Saturday, June 15, 2024

‘Dragon Age: The Veilguard’ Puts An End To Tactical Combat Once And For All

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Dragon Age: The Veilguard is the latest installment in the Dragon Age series by BioWare, previously known as Dragon Age: Dreadwolf. Set in the richly detailed world of Thedas, this game introduces new characters (as well as some returning familiar faces) and adventures while placing an emphasis on narrative, including player choices and romance (every companion is confirmed to be pansexual).

The plot centers around the protagonist, Rook, leading a group of seven unique companions, each with their own backstories and special abilities. These companions include a scout, a necromancer, a detective, a dragon hunter, a warden, a veil jumper, and an assassin. Players will navigate through various locales in Thedas, such as the ancient elven city of Arlathan, the capital of the Tevinter Imperium, and the mystical land of Rivain.

Players can choose one of three classes: Rogue, Mage or Warrior, and then specialize within that class. You’ll also choose what sounds like a fairly in-depth backstory, as well as explore the intricate stories of all your companions.

Alongside class choices, players will also be able to choose between four races—human, elf, Qunari or dwarf—and customize to their heart’s content (with a new-and-improved set of hair options). Customization allows players to choose pronouns—he/him, she/her, they/them—and mix-and-match female and male voices with female and male bodies, effectively modernizing gender selection in ways other games like Cyberpunk 2077 have already. (This is sure to be controversial, but at a certain point we need to stop bickering over every little thing; you can just choose he/him or she/her and the appropriate voice if the trans stuff isn’t for you, after all).

BioWare showed off a truncated version of the game’s opening hour which, in many ways, could as easily be the epilogue to Dragon Age: Inquisition, which saw the elf Solas, in a shocking twist, take on the role of villain. In the opening minutes of The Veilguard, Solas is attempting to destroy the Veil that he himself created in a long past age to separate the physical realm of Thedas from the magical realm known as the Fade.

As Solas works his powerful magic, demons spill into the rather gorgeous world BioWare has created. And so our hero, Rook, along with his companions Varric, Harding and the newly introduced ice mage, Neve Gallus.

The End Of Dragon Age’s Tactical Combat

It’s the combat I’d like to discuss, though I obviously haven’t been able to play it for myself, and watching a gameplay trailer only conveys so much. From what I did see, I’m not overjoyed with the combat so far. Dragon Age has never tickled my action combat fancy, but there’s always been some degree of tactical play that has kept my attention. These games are, first and foremost, about the adventure and the story, but combat still takes up a good chunk of time. In the past, this was all about your party and how various party members could work together to take down enemies. It was very tactical, and you were able to control any of your companions in each battle, swapping between them at will.

Each Dragon Age game has moved away from the tactical side of the equation, but until now, there has always been tactical depth to keep combat more interesting. The Veilguard changes that. For the first time, you will not be able to control any of your companions. Instead, you can pull up a power wheel and instruct companions on which of their various special powers to use.

When you’re not controlling your companions, the gameplay reveal shows them hovering mostly out of sight, piddling away at enemies, most of whom focus their efforts on you instead. It’s . . . not great. The more I think about it and rewatch combat segments, the more I’m worried about how this will actually play.

BioWare also revealed that there is an option in the difficulty settings that can make your character effectively invincible, incapable of ever dying in a battle. That actually may not be as ludicrous as it sounds. After all, if the combat isn’t great it might be better to just play this game for the story.

As I so often say, we shall see. It’s too early to make up my mind about the game just from twenty minutes of gameplay footage and cutscenes. I like some of what I’m seeing here, including the strong voice-acting and the cool world. Other stuff—like the color scheme and the combat—leave much to be desired. This is all prologue/intro content as well, so I expect we have a much different world to explore once the dust settles.

What do you think so far? Let me know on Twitter and Facebook.

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