Dragon Age: The Veilguard: The First Preview

Dragon Age: The Veilguard: The First Preview

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Dragon Age: The Veilguard is off to an interesting start, to say the least. Coming off the somewhat controversial decision to change the name, BioWare re-introduced the series to fans with a two-minute trailer that drew unfavorable comparisons to Fortnite and Marvel. BioWare quickly followed with a twenty-second tease that was met much more positively – yet another jolting turn in what has been a rollercoaster decade for the franchise since Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Over the weekend, I watched as BioWare finally took the wraps off Dragon Age: The Veilguard over the course of an hour-long presentation in which they showed off the character creator, a broad swath of the gameplay, and the battle system. Director Corinne Busche also took the time to answer some of my biggest questions around The Veilguard’s romantic options and exploration.

First, the graphics. Running on the latest iteration of the Frostbite Engine, at least one source told me that The Veilguard targets 60fps. In a subsequent conversation, though, an EA representative said, “Dragon Age: The Veilguard will feature performance and quality modes on consoles to ensure players can choose the visual fidelity they prefer. We’ll have more to share on exact performance as we finish development in the coming months.”

Whatever the fidelity, it’s evident that The Veilguard is heavily stylized, and whether that look lands is mostly a matter of taste. It’s worth pointing out that Dragon Age has always been a riot of art styles and I’m not so sure that the series needs to return to the blood-spattered style of the original. What matters to me is polish and a cohesive sense of identity, and in that sense The Veilguard seems like a logical evolution of Inquisition, which itself was quite stylized.

Also, The Veilguard actually has good hair this time around, which, finally.

In the shadow of Mass Effect 2

For what it’s worth, there’s plenty of nods to longtime fans, including the return of Varric, who Busche calls the franchise’s “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” along with some “killer cameos.” It’s Varric who narrates the story’s opening section, recapping the events of previous games and explaining the motivations of Solas, aka the Dread Wolf. While The Veilguard is once again a standalone story, with Rook joining The Warden, Hawke, and the Inquisition in the ranks of Dragon Age protagonists, it starts in a breathless state of in media res as a group of heroes try to stop Solas before he tears apart the barrier between Thedas and the spirit world.

“We want to get you right in,” Busche explains. “Especially with an RPG where they can be quite lore-heavy, a lot of exposition at the front and remembering proper nouns, it can be very overwhelming.”

What follows is basically one long action setpiece as the main characters sprint through Minrathous, a city under attack by demons (this is another big moment for fans, who have been waiting for ages to see the capital of the Tevinter Imperium). While it’s unwise to draw too many conclusions from such a brief section of the game, it’s easy to wonder just how linear The Veilguard will end up being.

“Yeah, so it is a mission-based game. Everything is hand-touched, hand-crafted, very highly curated,” Busche says, echoing a talking point that comes up repeatedly throughout the presentation. “We believe that’s how we get the best narrative experience, the best moment-to-moment experience. However, along the way, these levels that we go to do open up, some of them have more exploration than others. Alternate branching paths, mysteries, secrets, optional content you’re going to find and solve. So it does open up, but it is a mission-based, highly curated game.”

Pressed for more details on sidequests and optional content, Busche says, “Some of them are [highly curated], especially when it involves the motivations and the experiences of the companions. You’re really along on this journey with them. Others, you’re investigating a missing family… and the entirety of this bog is open up to you. You’re searching for clues, finding a way to solve their disappearance. So really it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. But I do want to emphasize that hand-crafted and curated is our approach.”

Alternate branching paths, mysteries, secrets, optional content you’re going to find and solve. So it does open up, but it is a mission-based, highly curated game

It reminds me nothing so much as Mass Effect 2, with The Lighthouse – The Veilguard’s equivalent of Skyhold – standing in for the Normandy. I suppose it only makes sense in light of Dragon Age’s unique relationship with Mass Effect 2. Fans will recall that the original Dragon Age: Origins was basically a AAA CRPG – a continuation of BioWare’s isometric RPG legacy on PC. Mass Effect 2 followed just a couple months later, garnering praise among mainstream critics for its transition to full third-person shooter. Ever since, BioWare has prioritized action over gritty RPG mechanics, and the latest Dragon Age is no different.

