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Dragon Age: The Veilguard

Dragon Age: The Veilguard Preview - A return to form for BioWare?

We've seen an hour of gameplay behind-closed-doors at Summer Game Fest, all live-commented on by game director Corinne Busch.

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There have been some concerns about the future of Dragon Age. It's been a long time since BioWare delivered Dragon Age: Inquisition and those years have been turbulent ones to say the least, defined by the critical failure of Anthem by many. There's a lot of hope and expectation riding on this next instalment into the fantasy RPG series and it seems like those hopes were put into a little bit of jeopardy when the latest trailer made its arrival at Summer Game Fest and teased a Guardians of the Galaxy/A-Team-type buddy group action setup we usually see in heisting films.

If the first hour of gameplay is anything to go by, you shouldn't be worried about Dragon Age: The Veilguard (formerly Dragon Age: Dreadwolf), as a behind-closed-doors glimpse at the game live-commented by charismatic game director Corinne Busch has me very confident we're in store for a promising return to the continent of Thedas.

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So, let's start with the premise of the game. If you're worried that we're going to be raiding banks and engaging in cooperative gameplay or something similar, fret not, that's absolutely not the case. Dragon Age: The Veilguard is an "RPG through and through" as Busch puts it, and that includes creating a character from a variety of options, building said character out in a way that suits you, and then also heading out on an emotionally-complex and long journey taking you all around Thedas where your choices matter. This is Dragon Age as we know it.

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The story revolves around the character of Solas, effectively an Elven god that wants to destroy the world, and it is your job as the customisable character Rook to lead a crack team of companions around Thedas, hunting down Solas in an attempt to forestall the apocalypse. If you're wondering where the previous title of Dreadwolf comes from, Solas' nickname is exactly this. Now I won't go too much further into the story beats from the hour that I got to witness to prevent spoilers, but let me just add that the choices you make as the player have sweeping and massive repercussions, including leading to companion deaths, different narrative threads, romance opportunities, and more. And in a typical Dragon Age format, there is a dialogue wheel that pops up in key moments to allow you to decide which threads you want to pull.

Dragon Age: The Veilguard

But anyway, back to the very beginning: the character customisation. I'm not the sort of person who cares much for this part of video games, but there are very passionate folk who do, so let me get you excited by telling you that the options available in The Veilguard will have you creating a character for hours. You start by selecting one of four lineages as usual (Human, Elf, Dwarf, Qunari) and then get to play around with a bunch of versatile sliders and selection options to define character build and body shape, hair style, eye colour, the usual things we find in games. Busch mentioned that appearance is very important for immersing the player in the story and that is why BioWare has taken extra steps like individually rendering every hair on a character's head and then tying said hair to the physics engine so it flops and falls in a fulfilling manner.

Then we get to the class selection. There are three classes to choose from (Warrior, Rogue, Mage) but each class has three sub-options that essentially serve as an entirely new class in and of itself. While I only got to see one variant of the Rogue in action, Busch did promise other classes that include one that allows you to hurl and throw a shield like Captain America, ricocheting around the battlefield by hitting it with your sword each time it returns to you.

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Before getting into the gameplay, there are a couple of choices left to make. The first is selecting a backstory that gives your character a bit more of an anchor point in the world of Thedas, and the second is defining a difficulty. You can set this in a way that suits you, meaning if you hate parrying in games, you can make it less challenging, for example. Once all of this is set, you are let loose into the world of Thedas to begin experiencing the very thematic and action-packed first hour.

Dragon Age: The VeilguardDragon Age: The Veilguard

It's when first getting into the game and basking in the striking vistas and architecture of Minrathous that you witness again the power of the Frostbite engine. Dragon Age: The Veilguard looks absolutely stunning with an immense attention to graphical detail, lighting, and world design. I can't make any comments on how lively the world feels to explore in practice as the finer elements of the game were glossed over during this preview session, but no doubt there will be plenty of ways to get lost in the sauce as you continue hunting down the Dreadwolf.

Before finally seeing some action, we start to meet some of our companions for the journey ahead. Unlike former Dragon Age games, there will only be a total of seven companions this time around, but the more limited number means that BioWare can make them feel more real and authentic than ever before. As Busch puts it, these are the "richest, most fully developed companions" ever included in a Dragon Age title.

But anyway, the combat. BioWare has provided a multitude of ways to bask in the action. As the player, you can select three skills from a sprawling skill tree to slot into your ability bar and then bolster that with three abilities for each of the two companions you are bringing along for the journey. The combat maintains the typical hack and slashing and ranged balance we see in most action and RPG games, but then bolsters this by also allowing you to use your selected abilities in one of two ways. The first is a more strategic manner that revolves around the traditional Dragon Age ability wheel, where you pause the game and study enemy strengths and weaknesses before deciding how to strike, almost like Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth. The second is a real-time alternative where your abilities are bound to controller inputs to ensure the game flow never misses a beat, more akin to a regular action-RPG. This is definitely the way I'll be playing Dragon Age: The Veilguard come launch.

As a final note on the combat, BioWare has finally caved to community feedback and added healing magic, meaning you can now use your magical prowess to regain HP without needing a healing potion.

Dragon Age: The VeilguardDragon Age: The Veilguard

When you combine the fluid and great looking combat with the typical Dragon Age narrative prowess that open the way to romance arcs, massively defining choices, and all wrapped up in a grand fantasy and long story, it's looking more and more as though BioWare has nailed it so far with Dragon Age: The Veilguard. After seeing an hour of gameplay, this game has rocketed up and become one of my most anticipated titles this year, as it seems to have that same attention to detail, thrill, and variety that has made Star Wars: Outlaws, Indiana Jones and the Great Circle, and Assassin's Creed Shadows stand out as promising single-player experiences planned for later this year. And Busch's comment about the state of The Veilguard only got me more excited, as between the technically impressive demo and the promise that "everything is functional, we're polishing, we're fixing bugs", it all makes this game one to watch out for come autumn.

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