Larian already made the Dragon Age 4 I was hoping for

Five minutes before the gameplay reveal for Dragon Age: The Veilguard I still had hope I would love it. Despite the rumored internal reboots, the BioWare layoffs, the Dreadwolf name change, and the off-pitch reveal trailer, I was officially the last clown sitting in the car on a PC Gamer team full of disaffected Dragon Age fans. Now that we’ve seen 20 minutes of action combat and theatrical cutscenes, I’m finally willing to admit that BioWare just isn’t interested in making the Dragon Age game I want to play anymore.

My fellow RPG liker Joshua Wolens got an in-person look at a longer version of the introduction sequence that BioWare debuted today and said: Dragon Age becomes what it was probably always destined to be: A Mass Effect game.

As the party fought through the demon and Venatori cultist-infested streets of Minrathous to confront Solas, custom protagonist Rook vaulted, backflipped, and tactically rolled through combat in what seems like a newer take on Dragon Age 2’s not particularly well-received pivot to action combat 13 years ago.

Veilguard is more action-RPG than the series has ever been. Though you can give orders to your party mid-combat, you can no longer control them directly, which feels like a real loss in a party-based series. Heck, it has a timed prompt to “quick recover” from being knocked down in combat and an actual reticle for shooting a bow.

It wasn’t just the combat in that gameplay trailer that bummed me out. The mood of the entire sequence felt uncanny. “Don’t worry; scouting’s my specialty,” says Harding, whose title is Scout Harding. “Hey, Chuckles, hope I’m not interrupting,” says Varric, while interrupting a giant Fade-ripping ritual set to dramatic orchestral music.

I won’t pretend that a series in which “swooping is bad” is a popular gag has always been grim and serious. Dragon Age has been silly and kinda lame for a long time, and balancing that goober humor with its darker themes has always been a strength. But the series has felt self-conscious of itself since immediately after the success of Dragon Age: Origins.

Dragon Age: Origins (Image credit: BioWare)

This gameplay reveal had the overly acrobatic combat of a Star Wars game, the heroic team-up banter of a Marvel game (“do you want me to take the shot?”), and the set piece cutscenes of an Uncharted game—pushing a wood scaffold out of place at the last second to interrupt an evil ritual, whew! It sure feels like Veilguard wants to be anything but a Dragon Age game.

What does a Dragon Age game even look like at this point? In my opinion, it looks a lot like Baldur’s Gate 3. Right after last year’s game of the year launched, I wrote: fellow Dragon Age fans, I need you to play Baldur’s Gate 3 with me. It wasn’t afraid of being a modern take on a crusty old RPG, it had incredibly passionate character voiceover performances, and it struck just the right chord of grimdark fantasy and earnest silliness. 

That’s everything I wanted out of the next Dragon Age. And at the time I genuinely believed that the game formerly known as Dreadwolf would crawl to its release date covered in scars and darkspawn guts with some of those same qualities. But Veilguard is less of an RPG than ever, its reveal didn’t endear me to the characters I was supposed to already love, and it seems obsessed with proving that it has an epic plot.

Baldur’s Gate 3 (Image credit: Larian Studios)

It feels embarrassed by its own Origins—sorry—and in a world where we all just fell in love with the complicated but gorgeous Baldur’s Gate 3, I still don’t understand why.

This was only 15 minutes, I know. Outside of combat, maybe these seven new companions are all interesting, complex people with great party banter lines the series is known for. Maybe this over-the-top intro is just similar to the way Inquisition started with a literal bang and Veilguard will have thoughtful moments of political intrigue. Maybe something of the setting I love is still there underneath this swaggering affectation.

A first gameplay reveal has always been BioWare’s chance to show us what the newest game in the series thinks is important. Dragon Age 2 said “we have action combat!” Dragon Age: Inquisition said “we have huge maps!” And Dragon Age: The Veilguard is saying “we have the 15 year old intellectual property you still feel emotionally attached to!” It’s me. I’m still emotionally attached.

In a series that’s always had great relationships, let me put it this way: I think this is like that grand gesture to save the relationship, in which you realize that the very best your partner can think of just isn’t what you want and it’s on you to break things off. It’s time to stash the clown makeup I’ve been faithfully wearing for years, stop making excuses for Dragon Age, and just go finish Baldur’s Gate 3.

PCGamer.com

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