This page details various strategies that can be used for the fight at the end of Offered and Lost.
This fight has an exceedingly-high number of enemy units compared to any other battle, and thus makes it one of the most difficult fights in the game. Most of them are Critter-ranked, but they still have some fairly high health considering it is Act 2, and Ser Varnell, as an Elite-ranked Commander, can activate a health regenerating aura to heal them faster than you can kill them. Without the right party setup, abilities, and equipment this fight can get very difficult very quickly.
The battle draws many parallels to the one in the "Barracks" at the end of Night Lies; four waves of enemies bolstered by a Commander and no places to hide from archers. However, there are some key differences that can make this fight easier than that one.
- First, the Fanatics, despite wearing "Kirkwaller" dress for the most part, belong to the "Mercenary" enemy type. While they're also immune to cold damage on Nightmare difficulty, they are weak to nature damage, not fire like the Guardsman Pretenders. Nature is a harder element to come by but infinitely safer than Fireball and Firestorm. Merrill is the best source of AoE nature damage with Wrath of the Elvhen.
- Second, you should have more stunning abilities than you did back in Act 1, the strongest of which are all within 1 talent point of companions' default ability loadouts: Glyph of Paralysis, Horror, and Petrify. Dispel Magic also removes the aura, however it doesn't stun, allowing the templar to simply recast it immediately. Miasmic Flask can also work, but as it specifies "100% vs. normal enemies," it will not work on Elites as frequently, thus it should be saved for the mob of fanatics. Because cold works well against the templar, consider Winter's Blast for a dedicated Elemental mage; successfully freezing him removes the aura as well.
- Third, you should have greater access to cross-class combos: Abilities that inflict Stagger, Brittle, and Disorient will be very useful if you have the abilities and upgrades that take advantage of 200+% damage multipliers.
- Fourth, you don't have a major investment hanging over your head anymore, and you should have recouped the money from it by now. This gives you greater freedom to purchase powerful equipment and craft potions, poisons, and runes to trivialize the battle.
By now the player should be fully comfortable with how they've built Hawke, with a full understanding of the class's strengths and weaknesses. Note that many of the tactics for companions can be carried out by a comparable and appropriate Hawke as well.
- Warrior Hawkes should focus on gaining threat, with most of the talents in their weapon of choice learned by now. Weapon and shield Hawkes can benefit from the Markham Heart Stopper in terms of damage, whereas two-handers can use The Brothers' End. Oath-Breaker with a Rune of Nature has the best damage output. In either case, the best talent tree to deal damage is Vanguard; between Cleave's 10-second uptime and the Destroyer and Massacre passives, a Vanguard mitigates the Fanatics healing by eliminating them before they can heal to begin with. Reavers can use Fervor to raise their attack speed, and Berserkers can similarly use Barrage (which unfortunately leaves them quite vulnerable). Templars can use Staggering Smite to stun and Cleanse to dispel Varnell's aura.
- Mage Hawkes should play according to the best strengths of the player and the companions they've brought. Horror should be obtained regardless of primary spell concentration i.e. Elemental/Primal/Spirit. Spirit Healers can deliver great boosts to the natural health regeneration rate, increasing the group's hardiness. Force Mages have Gravitic Ring and Maker's Hammer to use to detonate Stagger combos, whereas Blood Mages can use Paralyzing Hemorrhage and Blood Slave.
- Rogue Hawkes can either take up a bow and fight from the back or use daggers at the vanguard; unlike against the Ancient rock wraith they're in no danger from excessive force and 50+ damage hits. That plus having Act 2's signature chestpiece available right before this fight gives them great damage reduction, so stick to what got you this far. The locked chest in the refuge yields the Stitch-Maker, which can be equipped with 31 Dexterity and is very powerful in the hands of a dual-wielder. Archers can and should have Punishing Lance by now, for the same reasons that Varric gets such great use out of it. While Assassins can't kill Varnell in one hit post-patch 1.03, Assassinate still instantly kills any Normal-ranked fanatic, so save it for the Normal-ranked archers to raise your party's overall survivability. Annihilate, if you fight Varnell at Level 14, shaves 10 seconds off its cooldown. Shadows can use a Decoy to off-tank and boost their critical hit damage at the very first point in the field (which in turn benefits guaranteed critical hits like Twin Fangs, Archer's Lance, and Assassinate). Duelists can issue a challenge to Varnell alone and pull him far away from the Fanatics, and without his aura two companions are enough to slaughter the flock.
