I've always had a problem with the Dragon Age series. I've played them over and over and am eagerly awaiting the release of Inquisition but something has never felt quite right. It's almost as if the pacing is both too fast and too slow. Small slights will escalate out of control but what appears to be an overarching plot will suddenly disappear, much like Morrigan's baby. Sure, it'll likely be brought up again in Inquisition but what if you didn't take the ritual? The plot can't be that overall important unless gamers really are going to be treated to vastly different endgames.
But this morning I realized something.That pacing is actually... pretty legit.
In real life, how often do things come barreling in or seem to just kind of fizzle out? Or it kind of happens both ways? It happens all the time. Take the Red Herring from Dragon Age 2. The first two acts of the game revolve almost entirely around the Qunari landing in Kirkwall. The events build to it's own climax and then fizzles out. Disappointing as this is, as the Qunari plot was far more interesting than the real story, it's pretty realistic. Despite how Apocalyptic the moment feels, sure enough the game hops a few more years into the future and this has been replaced by something else entirely. Now, that doesn't mean that the Qunari didn't influence future events, they undoubtedly did, but what appeared to be the true threat the entire time took a backseat by the endgame. Which brings me to the Mage/Templar struggle.
Magic is dangerous. I don't think there has been a Fantasy book, movie, or video game that has ever avoided shoving that message down our throats. Though, the truly terrifying aspect of magic, in my opinion, is the control of it. Most entries seem to operate on an honor system. Abusing magic is bad so of course only a select few evil, and easily disposed, people would do it. Or, if the big bad is an evil mage, there has to still be a way to take it down.
Dragon Age however, takes this concept and runs with it. Magic is dangerous, Magi can become possessed, becoming possessed makes them nearly indestructible, therefore all Magi must be locked away in the Circles. Does it theoretically lock away the bad guys? Yes. Does it subjugate thousands of otherwise innocent people? Oh God yes, hence the central conflict of the DA series. But the truly "realistic" aspect is that even this system just doesn't work. A massive quest in DA: Origins involves a Circle rebelling and nearly everyone being slaughtered and mentally abused. Countless Apostates (Magi not belonging to Circles) are encountered and are nearly entirely evil because, bad guys don't follow the rules. The same exists in real life. Ban on guns? Bad guys will still use guns. Stealing is against the law? Bad guys are gonna steal. Magi should be locked away so that they don't abuse their power? Bad guys aren't gonna have one bit of that noise.
Magic is both the wonderful and terrifying aspect of a Fantasy world. In a fantasy world I could turn lead into gold or fly around on a magic carpet. Or I could use my powers to raise an undead army and burn the world and, if I were powerful enough, there is absolutely nothing anyone could do to stop me. You just can't police magic and the ramifications could be endless.
I want to change the subject for just a moment and bring up Skyrim which is one of my favorite games of all time from one of my favorite series. Draugr are quite possibly the most common enemy types you will encounter as they exist in nearly every cave the Dragon Born investigates. They are nearly everywhere and scurry around in crypts like rats. The problem? Almost nobody believes in them.
Consider this for a moment. The very first time in the game that Draugr are mentioned is after your escape from Helgen. Whichever character you are escaping with will stop, look towards Bleak Falls Barrow and tell the Dragon Born that when he was young he'd have nightmares about Draugr creeping down from the Barrow and through his window. While he is still visibly shaken by these memories it is clear he passes them off as a child's fear with no real life consequences. The horrifying fact is THIS IS SO INCREDIBLY POSSIBLE. Even later in the game the Dragon Born can accept a quest in which your traveling companion (I've been searching all morning and can't find their name. If anyone in the comments remembers I'd be more than happy to rework this paragraph) outright exclaims, "Draugr? I thought they were a legend!" How can anyone believe this? The Draugr are everywhere and it's more than established that excavation and historical research is becoming a common thing in the Elder Scrolls universe. How is it not common knowledge that shambling husks await you in almost every single crypt?
It may appear to be laziness on the part of the writers but I think its far more. Human beings, and I'm sure fantasy beings as well, avoid what we are afraid of. Instead of facing our fears head on we would prefer to blow them out of proportion in myth and legend and then simply deny that they exist. The draugr very clearly exist but it makes life easier if the characters just pretend that they don't. Much like when the dragons begin to reappear. Until Alduin himself is assaulting cities nobody will allow themselves to believe the source of the obvious destruction around them. Now, what does this have to do with Dragon Age?
For every evil Mage that's locked away from society forever there are at least a thousand innocents ripped away from their families and forced into solitude. So they become resentful. That anger grows generation after generation until someone snaps. They allow themselves to become possessed, or they don't even realize they have been, and attack. Hell, the ending of Dragon Age 2 featured two of the series most respected Magi committing atrocities out of what they believe to be necessity. One destroys a building and kills one of the only Mage supporters within the Chantry and the other, believing there is no alternative, allows himself to become possessed and must be put down by the protagonists.
In real life, terrible things happen. There are awful people who do awful things for seemingly no reason but there is always a way for society to learn. We learn that public spaces should be better guarded. We learn that we have to take personal responsibility for our safety but the fact remains that there are always precautions we can take against becoming victims. In Fantasy? Terrible things are done by people who have terrible, god-like powers and there is little to no way it can be predicted or protected against. And if these things happen enough, you're either going to face massive persecution or everyone will bury their heads in the sand while the monsters exist, quite literally, in your backyard.