Confession: I dislike all of the Rivalmances in DA2. For Merrill and Isabela it feels like Hawke’s trying to change them and make them into different people, for Fenris and Anders it feels like Hawke is just taking the place of their past abusers. I understand when people say rivalry helps them grow as people, but to me it just feels abusive and controlling.
Most of these I agree with, Anders being the only exception (I haven’t romanced Merrill, so someone else would be a better opinion on that one.) It all depends on how you handle the romance, though my head canon might have a lot to do with it.
I always play a mage Hawke that sends mages back to the circle. What!? In my mind, Hawke has spent her entire life as an Apostate, and knows what it’s like constantly being on the run, hiding what she is, risking her loved ones not only because of templars but also the general populous are not huge fans of mages period, let alone an Apostate. In her eyes, she genuinely believes that it is safer inside the circle among other mages. Players get a taste of what Hawke’s family life was like if you play a non-mage Hawke and Bethany goes to the circle. Bethany is relieved and is actually happy for awhile, because she no longer has to hide and no longer puts her family in danger.
Hawke also knows the importance of having someone that knows what they’re doing to train young mages on how to control their abilities, Hawke’s father being a circle mage and all. My Hawke sees that yes, the circle isn’t perfect and needs reform, but doesn’t feel Anders’ way is the solution. Mages are dangerous. Blood magic is dangerous, and she feels that it’s foolhardy to ignore that fact. She is however still pro mage, and that’s why at the end I always defend the mages from the templars.
This disagreement about the future of mages is where the rivalry points are made. Going the rivalry route, Hawke also shows a great concern over how Justice is controlling Anders, and only going through rivalry does Anders start to see how much Justice is in fact controlling him. This route, to me, shows that Hawke cares deeply for Anders and his well being, and she refuses to ignore the real problem of what Justice is doing to him simply because it’s uncomfortable. Anders is not in control of his actions and is in denial about it for a good chunk of the game, but when he starts to see it, Hawke is there for him.
However, what this leads to at the very end, I really don’t like. I get that the game had to end the way it did for story reasons, but how Anders reacts to it when you go rivalry makes me sick and furious. I really hate what Justice did to Anders. I understand that neither could foresee how much it would change them both, but it’s just—tragic.
It’s a hard road. If you go friendly then he remains in denial, believing he still has mostly full control of his actions, but you have the chance to keep Anders. It’s only when you go rivalry and Anders wants are in conflict with Justice’s, that the player gets to see how bad it really is, but then you lose Anders.
It’s the player’s choice how to go about rivalmancing Anders. You can go full rivalry by disagreeing with him, but you can do it in a way that is from a genuine place of concern for Anders. If anything, rivalmance is Hawke seeing Anders flaws and all and refusing to give up on him, and knowing you can disagree with someone and still love them.
The problem is more that the reactions to the rivalmances are extremely negative. Anders becomes extremely self-loathing and even alludes to wanting to commit suicide in playthroughs of the rivalmance. That’s not healthy disagreement or wanting to help your partner, that’s abusive.
Your view of the rivalmance and how it should be is valid, and I believe that Bioware could have done the “opposites attract” and “you can disagree with your partner on shit and still be a loving couple” but the way the rivalmances are set up, you’re trying to change an inherent part of the LI and Hawke isn’t terribly graceful or tactful about it.
Since DA 2 Anders was written as a way to reference mental illness (however clumsy it was), a lot of the rivalmance comes off as emotionally abusive. It didn’t have to be that way. Certainly it could have been written in a way that was more the way you see it, but a lot of the lines in that rivalmance come off as dehumanizing or trivializing.
Other people have been a lot more eloquent about this than I am. I don’t want to totally trash the idea of a rivalmance but I think it def could have been integrated in a way that wasn’t patronizing or unnecessarily combative. A lot of people do see the rivalmances as beneficial to their LIs, but I’m a little more wary of them myself