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Dragon Age: The Veilguard First Hour Impressions at Summer Game Fest

Dragon Age: The Veilguard Screenshot of an ominous graveyard accented by a giant statue of two back to back robed skeletons with crossed arms

“Choices and consequences.”

That’s what the Creative Director of Dragon Age: The Veilguard, John Epler, repeatedly promised while showing me and a few others the opening hour of the game at Summer Game Fest’s Play Days. Of course, Dragon Age has always been about choices and consequences. Now, it seems you can see the effects of your choices like never before, and this time, they marry that choice with incredible visuals, fast and thoughtful combat, and a “carefully curated” experience worthy of the legacy of BioWare.

But it’s also clear that Dragon Age: The Veilguard is going in a different direction from what’s come before, a decidedly more linear one, perhaps a less serious one, and certainly a more action-based one. It’s hard to tell just how linear this will be, but the gameplay footage we saw railroaded the character through the action, even with some fun player choice tossed in.

One thing to note that is a bit different from many similar showcases is that there was a live player in the room playing through the game as opposed to a pre-recorded sequence. Honestly, after being burned by a pre-recorded sequence for Cyberpunk 2077 a few years ago, one that promised more than the final release delivered, I have more faith in what I saw with The Veilguard with this knowledge.

Getting Started with Dragon Age: The Veilguard

After a quick story cutscene, setting the stage for the conflict between Varric and Solas that Dragon Age: Inquisition players are likely familiar with, we got a glance at the character creation screen. The volume of choices you get here are frankly insane. As Epler noted, “you could spend forever here,” and he’s not kidding. First, there are a few pre-determined character models you can work from, but you can adjust any of them in a ton of ways, like creating a really tall dwarf if you really want to. The hair options look incredible, and you can even adjust the lighting to see your character in any setting. Truly, as Epler noted, you can “be who you want” here, and at least in character creation, The Veilguard nails it.

From there, you can choose one of three base classes: Rogue, Warrior, or Mage, and within each, you can choose a specialization, like Duelist or Veil Ranger for Rogue. Then, you get the opportunity to select your “Faction,” or background. It basically determines why you’ve been called to help in the fight against Solas, and characters frequently referenced this background even in the limited time I got to see the game.

Next, we moved to the opening moments of the game, trying to hunt down the person who Varric thinks can direct us toward Solas. Our first stop is a seedy bar, and the choices start there. To get the information we want, we have the options of “talk it out” or “fight it out.” One nice touch is that the game shows you how you’ll go about the choice, but it doesn’t tell you the consequence of that choice. Of course, our group chose to fight it out, and a full-blown brawl ensued. It’s a choice that reverberated through the coming moments of the game, too, as we were on the run from pursuers after our actions in the bar. Of course, this is just one early game choice, but if our choices will have those kinds of immediate consequences, to say nothing of how they play out throughout the rest of the game, I’ll be satisfied.

After getting the information we needed, we stepped out into the game’s opening city. I know some have been critical of the art style, complaining that it looks a little cartoonish or similar. My take couldn’t be further from that. The whole opening sequence was filled to the brim with colorful, neon spectacle. I feel like I knew a lot about the people of this bustling, magic-fueled city by just looking around. Epler noted that a key concern of the developers is to make “a world worth saving,” and the beauty and thoughtfulness on display with the look of the game absolutely sold me on this core tenet of The Veilguard’s development.

As we made our way through the city, we ran into two people we know will be part of our seven party members: Scout and Neve. Even in their brief screen time, they show a lot of promise, particularly Neve, whose quick wit impressed me. You interact with them as you move through the city, and your choices during these interactions will determine who goes on portions of the mission with you, along with how “pleased” they are with the answers. I can’t say how those answers impact the game yet, but we do know that we’ll have the opportunity to romance everyone in the party and that they’ll all have unique questlines where we can learn more about them. This is a huge change from Inquisition, which had a lot more characters, many of whom were criticized for lacking enough characterization. The Veilguard’s smaller party size will hopefully rectify that, and in the early going, I’m impressed.

That’s not the only obvious change from Inquisition, though. As I noted before, the prologue is almost entirely linear, though apparently there were a few paths you could follow to find additional loot. After the demo, Kepler noted that The Veilguard will not be an open-world experience like Inquisition, and instead will have large spaces to explore with quests littered throughout. This allayed my early concerns that they would course correct too hard from the oft-maligned open areas of Inquisition. Still, we’ll have to wait to see how it plays out in the full game because this portion, while thrilling and exciting throughout, is decidedly not that same open experience.

Two Types of Combat

There was plenty of combat as we made our way through the town, and while there is an element of strategy to it, it’s almost entirely an action-based system. Because of the class we chose at the beginning, we were rolling with both knives and a bow and arrow. There are essentially two ways to engage in combat, though. One is simple melee or ranged attacks that you can swiftly mete out, though you can also charge up those attacks. The other way to approach combat is through the skill wheel, which you can pull up at any time, stopping combat as you decide what to do next. You assign up to nine skills to this wheel, and some of them are your own skills, you can also give commands to your teammates. You can also assign skills to shortcuts, but you always have the ability to go back into your skill wheel if you need time to think about how your skills should work.

The goal is to give you a ton of options for how to approach combat, and to make it thoughtful while also making it intense. We saw a variety of enemy types, and Epler walked us through why the player was making different choices in the situation, but at the end of the day, it’s important to note that this is really action combat. For me? I think it looks fantastic, but for those looking for a more strategic experience, it’s hard to tell exactly how that will all play out with the limited gameplay I watched.

Epler noted that he wants the prologue we watched to “feel like the final mission” in other video games. If nothing else, the developers certainly accomplished that, with enough spectacle to fill the final hours of most RPGs. Will that be enough to allay the concerns of long-time fans of the series? I’m not so sure. But one thing I can say for sure is I’m excited to see the consequences of the changes they’ve made here.

But why don’t you decide for yourselves? You can see the first 15 minutes of gameplay below. While we saw a bit more than this, it will give you a pretty good sense of what we saw at Play Days.

Dragon Age: The Veilguard is set to release sometime in the fall of 2024 for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC (Steam and EGS), and The Veilguard‘s official website offers links to wishlist the title on each platform. Be sure to stay tuned to RPGFan for more news as we move closer to release!

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Zach Wilkerson

Zach Wilkerson

After avidly following RPGFan for years, Zach joined as a Reviews Editor in 2018, and somehow finds himself helping manage the Features department now. When he's not educating the youth of America, he can often be heard loudly clamoring for Lunar 3 and Suikoden VI.

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