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Default Dragon Age 2: a universe issue (spoilers)

March 29th, 2011, 17:45
Dragon Age 2 is a grand fiasco. Beyond the technical, design issues, the dragon age universe stands at the root of the poor delivery by Bioware. Dragon Age 2 being a story lined beat'em up, a quality storytelling would have redeemed the game as bugs, design flaws should never get in the way of a good story.
But just as the WH40k universe was an improper setting for a RPG game with its strong and enforced rules on behaviours, the Dragon Age universe featured coercive elements reducing the options of story telling. The whole Dragon Age experience tasted in retrospective as an exercice to get rid of some of the elements.

I welcomed DA 2's story structure, a story called to developp over several years. I have nothing against the saving the world/universe emergency style overarching narrative but it requires building up a sense of emergency that does not suit well with today's game standards, when players must be allowed to command over the adventure developpment pace. Mass Effect 2 failed epically in this regard. Sold as a suicide mission game, the storyline seldom removed control from the player, never forcing the player's hand, letting wander at will to complete every side mission possible. No sense of emergency, the end of the universe waits until the player decides it is time to confront the situation. The very idea of never being short of time while facing an exterior terminal threat has always been in my case an atmosphere breaker.
The following is not necessarily accurate as it is about about the atmosphere conveyed by the game and required to immersion.

Dragon Age 2 main narrative is about the place of magick in the DA universe. Dragon Age set the background. Magic overtook man when left unchecked. It took a prophetess and visionary Andraste to end a tyrany built on magic. As an inheritance, mages existed in three status:
-circle mages, their activity being strongly supervised by trained to that effect templars. Mages'liberties strictly reduced, this in accordance to religious beliefs.
-Apostates, mages who escaped the vigilantism of templars. Hunted down by Templaers and distrusted by the general populace.
-Grey Wardens, the wild card, a space where mages can exist with relative freedom.

Dragon Ages Origins did a fine job at transmitting the issues coming with magic. Morrigan's childhood story reflected both on the life of an apostate and the dedication of templars who did not shy from sending parties against Flemeth.
The Hero being a Grey Warden, if a mage, no credibility issue arised. The two other mages were Morrigan, a hardened apostate, used to hide and play out templars' vigilance and Wynne, a senior member of the circle. The whole action took place in Ferelden during a blight. The pill of a party including mages wandering around was easy to swallow and did not break the narrative, the land was in turmoil due to the Blight and conspiracies, the focus was shifted elsewhere than reining in the threat of magic. Besides, the mages could themselves be grey wardens, all of them.

For DA 2, it is totally different (as a side note, while the story is tailored for a hero mage, I played a rogue character)

Relatively to magic, the story starts on the same base as DA:O. A group of refugees fleeing the destruction of Lothering stumbles accross a former member of King Cailan's army and a templar, wife and husband. Despite owing his life to the refugees and being a good man, the templar, Wesley, remembering his duty, can not help threatening the apostates he faces: the hero and/or his sister. This is an excellent introduction showing how high the distrust and fear of magick is in the universe of DA. Conveniently, the templar passes away before the action is taken out of Ferelden to Kirkwall, the city of chains, a former high place of slavery.

