Dragon Age: The Veilguard preview: an emphasis on moment-to-moment action and a strong lineup of companions

Having seen the prologue of Dragon Age: The Veilguard (formerly known as Dragon Age: Dreadwolf), I absolutely cannot wait to build my team of companions and chase down the now-antagonistic Solas.

BioWare’s next entry into the dark fantasy action-adventure role-playing series looks incredibly polished, slick, and seamless. There’s a strong emphasis on moment-to-moment action and cohesion across gameplay that looks to be the right mix of classic Dragon Age and fresh approaches that has me invested in it already.

The prologue plays out like an intense quest and is immediately gripping. The team wanted to make the prologue mission feel like the “last mission in a previous game” to really up the ante, hook players in, and get them invested in the high stakes right from the off. And it shows. Our character goes from a possible bar fight to hunting down a potential companion, and from bombastic battles against demons in a ruined city under attack to a climactic confrontation all in the space of a short hour or so.

Throw in some excellent character creation, supporting acts, world-building, and environmental storytelling, and I just can’t wait to build my ragtag team of companions and get to work.

Be who you want to be

Dragon Age: The Veilguard

(Image credit: Electronic Arts)

At the preview, it’s revealed that there were three guiding principles at the core of Dragon Age: The Veilguard’s development and these help to frame what shone through at the behind-closed-doors demonstration.

The first concept of ‘being who you want to be’ is introduced right at the beginning. Our brief glimpse of the character clearly demonstrates that principle that’s imbued into the game. There’s so much customization here, and it goes further than the series has before with things like body customization, and much improved and believable hair textures as well as options for ancillary details such as scars, tattoos, and makeup.

There’s a familiar rule of three when it comes to the classes, but with some extra augmentation too. You can apply one of three classes (rogue, warrior, and mage) - each with three subclasses - to your human, elf, dwarf, or Qunari character. We saw a twin blade-wielding human rogue in action, spinning fast attacks out at the speed of light. 

Augmenting character growth is the addition of ‘Factions’. These offer backstory for your avatar and also help guide and determine dialogue options and reactions throughout the game, including how your companions think of your actions and responses. There’s nothing quite  like being judged constantly by your friends, after all.

Creating a world worth saving

Dragon Age: The Veilguard

(Image credit: Electronic Arts)

A second principle is one I’ve been fond of in the series for a long time, and that’s the element of building a world full of lands, places, ruins, gardens, towns, and cities that are rich and full to the brim of character. 

The world of Dragon Age has always been a rich and enticing one and the glimpse I got of the city of Minrathous, with its distinct architecture, use of magic-like electricity, and its foundation on an ancient Elven empire have made me yearn for more already. There’s an emphasis on storytelling through the game’s art, and the architecture of Minrathous is a superb example of that with its palimpsest-like layers of history built upon one another.

Then elsewhere, in the context of the moment-to-moment gameplay, we also see the quest’s narrative being supported and added to through events happening in the background with clarity and purpose. Cosmic tears through which demons are flowing, or magical lighting above houses, themselves being pummeled by falling rocks all help tell the story of the quest you’re in right at that moment.

Inspire a team of unforgettable heroes

Dragon Age: The Veilguard

(Image credit: Electronic Arts)

With Varric’s dulcet tones returning to narrate us - at least in the bits of prologue I saw - there’s an immediate sense of familiarity with the supporting cast. Supported by Harding, a dwarf character introduced in Inquisition, but now a fully-fledged companion thrust to the fore, Varric looks set to play a pivotal role once again - but this time among a wider cast of fresh new supporting companions. 

From the preview, these companions look set up to be found and recruited to your party through necessity rather than chance. Your character needs to find particular folks as they are experts, or to do specific jobs or provide particular information. Targeted recruitment rather than accidental meetups, if you will.

