages are not allowed to teach their own children either. One of the most well-adjusted and moral mages in the franchise, Bethany Hawke, was taught by her apostate father Malcolm Hawke. The suitability of the parents doesn't matter, however. Instead, the mages are only able to be trusted by the Dragon Age public within the confines of the Circle.

The terror of the Templars.
     Much like in our world, the difference between what a person is supposed to do and what they actually do is quite different. Templars and Mages are both, with the exception of elves, only human and capable of both flawed judgement, prejudice, as well as corruption. In Dragon Age, we see how all these qualities come together to make an excellent metaphor for the struggle between Freedom and Safety which has been a conflict since the first days of society. Indeed, Dragon Age is one of my favorite fictional depictions of this struggle since it manages to avoid most of the prejudices and assumptions which come inherent to these sorts of discussions.

    The first issue is being a mage is a life-sentence. For reasons a mage cannot help and they were born with, they are separated from their families and forced to live away from society for the rest of their lives. While certain mages, such as Senior Enchanter Wynne, are given freedom to wander Thedas unguarded, the majority of them can never leave the Circle towers. During the Fifth Blight of Dragon Age: Origins, less than a dozen mages were released from the Circle to fight an apocalyptic zombie-like threat despite the lore saying thousands of mages lived there.

    Indeed, the Templars are one of the most formidable fighting forces in all of Thedas but do not participate in fighting the Blight unless you exterminate the mages they're supposed to guard. They consider their duty of supervising mages to trump their obligation to help stop the end of the world. Any mage who flees the Circles or never goes in the first place is hunted down. These mages are called Apostates and the religious connotations of their label are deliberate.

    Note: Mages have powers of healing in addition to their power to destroy and we only see them utilize this ability in rare occasions. The Apostate Anders uses his powers to assist refugees while Wynne uses them to assist the heroes of Origins. We also see mages heal the Pope-equivalent of Thedas in Dragon Age: Asunder. It is telling only the renegade mage is actively serving the public. The fact these gifts are denied to the common people due to Chantry paranoia is troubling and highlight mages have much good to give as well as evil.

    Next, the Templars are hardly unbiased figures regarding the mages. The Chant of Light, equivalent to the Bible in Thedas, is a book whose first stanza is a prohibition against mages using their powers to rule over mankind and that they should serve it instead.

    The prejudice of the Chantry against magic-users and their beliefs is brought home with the Mage Origin where the protagonist encounters a woman deep in prayer. The Player Character may join her, or not, but will discover either way that she is praying for the Maker (The Chantry's God) to take away her magic. The comparison to homosexuality is an easy enough one to make and troubling. This mage, at least, has been taught to hate herself by society and the Chantry in particular.

Someone who had their child removed from them. Also, one of the gentlest mages in the world. Similarly, she's possessed.
    More troubling is the fact that mages are forbidden from child-rearing. Children born in Circles are taken away from their parents and raised in Chantry orphanages. Orson Scott Card, an ironic choice for writing Dragon Age-fiction and mage-fiction in in particular given the homosexual parallels,  focused on the traumatizing nature of this in the Dragon Age comic. While one might argue the Circles are inherently dangerous places for children, the denial of one's right to be a parent has several nasty real-life parallels where ethnic groups had their children stolen to be raised by "proper" families.

    One might view it as a soft-form of genocide with the idea that mages will, hopefully, cease reproducing and someday cease to exist. At the very least, it limits their numbers as we discover magic is passed down within the blood, and prevents them from growing as a subculture. Kirkwall's mages are not only forbidden from raising their children but all forms of sexual contact period. Even children who display magic themselves often never learn who their parents are as we discover with Wynne only identifying herself to her son Rhys decades later.

    The prejudice of Templars against mages is confirmed with Ser Alrik, an extremist radical amongst them, who believes all mages should be made Tranquil (eye-rollingly called "The Tranquil Solution"). While there is indications he wants to do this because of illegal (by Templar law) desire to sexually abuse his charges, there is a statement by several Tranquil that he believed this action was the only way to save their souls from the Void (the Chantry's version of damnation).

The worst of the Templars.
     The latter, at least, indicates a truly deep and overwhelming bias against magi. We discover Ser Alrik is not the only one to take sexual advantage of his charges with Ser Karras being confirmed as yet another Templar who does these sorts of actions. Other Templars may become involved in sexual relationships with magi but these seem to be consensual and are beyond the scope of this article.

    Then there is the Rite of Annulment, which the Templars are given for the purposes of exterminating every single man, woman, and child within a Circle if it is completely lost to corruption. Theoretically, this is to prevent Abominations from escaping into the public at large. We see one such incident almost happen with the Circle of Magi in Fereldan. Senior Enchanter Uldred attempts a revolt against the Circle system and due to careless use of Blood Magic, accidentally gets himself possessed as well as the majority of his charges.