Kirkwall is quickly revealed as the harbour of an extremely strict circle of mages, even more oppressive that Ferelden's circle. At this point, it appears that Wesley's death was a convenient event. In DA:O, the burden of saving a Kingdom was big enough to force the characters to put their differences aside and to not give each other in. In DA 2, Wesley's most expected behaviour would have been to report the apostates as soon as possible. Not that bad though. Wesley is dead. The end of the prologue keeps the illusion up: practice of magic outside the circle is outlawed, the characters must keep a low profile and their special abilities are welcome in the underworld, a milieu operating outside the normal rules. This is the way they manage their way in Kirkwall.
A year passes and it is learned that the rogue guild the brother and sister worked for only survived because of the qualities of the two. Another slightly bad admission as on another hand, it is learned that the coterie, the main rogue guild shows dureness to anything that might be considered as concurrence. Yet, none of them had the idea of giving in Bethany to the order of templars, known for their extreme zeal to control mages. Another pill to swallow. Suspension of disbelief.
Act one tries to maintain the illusion: characters share thoughts on the oppressive atmosphere. They must keep a low profile, avoid being spotted, especially as the party hides a confessed blood mage. But when moving to the gallows, the HQ of the templars, with three mages in the party, there is no reaction. Very little is told about the way the party hides the mages. Characters are shown strolling around in their full gear and mages sport the classical set, mage robes and mage staff. How they can escape the scrutinity of templars when parading right before their nose is a demanding stretch. Not made better by the fact that DA2 features a tough as nail templar averse to mage DAO veteran with Knight captain Cullen, who speaks to mages whose reactions leave little doubt on what they are.
As the story unfolds, this issue grows worse. At the end of act one, Bethany, the family mage, is removed from the direct plotline. A damaging move as she is the closest character to the hero and the most suitable to convey the oppression to a non mage character who has to live and assess events concerning magick through proxies. She is also the most normal of the mages, the two others being an abomination, one possessed by a spirit of Justice and a blood mage. Hard to trust their experience and vision of the events.
Act 2 starts after the success of the deep road expedition. The hero is now comfortable in life but even nobles are not out of the templars'reach as they must yield their own children to the order. Act 2 also features one of the only templar raids to capture one apostate, with Feynriel being reclaimed from the Dalish.
The Qun philosophy provides another example of oppression toward mages, once again burst by the DA universe issue. While exfiltrating the Saarebas, and facing the Arvaarad's group, once again, it appears that mages are hidden from the view of the common denizen. How does it come? the story does not tell. It grows weirder as one learns that the Arishok has good intelligence on what is going on in the city and has started to distinguish Hawke from the rest of the mass. Is this that clear that the Arishok and his intelligence service does not know that Hawke befriended mages? Yet the Arvaarad, one used to mages, is totally surprised when Hawke reveals that some of his party members are mages.
Act 3 sees the rise of the champion of Kirkwall and the admission that Hawke's mage friends are known to the templars. Yet nothing. No action is taken against them. At that point of the game, I was hoping for a shocker like that boy Sandal, the dwarf freak, hanged at the gallows.
The story is supposed to be one of a rebellion brewing slowly but surely but you are led to pass from a templar, a good man, instinctively rejecting apostates who have just saved his life to a gradually less and less oppressive to mages environment. The oppression feeling is loosening up as the game story unfolds. Anders'clinics has remained open for seven years with no templar raiding the place (remember, in DAO, templars were sent in the Wilds to deal with Flemeth), Merrill finds safety in the alienage, when the condition of an alienage is squalid, people with few rights, once again retold in DA2. Yet nobody bothered about capturing a mage blood. The party makes obvious uses of magical talents on the streets while fighting criminal gangs. Nobody gives them in when the proscription of magick is one religious commandment and salvation a possible outcome. Criminal elements using the templars to get rid of unconvenient enemies who happen to be mages? Nope.
The only sane mage is removed from the game and you have to rely on the perceptions of a blood mage and a possessed mage. The game, while exhibiting the potential threats of magick with many quests related to blood mages, does extremelly little in conveying the atmosphere of an ever suspicious growing templar order. No raid, no little remarks on mages being given in by the populace, nothing.
At the end of the game, when the time has come, a non mage character is left estranged to Kirkwall's events. Nothing unbearable in the mage condition is given to the eye as you are not allowed to visit Kirwall's circle.
Yes, magic can be a threat, especially blood magick.Many quests illustrate the point. Yes, some mages were turned tranquils, but you know none of them before. Nothing personal in it. One point could be made that freedom could justify by itself the release of mages, no matter the actions of a few. The problem lies with the oppression is made unclear and not illustrated.

The root of the issue lied with the concept of the circle. Too many constraints. Either a mage is limited to live within a circle tower or a mage is an apostate, hunted down and distruted by the population at large. Adventurers need a certain degree of freedom, which the original settings of DA universe did not allow for the popular mage category. Just like trying to make an adventurer of a black slave in the 18th century US. Either the guy lived on a plantation or something, with his time schedule out of his hands or he was a runaway slave, hunted down, given away by his skin colour and unable to rely on the society at large. This kind of settings can not work. Too many strings attached to get a story rolling.

