Companions and choices have always been at the heart of Dragon Age, and that looks to be no different in Dragon Age: The Veilguard. In fact, the game recently picked up its new subtitle in order to emphasise how important your party of pals will be during the adventure. From what we saw at Summer Game Fest Play Days — hosted in a strangely ominous back corner of the site — BioWare is leaning into these aspects of its RPG series even more.

We were shown the opening 40 minutes or so, alongside the game's robust character creator system. The theme of choice runs through this early part of the game, of course, allowing you to pick your avatar's lineage and class as well as adjust pronouns, skin tone, and body shape. Furthermore, backstories are in, allowing you to further customise your character with an origin story of sorts. Customising your difficulty is also part of this process; you can leave this alone or fine tune various aspects of the game to suit you.

With the demo proper now underway, we immediately hit a branching dialogue choice — do we get information about the Dread Wolf by talking it over with the barmaid, or fight the entire population of the pub to get what we need? Opting for the latter, the resulting cutscene led into gameplay, where we saw Minrathous, a massive city previously only mentioned in the series. BioWare teases that it's taking players to more locations than ever in The Veilguard.

Thus begins an intense opening sequence, in which a ritual to destroy the Veil is underway, resulting in demonic creatures from the Fade passing into the world. During this linear sequence, the game's visuals really show themselves — magical effects are all around and the bad guys invade the screen in chaotic fashion, resulting in a visually exciting set-piece. It leads into our first glimpse of combat, which is more action-orientated than we've seen in a Dragon Age game before.

Our demo character is a rogue, so attacks with fast strikes and evades with nimble dodges and parries. Interestingly, you can dodge mid-way through a combo, then pick up where you left off, so there's no wasted energy here. While the main thrust of combat is reminiscent of your typical action RPG, Dragon Age's roots return with the ability to pause the screen and select combat skills to use. From this "pause and play" menu, you'll be able to select your own set of abilities as well as those of your current companions. Alternatively, if you'd rather not slow things down, you'll also be able to fire off those special skills on the fly in active combat. BioWare really does want to offer you choice — not just in the narrative but the gameplay too.

However, what fans really like about this series are the bonds you're able to form with your companions, and that appears to be a major focus of The Veilguard. BioWare tells us companions will have deeper relationships, character arcs, and missions that mean they're more richly fleshed out. Oh, and your party won't just be good for offensive abilities; healing magic is now a thing in Dragon Age, meaning you can turn a companion into a supporter if you like.

As Rook — the player character — and companions Neve Gallus and Lace Harding approach the Dread Wolf's location, things kick up a notch. The location of the ritual is beneath a colossal statue, through some rocky caves away from the city. The art direction and lighting on show is great, especially as the intense effects ramp up even further. Our demo ends with a dramatic sequence we won't spoil here, but it's safe to say the game kicks things off with a bang.

Again, the main takeaway we had from the demo was that BioWare is putting a lot of importance on your companions and the choices you make. The combat is something we'll have to judge when we get our hands on it, but it looked like an interesting evolution that caters to modern action tastes without forgetting its slower-paced roots. With the game due in Fall 2024, it won't be long before fans can find out for themselves if the studio has its priorities straight, but from where we were sitting, there's potential here for another great entry in the long-dormant franchise.

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