    The deformed monsters which result could have easily spread beyond the Circle to infect the public at large. Only the Grey Warden's possible intervention prevents the mages from being wholesale massacred as the Templars are not possessed of the skill or knowledge to free the Circle (nor desire). The problems with this are obvious as no attempt is made to differentiate between those actually possessed and those who have escaped such a condition. The greater public good, according to the Templars, requires that some children may die so that a situation like Connor's doesn't occur. Given demons are capable of trickery, this is a justifiable argument.

    Justifiable. If not right.

    The Rite of Annulment is not applied only to circles lost to corruption, however. The Rivain Circle of Magi is exterminated by the Templar Order for what is likely a variety of reasons including spirit-possession, increased contact between mages and humans, as well as the tensions between the Templar as well as Circle system following the Kirkwall Incident in Dragon Age 2. There is no indication the Circle was completely lost to corruption, however, so the Templars acted out of religious conviction versus the events described above with Uldred.

Life as an abomination may well be worse than death.
    Senior Enchanter Wynne illustrates spirit possession does not have to result in a psychotic monster. The truth about spirits is obscured for the purposes of religious doctrinal purity. The Kirkwall Annulment is a muddier issue as it is performed with questionable means following an act of mage terrorism. The dubiousness of the Annulment in Kirkwall, however, is a moot point since the Templars proceeded to enact it anyway until the point Knight Commander Meredith's madness was clear. Either way, the Templars have the legal authority to commit a mass execution which has been enacted many times in the past. The awareness of this is something Dragon Age players would be hard-pressed to miss given they have the option of participating in two.

    The issue of Lyrium Withdrawal also comes up when dealing with Templars and their ability to make sound judgements. While the original game of Dragon Age: Origins has Alistair explain that Templars do not need lyrium to supplement their anti-magic abilities, comics and interviews have since confirmed this has been retconned. Templars require a steady supply of lyrium in order to provide them the supernatural abilities which allow them to silence, bind, and defeat mages. As Alistair explains, they don't view this as magic since it comes an outside source and doesn't apparently increase their risk of demonic possession. It's also an ability which exists only in relationship to stopping magic versus using it.

    The first question question is whether lyrium can actually be used to supplement other kinds of magic than Templar abilities. We know that Dragons blood can function similarly, bestowing the powers of Reaverdom on those who drink it. If humans in Thedas can gain the powers of magic without the risk of demonic possession, shouldn't this be encouraged? Are Templars limiting themselves to anti-magic simply because of cultural tradition? If they are only able to use able to perform anti-magic effects, none of these are issues but it answers to these questions are relevant.

    Secondarily, and more insidiously, is the case of lyrium addiction. Lyrium is said to increase paranoia, obsession, and (in cases) cause dementia. Like actual real-life drugs, there are side-effects to altering one's body chemistry. While most Templars seem to be perfectly rationale like Ser Gregoir and Ser Cullen, almost all of their decisions become questionable while under the influence. One could make an argument for or against the Fereldan Annulment, for example, based on Ser Gregoir's belief he could only trust First Enchanter Irving's word on the subject.

    Worse, is the case of lyrium withdrawal which can render a destitute mess as we see in Dragon Age 2. While King Alistair, despite the retcon, is able to go off lyrium with seemingly no ill-effects, he ultimately returns to using it in the comics. Ser Evangeline also suggests that she cannot leave the Templar Order lest she continue taking lyrium indefinitely. In effect, joining the Templar Order is as much a life-sentence as becoming a mage.

       The price of the Templar Order's existence is a crippling addiction which has mind-altering effects but, also, provides Thedas with some of its best anti-mystical warriors. Can their judgement be trusted because of this and is it immoral to leave them enslaved to lyrium. The Templar Order is able to survive despite its separation from the Chantry in Dragon Age: Asunder but it is still dependent on lyrium, which raises new questions. In Origins we encounter a Carta Smuggling ring and mages bribing Templars with lyrium. Does it have addictive qualities too or were they building up a private stock for just this sort of occasion?

    It's questionable.

     Finally, on the Templars' side of things at least, there are the dual issues of the Harrowing and Tranquility. We will cover these along with Blood Magic, Mage Terrorism, and Self-Determination in Part 2 of The Social Satire of Dragon Age: Mages and Templars.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Dragon Age 2: Legacy review

    Dragon Age 2: Legacy, in many ways, is Mark of the Assassin's opposite. Whereas Mark of the Assassin is quirky and humorous, Legacy is a dark and serious. Whereas Mark of the Assassin is mostly about bright and sunny environments, Legacy is dark as well as claustrophobic. Whereas Legacy is focused on an all-new character in Tallis, Legacy deals with the return of Hawke's sibling.