Dragon Age 2 was an exercise to get rid of such overcompelling aspects of the DA universe. Now that one of those compelling sides is removed, good stories might be written. Was not the case of DA2's story.
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March 29th, 2011, 23:24
Tss I won't bother answer such an awful spoil. You are sick of your hate up to on purpose fully spoil the game. You should take some fresh air to refresh you mind.
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March 30th, 2011, 00:58
Originally Posted by Dasale View Post
Tss I won't bother answer such an awful spoil. You are sick of your hate up to on purpose fully spoil the game. You should take some fresh air to refresh you mind.
you read all of that?

i guess your pretty X-TREME

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March 30th, 2011, 01:22
It would be nice if you warned of spoilers (and that you cross-posted from Ars Technica).

-= RPGWatch =-
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March 30th, 2011, 08:27
What do you mean by warning of spoilers? The title reads spoilers. Is there a special format to warn of spoilers? If yes, I'll apply it. I thought that putting a warning in the title was enough to warn of spoilers but apparently it is not.

And yes, I do not write lengthy posts like the OP without wishing to collect as much as opinions as possible. It will go on a certain number of sites.
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March 30th, 2011, 10:33
I only read the last couple paragraphs but I have to say the whole "mages are a danger and must be kept in the circle, we built a religion to control them" thing is one of the best parts of the DA universe.
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March 30th, 2011, 10:54
It might be but it imposes such a restriction on the mage class that mages do not make easy to manage material for adventurers.

Creating an adventurer out of a mage is like having a black slave running around in the 18th century US.

W40k universe was not a good universe to developp a RPG.

The Imperium of Man had very binding laws that are enforced. Giving back a book one day in delay was enough to justify force enlistment in the Imperial Guard on certain worlds.

Space Marines were fanatics and monks. They led a very structured life made of training, praying and battling, leaving very little room for side activities like adventuring.

The writers had to remove the restriction feature on mages. Too coercive for good stories.
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March 30th, 2011, 14:19
For those who consider it too long to read, I'll sum it up (spoilers):
- Given how public Hawke and his followers are, it makes no sense for any of them to be mages in a city where mages are supposedly locked up or made tranquil on a whim.
- The fact that they are as open about magic as they are, makes the "tension" between the mages and the templars seem artificial - if the templars were as bad as it seems, they would've arrested Hawke(if you play as a mage)/Anders/Merrill not long after they entered the city.

In short: I agree. The setting doesn't suit playing a mage at all (or having mages in the party). In Origins, it was possible because you had special rights as a Grey Warden. No such scenario in DA2 - Knight-Commander Meredith would've locked up those mages as soon as they cast a single spell.
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March 30th, 2011, 16:15
Originally Posted by Maylander View Post
… No such scenario in DA2 - Knight-Commander Meredith would've locked up those mages as soon as they cast a single spell.
Knight-Commander Meredith tell Mage-Hawke twice why she haven't locked him or his friends up. You can agree or not with her reasons. The game also show that Aveline and Varric have been working hard to keep people from asking questions about Anders and Merrill.
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March 30th, 2011, 17:34
I agree with Maylander's summary - its pretty implausible that you would not be arrested (or murdered by some over-zealous templar). Especially if you have party members using blood magic…walking around 'dripping blood' or slashing their wrists. Of course while everyone notices other mages blood magic, *yours* is somehow invisible or tolerated ;-)
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March 30th, 2011, 20:10
DA:O explained why you could walk around as a mage… DA2 failed at this. That does not mean the concept itself is wrong.
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March 30th, 2011, 20:35
The concept might not be wrong but DA 2 mostly showed that the DA plot writers wrote themselves in a corner with so demanding restrictions on the mage existence in DA universe.

Now they broke loose and the next episodes of the sage should not feature impossible to manage situations.