Merrill is an excellent choice just based on her Primal, Spirit, and Entropy options. If she learns Horror, she is the most effective way of keeping Varnell in check. With Petrify and/or Dispel Magic she can rotate these abilities through and keep his aura on a virtually-permanent shutdown. Tempest and an upgraded Chain Lightning are friendly fireproof and are great for use with warriors, between Staggering enemies and keeping them covered on the front line. Risk-takers can give the melee fighters a Rune of Spirit Warding and employ Walking Bomb. Against so many enemies a single successful detonation on a Normal rank can instantly kill an entire wave (the Critter ranks, at least) regardless of Varnell's aura. Wrath of the Elvhen, fully upgraded, gives her a constant stream of health recovery and nature damage given the sheer number of enemies, working very well with Aveline. Hex of Torment, which she should have by default, and Spirit Strike can deliver a blistering amount of damage to a Disoriented Varnell. Finally, Rock Armor and a few max health upgrades means she won't have to worry about anyone, even the ones that get near her without getting on the sharp end of a two-hander's blade. In short, Merrill has many options to adapt to however the situation develops.
Fenris is very effective in this fight, especially when sufficiently developed in Vanguard and Tevinter Fugitive. With Giant's Reach his blade will cover a great distance, and Vanguard should be built similarly to a warrior Hawke, picking up Destroyer and Massacre. The Tevinter Fugitive tree grants many of the best aspects of all of Hawke's warrior specializations in a single tree. In many ways, the efficiency with which he learns Battle Tempo compared to Hawke learning Fervor and the critical chance granted by Lyrium Ghost and Sunder make him a better two-handed Vanguard than Hawke. Might and upgraded Lyrium Ghost are his best sustained talents, Rally confers Might to everyone temporarily, and an upgraded Spirit Pulse is a great stun tool. With three ranged allies, you can control Fenris yourself while ordering the others to take their positions and auto-attack, which means less overall micro-managing to do. Battle Tempo triggers with little hassle after killing a single Critter rank, and that plus Cleave and the Vanguard passives will kill the rest even faster, renewing the tempo. With a Strength of 40 and health of 200+ (achievable with accessories or Constitution), he'll have plenty of room to dish out damage and tank for the others.
Varric is exceptionally useful, between Miasmic Flask and his Marksman abilities and attack speed boosts. A Rune of Nature in Bianca will tear through the Critter-ranked Fanatics, but the best ability to bring is Punishing Lance. It "instantly kills weaker enemies" (i.e. Critter-rank) along its path, and with it he is more viable than Anders. If you've advanced his Sabotage abilities enough, Fatiguing Fog can be upgraded to obscure your warrior in trouble while Disorienting and slowing the horde, and Confusion can turn a handful against each other briefly, giving you time to breathe. Other than that, set his tactics to prioritize attacking enemies using ranged attacks and Behavior set to Ranged.
Aveline can take the hits with only a modest investment in Constitution, as long as she has Shield Defense and Immovable, as well as Thick Skin for good measure. Additionally, Indomitable makes her immune to Varnell's stun whistle, allowing her to keep fighting through his own efforts at "crowd control." Taunt does the best job of keeping the enemies away from the back ranks, but her overall damage output is lacking without an upgraded sword or damage-centric warrior/rogue Hawke beside her. Disperse detonates Disorient combos, but Disorient is very much a single-target cross-class combo, given its means of application and detonators. Shield Bash, upgraded to Pummel, adds a Stagger or several to the mix (especially with so many weak enemies bunched together), making them easy pickings for a Chain Reaction or Merciless Strike.