    The latter is what makes Legacy interesting as, due to the fact they're absent for almost the entirety of Act II in the game, both Bethany and Carver Hawke were underdeveloped compared to other Companions. While you can play Legacy at any point during Dragon Age 2, I recommend playing it during Act II or Act III as it provides a badly missing amount of exposition from the characters regarding their state of being.

    The premise of Legacy is the Hawke siblings and two other companions are summoned to a desolate part of the Free Marches where the Carta are based. The Carta, sort of the Dwarfish mafia, have been looking for anyone descended from Malcolm Hawke (the PC's father). This, obviously, intrigues Hawke and his sibling so they investigate. What they find is secrets of their father's past history, a Grey Warden conspiracy, and insight into the origins of the Blights.

Legacy is very-very brown. Except when it's dark, dingy greys and blacks. Really, it's like playing Fallout.
    Dragon Age: Legacy, in my humble opinion, is good but not great. The adventure felt like a hack and slash slog through room after room of villains with little interaction with anyone. The insights into Malcolm Hawke are entertaining enough but nothing we couldn't have deduced from talking with Leandra (the protagonist's mother). About the biggest revelation we get regarding Malcolm Hawke is he didn't want mage children and that he was willing to use Blood Magic when his pregnant wife was threatened.

    The best part of the game is almost certainly the final fight with Corypheus, easily my favorite of the entire series with only the battle against Duke Prosper rivaling it. It's a genuinely hard fight with lots of twists and turns but amazingly satisfying for a Mage Hawke to complete. The fact I achieved "Archmage" (20th level) after it made it all the sweeter. Sadly, the ending is ruined by a "To be continued" coda which mars my sense of accomplishment. Hadn't Hawke enough failures? Couldn't he have had just this one success?

    The character of Corypheus isn't much of a surprise to gamers given his cover is on the front of the game. I will say, however, he is an excellent villain for the small amount of time he appears on-screen. Many people have, correctly, stated that he would have made a better main villain for Dragon Age 2 than the actual ones in the Arishok and Knight Commander Meredith. How he ties into the lore of the setting is a surprise which I won't spoil but makes him one of the more intriguing characters to show up since Origin's Loghain.

I can't say the magical mini-games were all that much fun to me. Lots of demon-killing. Got plenty of that in the main game.
    Another welcome element is the return of the Grey Wardens. They play a miniscule, almost forgettable role in Dragon Age 2 which bothered many fans given their central focus in the first game. While I believe Dragon Age is much more than the Blights and Darkspawn, having them show up and play a prominent role was welcome. I also liked the reminder of what the Grey Warden's "success by any means" attitude is like to outsiders. The Wardens bully, intimidate, threaten, bribe, or worse for the greater good. About the only thing they have over other villains is they're actually working for it (usually).

    My favorite sidequest from this adventure is probably the one related to the Altar of Dumat. Dumat is the now-deceased dragon god of the Tevinter Imperium which died at the hands of the Grey Wardens. Hawke discovers one of the Tevinter's altars to the ancient deity and has the opportunity to perform a sacrificial rite to it or defile it. If Hawke does the rite properly, he is given a reward from the evil god. Which implies he may not be as dead as the Grey Wardens think. Hawke can also defile the altar to spite him.

    Frankly, this adventure is lacking in significant NPCs, however. The Grey Wardens you meet aren't terribly interesting and we don't get a chance to interact with the now-insane members of the Carta. Corypheus is the most memorable of the characters you encounter and you only get to spend a short time with him. I would have preferred a few more characters to encounter in this DLC since that's always been where Bioware shines. The most memorable conversations are probably between Hawke and his sibling.

    So there is that.
As mentioned, the fight against Corypheus is awesome.
     I can't say I was blown away by the combat in this DLC either. The Carta are not the sort of enemies I particularly enjoy killing. Given the majority of them are Casteless dwarves abused by society, killing hundreds of them just makes me feel bad. The Darkspawn are creatures I got my fill of slaying in Dragon Age: Origins so the opportunity for Hawke to do it doesn't fill me with glee. With the exception of the aforementioned boss fight, it's just a slog for the most part through weird caves and ruins. There's a great bonus boss fight but it's very hard to get to and easy to miss. I wish they'd made that easier to find.

    In conclusion, Legacy isn't bad per say, but it's not exactly good either. I'd get it for the fact that Dragon Age 2 could use some more variety but the adventure was somewhat bleak with environments I didn't find to be particularly memorable. It does, however, have a great villain plus some insights into the Hawke family legacy so I'm going to give it a passing grade. Buy this in order to fill out Dragon Age 2's somewhat spotty storyline.