DA 2 served this purpose at least.
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March 30th, 2011, 21:44
Originally Posted by ChienAboyeur View Post

Creating an adventurer out of a mage is like having a black slave running around in the 18th century US.
….
No, a white slave that's a huge difference. I feel it significant you use such a wrong comparison.

So perhaps I haven't understood well the whole story nor have notice important points. But for me your comparison with inquisition is wrong.

The point is Meredith has an iron hand on the Circle but not at all have the control of the town streets:
  • Because of putting too much focus on making the Circle a prison, she lacks of Templar, if I remember well this point is highlighted multiple time.
  • She has almost no control on the streets, I don't remember a single templar patrol in streets, just guards and Guards are never at side of Meredith, if not against her.
  • Meredith is even weakened by internal templar acting against here or some other who jut disagree. For mages already in circle they can't do much but many seem disagree quite a lot, hence they aren't focused on managing other than Blood Mages.
  • The only clue we got about Meredith fall in madness isn't at all about controlling more the town but about persecuting more the mages in the Circle, mainly the multiplication and abuse of the appeased.
  • I don't remember the clues about multiplying investigation and gaining more control on the town. In fact it's the reverse, Meredith has less and less control on the town itself. And this is largely aggravated by more and more people against her.

The overview of the story:
  • For the first year, the organization that host you highlight they'll protect you as a mage, that's an explanation why you slip though some denunciation.
  • Then during first chapter is there really a single day fight in streets of town? I don't remember that.
  • Then three years pass but no clue that during those 3 years you suddenly decide use magic openly in town. And again Meredith situation is going worse and worse, it's not the reverse. Don't forget that some time after your return from the expedition Meredith felt under the control of the evil idol. Aveline has take power and a firm control on Guards and in no way is on side of Meredith.
  • Then the period is relatively short, there's perhaps few fights daylight and then you save the town and then you become the herault and at this point plenty people know you are a mage but Meredith is even weaker and you and your friends even more powerful so I don't feel Meredith could do anything.
  • Chapter 3 is Meredith fall, she perfectly know you are a mage but doesn't have the power to do anything, openly trying arrest you at this point would be pure madness but Meredith hasn't reach this point yet. Then well for now my feeling is this chapter 3 doesn't work but not about the mage issue.

EDIT: I hope that with some spirit of justice Maylander will also sum it up.
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March 30th, 2011, 22:06
One more point about any possible denunciation. Ok I don't remember the game explain it but, if denunciation would be enough to throw someone in the Jail circle, that would not work at all, too easy. The problem is not have a possibility to prove someone is a mage and torture like they was inquisition is never quoted in the game. One more huge point showing a direct comparison with inquisition is totally wrong.

Inquisition was pure power at all level when DA2 is Meredith fall, perhaps guided by the evil idol, I don't remember when Meredith is supposed to get it.

EDIT:
Another big clue showing Meredith has zero control on the town itself, the son of a noble, drunk at tavern.

It's not one more flaw, at opposite it's one more clue of Meredith fall and she doesn't have anymore the town for her. And if fact I could add nor the Templars.
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March 30th, 2011, 22:50
Were there white slaves in the US in the 18th century? I did not know about that.

The episode of the drunk mage happens in act 3 when one can accept that the templars suffered loss. As a sidenote, if the templar order loses more and more power, is able to carry out less and less investigations, it mechanically decreases the oppression on mages. You cant have it both ways.

As I stated in the OP, control over magic stems from religious beliefs. Hiding is difficult for mages in the territory under the regular Chantry. DAO reported templars expeditions in the Kokari wilds to try to capture apostates.

It is not about Meredith only. The Kirkwall setting, one depicted to be an ever increasingly oppressive to mages, worsens the picture compared to an already difficult for mages context.

Hawke works for a minor underworld organization. The coterie, the Carta must have their own relays in the official establishments. Protecting a criminal from judicial investigation grows harder as a rival organization 'bribes' the official establishment in action against the criminal.