Anders is a natural fit for Elemental and Creation magic. Thus, for efficiency's sake, continue these investments and get Heroic Aura, preferably upgraded, Glyph of Paralysis and at least Firestorm and Pyromancer if not Elemental Mastery. Cast Haste or Great Haste if available, but neither is utterly necessary. Firestorm is enough to stop the Critter ranks on its own while damaging them, although a Force Mage Hawke using Gravitic Ring is a welcome addition to the combo. If available, Regroup can revive fallen allies, but unlike in Act 1, Mythal's Favor is available as a substitute after a single jaunt down the Wounded Coast, so it may be better to focus Anders' efforts on damage and party buffs going forward.
Items and equipment
Bring nature staves for your mages, if they've been randomly generated (they are difficult to find in stores and are not guaranteed). They are not necessary but will trivialize half of the enemy force. Bring a full stock of potions, though it need not be massive with the right setup and tactics. Loot Kirkwall and store what you find if you feel the need to lift the numbers. If you obtained the recipes and enough supplies, Combustion Grenades, Elfroot and Restoration Potions, Life Ward Potions, Rock Armor/Mighty Offense Potions (cannot be used together), Debilitating/Arcane Poison, and Deathroot Toxin can provide extra assistance, especially Deathroot Toxin for its added nature damage. Mythal's Favor is a great way to turn the battle back in your favor after some KOs, fully healing the party minus an injury. As enemies can still attack during the revival animation, it is preferable to fully heal them with the grenade compared to the fractional restoration of Revival and Regroup.
Accessories that increase health are highly recommended. Lifestone is great for Anders, and the Brass Nug Charm obtained during the Deep Roads expedition is also a good choice for Hawke or Varric. The two Gallows Slave Finger-Cuffs from The Bone Pit (quest) in Act 1 provide +7 each, and the Tear of Ferelden is available in Lirene's Fereldan Imports for a handful of sovereigns and provides +10 health (while also upgrading enemy drops). You can also purchase the Carved Ironwood Buttons for Merrill, an armor upgrade that raises her health and improves with level up. Even if you're not using her blood magic this is great for her survivability. On a related note, if Varric has never upgraded his stamina, he can take the Belt of Unknowing to improve his reserve.
As a last resort, the Black Emporium DLC gives you access to some decent options, like Crow Venom to slow enemies, a summonable Dog to off-tank, and Maker's Sigh to re-spec your companions entirely.
The last item of preparation to note is to take on this fight as early in Act 2 as possible; enemies scale in health with Hawke's level, and each level you wait adds more health you have to punch through and more that Varnell can regenerate, thus increasing their time on the field and their DPS. Compared to this fight, companion quests and side quests can wait, and the benefits of additional talent points aren't worth the dilution of your damage output.
When you're ready to fight, head to Ser Varnell's Refuge. You have two core approaches to win this fight:
The threshold between Varnell's area and the "H-shaped" section is the best place to lay down Tempest or Firestorm, as well as draw threat to the tank. With the right party, this choke point can be your best friend and save you a dozen potions. Place your "nuke trap" (slowing AoE ability + damaging AoE ability e.g. Gravitic Ring/Storm of Arrows + Tempest) at the upper right corner of the "H" where the wall opens up to Varnell's area, stationing your ranged attackers at the right intersection with a clear shot at anything to come into view, with enough distance to take them down. The best way to use this choke point is with a Two-Handed warrior and three ranged attackers, but it works just as well with any warrior, a dual-dagger Hawke, and two mages.
Varnell's aura isn't his only annoyance; as a Commander he will regularly throw knockback bombs and stun you with a mere whistle. The best way to handle this is to not be in the same space as him, but that's easier said than done. Thus, having your companions separated prevents him from hitting them all at once. Spreading out rather than bottling up is also a viable offensive strategy. The chief benefit of this is keeping Varnell's aura away from many of the enemies rather than trying to keep him on permanent stun. The only challenge is dealing with the archers, as they do not need to move around and bunch up to be effective damage dealers and will have an open line-of-sight on anyone at all times. The two-handers come second, if only for their ability to interrupt less resilient characters with their swings. The dagger-thrusters are barely a threat by comparison.
