After seeing an hour of Dragon Age: The Veilguard, I'm no longer as worried for this fantasy RPG — here's why

Dragon Age: The Veilguard preview Dragon
(Image credit: Electronic Arts)

As the ritual continues, energy crackles through the air, ripping open wounds in the Veil that bleed streams of Demons, pouring out across the night sky above Minrathous, the capital city of the Tevinter Imperium. As the demons trade magical blasts with the Tevinter Imperium's floating fortresses, a band of companions race against time in the streets below, desperate to stop an ancient god from completing his work.

So opens the story of Dragon Age: The Veilguard, the next big game from developer BioWare and publisher Electronic Arts, and the fourth mainline entry in the Dragon Age series.

At a recent preview event during Summer Game Fest 2024, I had the opportunity to check out almost an hour of footage from Dragon Age: The Veilguard's prologue being played live by the developers, with a look at character creation, dialogue choices, combat, and everything else that has gone into the next act of this fantasy franchise. It's a preview that leaves me with a number of questions, but manages to assuage my biggest fears after the long, long wait we've had for this game. Here's my big takeaways.

Dragon Age: The Veilguard places characters front and center

After some narration from series mainstay Varric Tethras that's designed to catch new players up to speed — if you're one of said new players, former companion Solas is actually an ancient elven god known as the Dread Wolf who wants to tear down the Veil and burn the world to start over again — we're introduced to the new character creation system for Dragon Age: The Veilguard. 

While the limited time for the demonstration means I don't get to see every option fiddled with, it's immediately clear that BioWare has massively improved customization options compared to prior games. After selecting your race (Human, Elf, Dwarf, or Quanari) body sliders allow you to fine-tune weight, height, and other details. Special mention must be given to how to how good the hair looks, with an actual variety and what appears to be a diverse range of options. For all BioWare's strengths, the hair options in prior games have been downright abysmal, so it's good to see this sorely-needed improvement. 

Character creation continues by choosing a class, where players will select one of the Dragon Age staples: Warrior, Mage, or Rogue, with specializations also returning that allow you to hone a particular focus as your character levels up. For this preview, the developers opted to craft a rogue. We're still not done yet, as you'll also get to pick your background faction (including the Grey Wardens!), a bit of flavor that will be referenced by other characters throughout the game and changes context for some conversations.

Welcome to the Tevinter Imperium. (Image credit: Electronic Arts)

Following character creation, Varric's narration continues, revealing that he's put together a group to stop Solas, having recruited our character and a handful of others so far. Shifting the game, we see the aforementioned events unfold as Solas' ritual begins, tearing open the sky above Minrathous in a bid to reshape Thedas. It's a gorgeous display, one that seems more fitting for a late-game act, and that's by design.

"We wanted the start to feel like the end of a different game," explains creative director John Epler, noting that much as it's almost ten years since the last game, Dragon Age: Inquisition, a similar amount of time has passed in-universe.

We get our first look at combat when Shades (a type of lesser demon) stalk the streets and block off the narrow passageways. Combat is quick and brutal at this stage, with the Rogue using fast knife strikes and powerful arrow shots to quickly carve through the Shades. As stronger mixes of enemies begin to appear, abilities are used to turn the tide. Despite the action-heavy focus, positioning is absolutely key, and using careful timing to hit multiple foes at once can be the difference between victory and defeat.

Combat in Dragon Age: The Veilguard can be fast and furious. (Image credit: Electronic Arts)

As the crew continues to progress, destroying obstacles and squeezing through narrow cracks through the undercity of Minrathous, it's clear BioWare's artists have been unleashed. Long mentioned but never actually seen — at least in the games, do go watch Dragon Age: Absolution on Netflix — Minrathous is frankly stunning, a dark and oppressive city of night with all the wonder of a heavenly spectacle and the subtlety of an iron gauntlet.  It's a fitting debut that helps set the dark tone this game seems to be going for. 

I'm aware that many people were put off by the recent companion-focused trailer, and some of those choices were certainly odd, but unless something changes dramatically later on, I'm not worried about Dragon Age: The Veilguard not being serious enough. 

Not to be left out, the characters are also animated extremely well, and the performance capture sells the fantasy of every conversation. In-between fights, Varric and the other characters, including your fully-voiced protagonist, discuss events that are unfolding and different things that have led up to this moment. Epler notes for the preview that with how much time has passed since prior games, the team wanted to carefully throw in some reminders without it feeling like ham-fisted exposition. It's a tough balance to get right, but at least in the opening hour it always felt appropriate.

The tactical wheel takes a page out of Mass Effect. (Image credit: Electronic Arts)

As fights continue to ramp up, the developers show off the latest version of the Tactical Wheel, which allows you to pause the game and issue orders to both your character and your companions to use abilities. Combined with some other changes like the limit to having two companions with you in the field and the lack of an option to directly control them, it's extremely reminiscent of Mass Effect 2 and 3.

I won't spoil how the prologue concludes, but it's safe to say BioWare is hitting the gas immediately, with a call to action and urgency that (again) brings Mass Effect 2 to mind. The Dread Wolf's ambitions have already been laid bare, but I strongly suspect there's more going on, and Epler cryptically hints that not everything will be as it first seems.

The prologue concludes as the team catches up with Solas, fighting a mighty Pride demon — which Varric astutely cracks was probably drawn by the Dread Wolf's ego — a fight that necessitates dodging and chaining everything shown so far in order to bring it down. After felling the raw magical monstrosity, Solas awaits...

Dragon Age: The Veilguard has a lot more to come

Warriors, Rogues, and Mages are again the backbone of character design. (Image credit: Electronic Arts)

Overall, I'm very happy — and bluntly, more than a little relieved — with what I saw of Dragon Age: The Veilguard. Combat looks snappy, the art direction is off the charts, and the dire stakes here immediately have me invested. 

I do still have some questions, especially in light of the many, many changes this game (and BioWare) has gone through over the last few years. Exactly what does the scale look like? Will there be more open areas to explore, or is it mostly linear like the prologue? Is there a balance to be found between "narrow hallways" and "The Hinterlands?" I don't know, but I'm looking forward to learning the answers.

Most of all, I'm ready to the break that egg.

Dragon Age: The Veilguard is slated to launch across Xbox Series X|S, Windows PC, and PlayStation 5 at some point in Fall 2024.

Samuel Tolbert
Freelance Writer

Samuel Tolbert is a freelance writer covering gaming news, previews, reviews, interviews and different aspects of the gaming industry, specifically focusing on Xbox and PC gaming on Windows Central. You can find him on Twitter @SamuelTolbert.