Just before the introduction to Sister Petrine, Hawke and/or the mages in the party use magic under the eyes of Petrine's bodyguard, Ser Avrell , who happened to be a templar himself, a fanatic with that. Yet, the man, who might be sincere in his religious beliefs, is not shaken by Hawke neither he is by the use of blood magic if Merill is in within the party. The man considers Hawke and his party as friends to Qunari, is ready to sacrifice his fanatic horde to stop Hawke because of his relationship to Qunari but is insensitive to apostate status and the use of blood mages.

Aveline have command over the guard but once again, how does it preclude religious convictions?In DA2, the guards are shown several times praying in the barracks.

While so many NPCs/PCs refer to their religious beliefs, nobody seem to have religious convictions. Sebastian is depicted as a devout man, yet he knows of an abomination and a blood mage and acts in a no way about that. In DAO, the emergency of the situation makes it very likely that conflictual characters put their differences aside in order to tackle the primary threat at hand: the Blight.

Over seven/ten years, with no pressing matter, no conflict, nothing.

The illusion is way beyond the simple case of Meredith. Meredith is a templar gone awry. This does not remove the templar order's purpose which is to monitor the use of magic. This does not remove that control over magic is a religious belief transmitted by Andraste.
It is not the matter of a single person. It is a matter of creed.

And Cullen seem to like muscled interrogation. This said, apparently, testimony is enough to send people to the Circle. See the story of Wynne. She was given in to the Circle by her parents (his father especially) who resented her as a disgrace, an insult to the Maker. Her own parents, who had religious convictions.
But in Kirkwall, people have no religious convictions. No guards, no commoner, no noble. In Ferelden, people had enough religion convictions to wish their mage child to be taken from them to the Circle. In Kirkwall, the City of Chains, a temple of oppression to mages, people do nothing.
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March 30th, 2011, 23:53
For the black slave comparion, nice joke for answering, I hope you don't deny how your comparison was totally false.

So each point:
  • Town control: You are confusing increased pressure and tyranny on mages in Circle with town control.
  • Carta denunciation: Sure from criminal that would be taken very seriously. Hawke isn't a kid in a village not yet able to control magic, he has full control of his magic and an abstract denunciation is pointless. Plus the game provide no clues it's a way it works in Kikwall. If it was the abuse would have been plenty, like it's been in inquisition.
  • Wynne comparison: Compare a child denunciated by her parents with Hawke, that's way too much and means nothing.
  • Religious point of view: It's your interpretation, Kirkwall isn't Ferelden, and considering all the area have the same point of view to religion is superficial. And no DA2 doesn't link mage hunt with religion, it's seen much more from the pure threat point of view.
  • For the body guard: I don't know what fight you are quoting, not even when this character is detailed. If your details are right I agree he should have report to Meredith or Cullen.
  • For Cullen: Muscled interrogation is very very far from torture, it's impossible to compare. And you can't think a second Cullen will believe he could setup a pressure on Hawke as he does on a kid.
  • Aveline and religion: She has strong doubt about religion, she tells it directly.
  • The 7 years quote: No, 1 year hidden with help of an organization. Then I don't remember a day fight during chapter 1, I could be wrong. Then 3 year but again no clue you are using freely your magic in town. And again, no, simple denunciation isn't a point and not even is quoted by the game. And then you are THE herault and Meredith is falling and falling. So your 7 years, I don't see them.

I'm not sure of anything, but in general my strong feeling is that your arguing is based on suppositions not present in game:
  • No Meredith doesn't have a full control of the town and in fact lost and lost control as the game progress.
  • No the game doesn't describe a pressure increase of Meredith and Templar on the town and it's the reverse. The pressure increase is only on mages in the Circle.
  • No religion and mages isn't look in the same way than in another area like Ferelden.
  • No Templar show no power of investigation and town control, and at reverse the game provides some clues they lack of troops and that many Templar disagree and lost motivation or even act against Meredith. Cullen is quite isolated.
  • No a simple denunciation isn't a way to throw someone in the Circle, we aren't talking about kids not knowing control their magic yet.

Now ok there's perhaps a hole with the body guard, I don't remember but ok. But that's far from your huge explanation mostly based on wrong postulates.
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March 31st, 2011, 09:30
How was it totally false? Mages go hidden until they use magic. For a game wanting to draw an adventuring character from a black slave, it would require a similar trick, that the visual apperance of the character does not correspond with the function, which is the case of DA2, as players have to admit that the visual of a mage does not give him away.