Combat is broken up into four waves with a grand total of 38 enemies plus Varnell:
- Wave 1 is spread out and consists of the initial 14 enemies plus Varnell. 12 Critter ranks, 4 archers and 1 two-hander; and 2 Normal ranks, no archers and 1 two-hander. The initial spread of the leftmost archer to the rightmost archer can be hit by 2 AoE attacks 5m in diameter, so use Miasmic Flask or Fireball. Or, use the chokepoint to funnel them into a more cohesive shape.
- Wave 2 spawns at the entrance to the main gathering area, next to the H-shaped chokepoint. It consists of 8 enemies: 4 Critter ranks, 1 archer; and 4 Normal ranks, 2 archers and 1 two-hander. Of the total number of enemies, the four Normal-ranked archers are the biggest threat, given how much health they have and can heal compared to Critter ranks, and how many arrows they can fill you with in the time it takes to kill them. Take them down with burst damage and cross-class combos if necessary.
- Wave 3 comes from the exit stairs and is exclusively 8 Critter ranks, 3 of whom are archers and 2 of whom are two-handers.
- Wave 4 spawns in the same space as Wave 2 and has a similar makeup; 8 enemies, 4 Critter with 1 archer and 1 two-hander, 4 Normal with 2 archers and 1 two-hander. By the time they appear your abilities should have cooled down, so use the exact same method as Wave 2, whatever it was.
The key to the battle, under either approach, is to kill the archers first. 13 of the 38 enemies who spawn are archers, only 4 of whom are Normal-ranked and never more than two Normal ranks in a wave. Even if you take a while to kill enough enemies to generate the next wave, taking out the archers first allows the melees to be kited around the room. Subsequent waves only spawn after eliminating X amount of enemies, so killing only the archers prevents the next wave from spawning before you're ready. Use the extra time to reset ability and potion cooldowns and get into position to spike damage the Normal-ranked archers before they've even had a chance to fully spawn. A Pinning Shot or Fireball can handle the Critter archers, and Twin Fangs and cross-class combos can take down the Normal ranks in comparable time. Characters with Behavior set to "Ranged" should automatically run away from melee attacks.
A. Slay the Shepherd
This approach has you kill Ser Varnell as quickly as possible. Prior to patch 1.03, a sufficiently upgraded Dual-Wielding Assassin would be able to eliminate him in one hit. However, the patch now applies a hard cap of 40% on Elite-ranked enemies, meaning that no matter how high the number soars, they will never suffer more than 40% of their max health in a single hit. Thus Assassins are not as great as they once were, but Assassinate is still valuable in instantly-eliminating the Normal ranks mixed in with the Critter ranks, and 40% of Varnell's health at once is still 40% (he'll probably heal most of it on the spot with a potion, but it's better than nothing). Before long, you'll have to fall back to the choke point, if only to dispatch the Wave 2 archers. After removing enough of the Fanatics at the choke point and drawing threat to the warrior(s), you can command the party to gang up on him, unleashing Winter's Grasp from range while warriors hack him from up close, stunning him periodically to prevent him from chugging potions and disabling the aura. Commanders have a lot of health and damage resistance for an Elite, but with the correct application of stun, he'll drop before he can chug a single health potion. With the archers of Wave 1 and 2 gone you can fall all the way back to the lowest level of the refuge near the entrance, which should keep Wave 3 and 4 off you for several more seconds and give you the time you need to chew through Varnell's health. With all four companions successfully withdrawing to this chamber you can even kill Varnell and wipe out the first two waves without aggro'ing 3 and 4 at all, triggering a drop out of combat.
Even with him out of the way, remember to take down the archers as soon as they appear, then focus on melees. Refresh the nuke trap every 20 seconds, alternating between abilities if you need to. Normal ranks who break through the chokepoint should be hog-piled by all four characters, which should successfully kill them before they do too much damage to your support line.
