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I saw the first hour of Dragon Age: The Veilguard and it was action-packed

The key art for Dragon Age: The Veilguard.
Summer Gaming Marathon Feature Image
This story is part of our Summer Gaming Marathon series.

I got a look at the first hour of Dragon Age: The Veilguard at Summer Game Fest Play Days this year. The long-awaited fourth entry in BioWare’s fantasy RPG series still retains the interesting dialogue options and tactical use of fantasy abilities that are at the series’ core, but definitely leans into the action game elements more than even Dragon Age: Inquisition did.

Although its reveal trailer was a bit underwhelming to me, seeing the first hour of Dragon Age: The Veilguard gave me a vote of confidence that this is the return to form BioWare desperately needs.

The journey begins

Dragon Age: The Veilguard kicks off with an artful cinematic where Varric gives the backstory of Solas, an elven god who is now looking to destroy the Veil that hampers the abilities of the elven race, even if that comes at the cost of unleashing world-ending destruction upon Thedas. After that, players can start the game and enter its immensely detailed character creator. Game Director Corinne Busche, who narrated what we were seeing as another developer played through the first hour of the game, explained that a core tenet of the game is “be who you want to be.”

Dragon Age: The Veilguard | Official Reveal Trailer

Essentially, that means EA plans to have an incredibly detailed character creator that supports all kinds of body types and offers up a lot of sliders to tweak the most minute of details. The character creator even offers a lighting preview so players can ensure their character looks right in all kinds of lighting before they start the campaign. If a large list of customization sliders overwhelms you, there are character presets for all four of the game’s races: Human, Elf, Qunari, and Dwarf. After that, it’s time to choose Warrior, Mage, or Rogue as a starting class, the specialization within that class, and a Faction background for your character.

For the purposes of this demo, the BioWare developers created a human rogue. We then started the actual game, which begins shortly after what’s shown in the reveal trailer. The player character, who others refer to as Rook, interrogates a bartender about the whereabouts of a contact in Minrathous who can help them stop Solas from opening the Veil. The bartender does not play nice, and players are presented with their first choice: talk the bartender down or intimidate them aggressively.

A dragon in Dragon Age: The Veilguard

The dialogue wheel in Dragon Age: The Veilguard gives truncated summaries of the dialogue options rather than the full line that the character is going to say. Still, it felt like something very nice and familiar for BioWare, so I’m glad to see it return here. Before the Rook, who is working with Varric, can pinpoint the contact, Thedas starts his destruction of the Veil. Busche said that BioWare wanted to make the beginning of Dragon Age: The Veilguard feel like the finale of one of their other games, and I definitely felt that.

Solas attacks

After leaving the bar, the player and Varric made their way through the streets of Minrathous, which was filled with buildings that used magic like electricity to power signs. There was also a colorful, vibrant storm off in the distance where Solas was performing the ritual. Dragon Age: The Veilguard looks fantastic; while it’s not quite as cel-shaded as the reveal trailer was, BioWare still leans into bold colors and level design rather than trying to make everything look ultrarealistic with the Frostbite game engine.

Busche confirmed Dragon Age: The Veilguard will have a photo mode, so that’s good. It’s clear that BioWare has the same mentality that Insomniac did when it decided to open Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 with a Sandman fight. While looking for that contact, the player and Varric came across Harding, a returning character from Dragon Age: Inquisition who’s a companion with a full romance arc now.

Varric and Harding in Dragon Age: The Veilguard

There wasn’t a ton of time for introductions, though, as enemies began to attack the party and combat began. This is where I learned that Dragon Age: The Veilguard is going to be a very action-oriented game. It’s not Soulslike or anything, but combat is very much fast-paced, takes place almost always in real time, and will have players frequently dodging and parrying in-between attacks that build up a meter for special abilities. Every class every has its own ranged attack. It’s a far cry from the much slower, CRPG-inspired combat of Dragon Age: Origins.

Busche wants fans of those older combat systems to still enjoy the game, however, so it is possible to pause the game at any time during combat by activating an ability wheel. From there, players can scan enemies to learn more about them or choose to use the abilities of themselves or their companions. Players can more tactically activate abilities and combo them into each other using this pause menu or activate abilities in real time during a fight with a couple of button presses. Like Final Fantasy XVI, it looks like Dragon Age: The Veilguard will be an action RPG that emphasizes the former over the latter.

Confronting the Dread Wolf

The Veilguard continued to fight their way toward Solas, eventually finding Neve, the person they were trying to contact in the first place. They’re too late and Solas’ ritual worsens, so the player and their companions go to stop Solas. As the demo went on, Busche confirmed other smaller tidbits, like how healing magic will return and how there will be lots of companion quests with complex stories that intertwine with the main narrative. Ultimately, this chase led the Veilguard to an Eluvian Mirror portal, which they go through.

Arlathan Forest in Dragon Age: The Veilguard.

This transports them to Arlathan Forest, where Solas’ ritual is taking place. Players have to fight a Pride Demon boss before getting to Solas, putting all the combat skills they learned in the tutorial to the test. Once players defeat that Pride Demon, Varric asks the player if he should confront Solas, and players then work to take down surrounding statues in order to stop the ritual. I won’t spoil what happens next, but I’ll just say the player and Veilguard have a tall task ahead of them if they want to save Thedas.

The first hour of Dragon Age: The Veilguard was a bombastic opener that got me excited for the game much more than the Xbox Games Showcase trailer. While it’s a little disappointing that it’s basically a full-on action game now, BioWare’s roots can still be clearly seen in the excellent worldbuilding, character writing, and dialogue systems that the studio trailblazed with. It’s a clear step up from Anthem, and I can’t wait to see more and go hands-on with the game myself.

Dragon Age: The Veilguard will be released for PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X later this year.

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Tomas Franzese
Tomas Franzese is a Staff Writer at Digital Trends, where he reports on and reviews the latest releases and exciting…
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