This has been guided by the principle of ‘inspiring a team of unforgettable heroes’ that BioWare has worked with, ensuring that the band of companions you side with are diverse but all are integral to your journey, have their own unique story arcs, and bring something special to your journey.

We only saw one new companion, Neve, but the conversations between party members and your main character are really excellently voiced and delivered. There’s no rigid or wooden voice acting here, but well-written and strongly delivered lines that make for some engaging conversations and enjoyable banter from what we saw.

Each dialogue choice is set to be a decision to make that will have bona fide consequences. Be it a major decision with clear directions, or smaller conversation choices (that have approaches such as being affable, impulsive, or tough), each is made clear to what you’re getting into but is still vague enough to not reveal everything that’s going to happen in advance. This kind of consequence-driven decision-making gets you invested and is something that opens up a whole range of directions for the game to go in which I am hugely looking forward to exploring.

Moments and missions

Dragon Age: The Veilguard

(Image credit: Electronic Arts)

Approaching the game with these major principles in mind has been complemented by the mission to ensure that seamless transitions from moment to moment are baked into seemingly all of Dragon Age: The Veilguard. Everything from conversations to action to exploration should neatly chain together.

This mission gets deployed in many individual moments across the slice of the game we saw, and moving from exploring nooks and crannies for potions and loot, to taking on a bunch of Venatori happens in the blink of an eye - before you’re back talking with your pals. 

However, there are some particularly neat examples in combat where your player’s move set can enable them to perfectly parry a projectile or deploy a special ability to rush through multiple enemies. These help string together swift attacks that can have you deleting enemies in a flash. 

To complement this, the classic balance between strategy and being in the thick of it remains, with a quick tap of a button pausing the game and allowing you to select targets, skills, and direct your companions for the former approach and simple button mapping to keep your best abilities in arm’s reach for the latter.

Your playable character will have an energy bar of some type - linked to the class; mana for mages, rage for warriors, momentum for rogues - which helps govern your use of skills. This not only adds an extra layer of strategy in terms of being selective with how you spend it, but also a tactical awareness of how best to build it back up again by attacking enemies safely and effectively. 

You’ll need to be selective and tactical when enemies get larger and more dangerous as they might have more than just a health bar. Some foes will have ‘guard’ and some will have ‘armor’ - and some elite baddies will have both. These can be ground down with regular attacks but you’re far better off picking the right tool for the right job; ranged attacks for barrier and heavy attacks for armor.

An adventure for the ages?

Dragon Age: The Veilguard

(Image credit: Electronic Arts)

Dragon Age: The Veilguard’s emphasis on ensuring conversations, gameplay, and exploration flow into one another sets the game up for success and is one I can’t wait to see more of. Applying this to the core of the swift and slick combat, as well as retaining powerful characters, heavy and impactful decisions, and creating places with a strong sense of place only serves to make for a richer and deeper experience with you at the center of it all.

From companion to dialogue choice, and from weapon to skill, there’s clearly a drive to get you thinking about picking the right tool for the right job no matter the moment - or the mission.

The prologue we saw crescendos to an almighty climax which left some in the audience I was part of audibly gasping and shocked. It’s the perfect setup for what looks like an expansive and exciting adventure that’s befitting of the series. The preview has made me want to sink my teeth into all its missions and moments and breathe in the wonderful world of Thedas once again.

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Rob Dwiar
Managing Editor, TechRadar Gaming

Rob is the Managing Editor of TechRadar Gaming, a video games journalist, critic, editor, and writer, and has years of experience gained from multiple publications. Prior to being TechRadar Gaming's Managing Editor, he was TRG's Deputy Editor, and a longstanding member of GamesRadar+, being the Commissioning Editor for Hardware there for years, while also squeezing in a short stint as Gaming Editor at WePC just before joining TechRadar Gaming. He is also a freelance writer on tech, gaming hardware, video games, gardens, and landscapes and is crowdfunding a book on video game landscapes that you can back and pre-order now too.