But The Veilguard’s connection to Mass Effect 2 perhaps runs even deeper than that. Mass Effect 2’s story centered around Shepard recruiting companions from around the galaxy, Dirty Dozen-style, before ultimately embarking on a Suicide Mission where every character is at risk of dying – one of the most famous quests in gaming history.

Busche hints that something similar might be in The Veilguard. Asked whether The Veilguard will feature permadeath, she teases, “I don’t want to get into spoilers but you just might [lose some characters]. Now in what we saw there, obviously no one died. In a situation like that they can get injured, they can influence how they think about you. If they’re ready to hit the field with you, it does get more dangerous. We might lose some people along the way.”

Dragon Age: The Veilguard is more of an action game than ever

So with that in mind, let’s talk a bit about Dragon Age: The Veilguard’s battle system, which reduces the party size from four to three and in so doing becomes more action forward than ever. It features what Busche calls “sophisticated animation canceling and branching,” with the design centered around dodging, countering, and using risk-reward charge attacks designed to break enemy armor layers. Much of its strategy lives in its ability wheel, which stops the action either by tapping or holding the shoulder button and allows you to issue orders as you see fit. In particular, companions can be kitted out as support units and healers, which Busche cites as a big player request after Inquisition.

“The combat system is an interesting challenge going into the fourth iteration of this game because as you know, every Dragon Age has reinvented combat to some degree,” Busche explains. “Of course, pause and play strategy is always the backbone of it. But what that means is that, in addition to fans of all three prior games and welcoming in an entirely new generation of fans, we’ve got a pretty diverse player base to accommodate to.”

While she offers comparatively few specifics, Busche hints at some of the deeper strategy behind the battle system. Weaknesses and resistances will apparently play a major role in the combat, with abilities being designed to exploit them accordingly. One character might be able to plant a weakening debuff on an enemy, and another enemy might be able to detonate them. Likewise, the bonds that Rook forges with companions like Neve, a detective, and Harding, who returns from Inquisition as a full partner, determine how party members grow and what abilities become available. Those bonds are in turn determined by the choices you make using BioWare’s famous dialogue wheel, which returns for The Veilguard.

I was heartened to see some of this depth make its way into the battle system, which has a fluidity to it thatl Dragon Age: Inquisition lacked. It further includes individual specializations for each class, including Duelist, Saboteur, and Veil Jumper for Rogue, as well as an overarching backstory based on the faction you choose. Players used to choosing a backstory and having it be totally irrelevant to the story will be happy to know that it impacts the dialogue more this time.

After all it’s the characters who will determine the success of Dragon Age: The Veilguard. Larian ironically stole some of BioWare’s thunder with Baldur’s Gate 3, but this is still the studio that gave us Leliana, Liara, and Varric among many others, and it practically invented the RPG romance as we know it today. It’s been less than a week since the first official trailer and Lucanis fanart is already manifesting on social media.

I’ve been a fan of all three for different reasons. But Origins is when I fell in love with the franchise

“Each of the companions that you journey with has really complex backstories, problems of their own, deep motivations. And these play out through some really well fleshed-out character arcs; missions that are unique to them, but ultimately tie into the larger story,” Busche says. “And along the way we’ll make consequential decisions for each of them, sometimes affecting who they are, sometimes heart-wrenching – I’ve cried more than once – and sometimes pretty joyous.”

Many years ago, I stood in a room with Mike Laidlaw as he talked about the tremendous amount of work that David Gaider, Ben Gelinas, and other writers put into building Dragon Age’s world (Gaider, it should be mentioned, is very active on X/Twitter and is definitely paying attention to The Veilguard). That effort has earned the series an enduring fanbase despite being on hiatus for more than a decade. Busche, a self-described RPG fan who says she loved Baldur’s Gate 3, counts herself among them.

“I’ve been a fan of all three for different reasons. But Origins is when I fell in love with the franchise,” she says.

When The Veilguard arrives later this fall (it doesn’t yet have a firm release date), it will be more than a big moment for BioWare – it will be a huge moment for the fans. The Dragon Age fans I know, many of them women, are palpably excited to have this franchise back in their lives after waiting for so long. It’s too early to say whether or not Dragon Age: The Veilguard will live up to their expectations. All I know is that it’s good to finally be back in Thedas after all these years.

Kat Bailey is IGN’s News Director as well as co-host of Nintendo Voice Chat. Have a tip? Send her a DM at @the_katbot.

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