B. Slaughter the Sheep
Another option is to kill the fanatical templar's flock first, while keeping Varnell from healing them. This strategy requires that your team be able to eliminate 38 enemies in a very short period of time, before they can combine their attacks and wipe out your party of 4. With this in mind, a full DPS squad of a 2-handed warrior and three mages/two mages and an archer will be far more effective, and this strategy may actually be more feasible than trying to punch through and endure while Varnell just shrugs off your attacks. Horror and Petrify last several seconds (though not the full 10) and have cooldowns of 30 seconds. Glyph of Paralysis has a similar cooldown, so it is quite easy to rotate them through and prevent the horde from ever getting the aura's healing benefits.
You can use the H-choke point, but the stairs near the exit are also a very defensible position, since it gives you the higher ground as well as the stairs as a chokepoint. You can file the enemies here and gang up on them, eliminating Critters as they approach and the Normals after being softened by a Tempest/Firestorm. Same rules apply: Stun/paralyze Varnell to remove his healing aura briefly, then AoE his horde, prioritizing the archers. The only problem is that Wave 3 will spawn right on top of you, which either necessitates a retreat back to the H-shaped section or Fenris to quickly smack the eight of them around. Sweep for potions and don't be shy about using them. Archers also have less distance to travel to attack you, so be ready to take them down from longer range. Running back and forth while archers are active, rather than attacking, invites extra health loss.
A highly viable method, however, is to use the chokepoint(s) as little as possible and just focus on the archers. This works best with Varric, Merrill, and Aveline. Begin by using Varric's Miasmic Flask on the leftmost cluster, making sure to clip the archers, and a second Flask from a rogue Hawke or Fireball on the adjacent cluster making sure to hit the other archers. Take them out while Aveline grabs the horde's attention and stun Varnell with Merrill. Punishing Lance can take out two along the same line while Hawke and Merrill kill the other two. With the archers dead, spread out so Aveline can use Scatter on the other Critters and Varric can pick them off with Bianca. With most of Wave 1 eliminated, get into position by Wave 2's spawn point and dispatch the Normal-ranked archers while someone else defeats the Critter rank. With the archers gone, it's just 5 more enemies in the horde, so feel free to stun them if you have the option and take a breather. When Wave 3 descends the stairs, a single companion can take them on themselves, so long as they have the AoE DPS and health for it. Varric may be able to kill half of them with a well-placed Punishing Lance. Repeat the strategy for Wave 2 to eliminate Wave 4's archers, then feel free to spread out more.
Without his fanatical flock, the shepherd falls after the full party grinds his health down to nothing.
C. Kill the Qunari
Aggressive Hawkes have a special dialogue option to take Varnell's side rather than fighting him and the Fanatics. The Qunari Delegates break free and you will have to fight them instead while the Fanatics flee in terror. Qunari are immune to fire and lightning on Nightmare difficulty, suffering additional damage from cold and nature. This changes cold staves from a liability into your greatest asset, and an Elemental mage would be preferable to a Primal mage in this scenario. Initially you will fight the four Delegates, one of whom is an Elite-ranked Sten (the Qunari equivalent of a Commander) by another name. One fights like an Ashaad (archer) and the other two fight like Karashok (melee). They are quickly joined by another Sten, three Ashaad, and two more Karashok from the exit stairs. The last group is three Karashok and a Normal-ranked Saarebas coming from the "H" chokepoint. The lower headcount makes this a far more manageable fight, not to mention Varnell is an invincible ally. Technically the aura from one Qunari commander can refill the other's health, but Varnell's whistle and bombs can stun and knock them back enough to shut them off, provided he's aiming at them, so fall back and allow him to shoulder the threat. Dispel Magic can clip both Commanders at once, unlike the single target Horror and Petrify, so it may be worth using over those spells. Take out the Ashaad when they appear, followed by the Saarebas and any Karashok that separate from the pack. Don't focus on grinding down either of the Elite Qunari too early on, as this runs the risk of drawing threat from Varnell. Furthermore, leaving the Normal ranks around to bask in a double aura refills their health faster than even a pure DPS party can take it down.