Control over magic is a matter of religion. Religious people can be found in every social class.

On start, I stated that I played non mage Hawke. Hawke can be only an apostate.
Anders is an abomination, Merill a blood mage.

The reasoning about the criminal elements of Kirkwall is very selective. Hawke and friends are protected by a non dominating organization. They have their connections. But more efficient organizations are unable to rely on their official connections to indict a mage because their words would not be taken seriously.
Kirkwall has no snitches. Good to know.

Most of the rest is side tracking. Like I did not speak about Aveline. I spoke about the guards and how they are shown to pray in their room. Religious convictions are religious convictions.
Like Wynne is not Hawke. Right, Wynne is a mage by design and Hawke class is left to the player's choice( I played only non mage Hawke) It does not remove that her story gave out information about the treatment of mages in Ferelden.
The battle I refered to has enough references to be tracked down, it is the one just after meeting Sister Petrine and that is concluded by her bodyguard coming out of the shadows, showing that Sister Petrine is not as naive as the party first thought of.

I underline the following:
No a simple denunciation isn't a way to throw someone in the Circle, we aren't talking about kids not knowing control their magic yet.
Complete non sense. The game hammers time after time that mages are treading a fine line, being one step away from the cliff (version reported both by mages and templars) Which leads to magic to be monitored. Mages are perceived as permanent threats, whether or not they control their magic abilities.
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March 31st, 2011, 20:44
Ok so:
  • Guards praying: Guard pray and then? For they life is the best supposition, they would be Templar if they was fanatic of the religion.
  • Carta (again): Sure Carta denunciating another criminal organization, and why not anybody denunciating the Carta? This denunciation argument is very weak.
  • Anders an 'abomination": Anders isn't an abomination, abomination is about Demon.
  • Sebastian: I haven't played with Sebastian so I can't say but Anders doesn't fit at all the abomination definition, so there's no reason he takes any conclusion. For the mages in party well, as I haven't played with Sebastian so I don't know if the game give or not reason to Sebastian for leaving the party if there's any mage in it. For Sebastian leaving the party in case Anders isn't killed it's clearly not a matter of religion but only centered on Chantrie leader, Sebastian is very close to her, she is like his second mother.
About mage denunciation (other than from the body guard you mention) you haven't yet bring a single argument:
  • Explaining how it is proved an adult is a mage,
  • nor bring any clues that the story shows this method is used in Kirkwall,
  • nor how if this used this isn't abused with strong effect on everybody life as it happened in real inquisition.

EDIT: And once more Kirkwall isn't Ferelden.
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April 1st, 2011, 15:07
Showing religious convictions is not being a fanatic. The Chantry teachings convey that magic is to be feared. It only takes a believer to accept the belief.

No snitch in Thedas? So a smaller criminal organization can bribe officials to ignore apostates but the carta or the coterie can not use their connections to give in a mage.
The coterie would be less fierce than the story let it believe.

Anders is perceived as an abomination by many (including himself at some times)
The lore makes clear that common people do not distinguish between spirits and demons. A possessed person is an abomination.

Testimonies of witnesses are enough for kids. Why make a difference for adults? You asked me to prove something that is on your side to prove, that adulthood provides a major difference concerning the perception of the risks associated with magic. The main reason for monitoring a mage is the risk of possession.
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April 1st, 2011, 21:11
The kid doesn't control his magic here is the difference. Plus when parents denunciate him it's quite different than just the hateful neighbor denunciating someone.

Anders case is special that's sure and even if it's similar to Wynne the case is quite different. But there's still place for doubt. But yes I haven't played with Sebastian yet but depending of his personality it could be a lack of coherency that he doesn't denunciate Anders or even a mage hero.

The carta would kill not denunciate, I strongly disagree on this point but ok you see it differently.

The same goes for high focus on religion I really didn't feel that in Kirkwall in general.

I won't say there's no hole, but more that there possibility to see it differently than you did and then end with much more explanations and then much less holes.
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