Opinion

The Veilguard Gameplay Reveal Proves the Dragon Age I Love Isn’t Coming Back

Old woman yells at elves.

screenshot from Dragon Age: The Veilguard gameplay reveal trailer
BioWare

It’s been 10 long years since the release of Dragon Age: Inquisition and we finally know how its followup, The Veilguard, will play. Just as developer BioWare lifted the veil on a new gameplay trailer, previews from Summer Game Fest emerged, giving fans of the series both a look at the game in action and impressions from critics to mull over. While the immediate response has been excitement for the adventure that lies ahead, I can’t help but feel that the Dragon Age series I once loved has disappeared, leaving a doppelgänger in its place.

While some details were spilled early, today’s gameplay reveal confirmed that The Veilguard is moving to a real-time combat system, which bears no resemblance to the tactical battles of 2009’s Dragon Age: Origins. Even before word of the change got out, such an idea wouldn’t have been totally surprising. The Dragon Age series has been moving toward a faster-paced combat style ever since Dragon Age 2, with Inquisition transforming it into something that wouldn’t feel out of place in an action MMORPG.

Dragon Age: The Veilguard’s gameplay reveal was a hit among people who aren’t me.

The Veilguard represents an even bigger leap, at least if the gameplay we’ve seen so far is representative of the full game. In Origins, your characters’ abilities are the core of combat. Sure, you could have your party just hack and slash at enemies, but pausing the action to issue commands is a necessity, and it’s what you’ll spend the most time doing.

The Veilguard completely inverts that, making those basic strikes the most important part of a fight. At a glance, it’s hardly distinguishable from most modern blockbuster action games. Your customizable protagonist has a sword for melee attacks and a bow for range. When you’re about to take a hit, an Arkham Asylum-style indicator above your head tells you exactly when to dodge. You have a handful of more powerful abilities, evidently meant to be used sparingly, which you activate from a pie menu that pauses the action, recalling Mass Effect 2 far more than the original Dragon Age.

While the main character’s combat style looks generic, Dragon Age has always been about the whole party more than any one character. Maybe those companions will be more interesting, I thought. But as it turns out, The Veilguard is giving up on letting you control party members directly. You’re stuck only controlling your custom character, so when you decide whether to make them a warrior, rogue, or mage during character creation, you’re also choosing a combat style to lock yourself into for the entire game. In earlier Dragon Age games, you can take control of any party member whenever you want, but this time, you can only order them to use abilities from the pie menu. And in a baffling choice, that option isn’t even unlocked at the point of the game where the gameplay trailer takes place, so we didn’t even get to see it in action.

Dragon Age: The Veilguard keeps only the vaguest hint of the original game’s tactical combat.

BioWare

This sidelining of the game’s companion characters means The Veilguard is leaving behind the most defining mechanical element of Dragon Age, and it feels particularly strange given some recent comments from BioWare. When announcing the decision to change the game’s name from Dragon Age: Dreadwolf to the much clunkier Dragon Age: The Veilguard, BioWare explained that it was meant to center the stories of “the seven unique characters that make up your companions,” rather than the game’s antagonist. But by removing them from the player’s control, The Veilguard reduces those characters to the status of automatons in combat. Push a button, watch them go.

Any series that’s been around as long as Dragon Age is going to evolve over time. The combat from Origins would never had made it to the modern day unaltered, but The Veilguard isn’t just changing that core part of the series — it feels like it's doing away with it entirely. In that way, it’s less an evolution and more a reinvention of Dragon Age. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but here it feels like a loss. If you’re looking for a third-person action game with combat that looks like The Veilguard’s, you have nearly endless choices. But there’s very little these days that even attempts the kind of tactical combat that made Origins a hit so many years ago. I wouldn’t have expected The Veilguard to restore the crunchier side of that system, but abandoning it so entirely means leaving behind an entire subgenre of tactics RPGs that has next to no representation in games of its size.

BioWare says The Veilguard’s companion characters are its heart, but they’re getting sidelined in combat.

BioWare

There’s another reason why The Veilguard feels nothing like Origins. BioWare is a different company these days, in quite a literal sense. In the 15 years since the series began, there’s been enough turnover at the studio to make it essentially a different team, and that’s especially true of those working on The Veilguard. The Dragon Age sequel has had a notoriously troubled development marked by the departure of high-profile developers — some leaving by choice, some unwillingly laid off. And while fans still have fond memories of the old BioWare, its major new releases in the past decade are Mass Effect: Andromeda and Anthem, neither of which exactly has a sterling reputation.

I think Dragon Age has left me behind. Judging by online reactions, most people seem extremely excited for The Veilguard, albeit for reasons I can’t quite understand. If you’re like me (my condolences) and miss the more complex tactics of Origins, there are always games like Pillars of Eternity and Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous to turn to. But while everyone is getting hyped for The Veilguard, I’d rather boot up the original Dragon Age one more time and see what my bestie Morrigan is up to.

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