Dragon Age: The Veilguard Is An Exciting And Critical Moment For BioWare

Image: BioWare
Image: BioWare

Dragon Age: The Veilguard has activated a side of the internet that has been living off crumbs for a decade. Think about it: the Dragon Age fandom hasn’t had a game to dissect, anticipate, or scrutinize since Inquisition launched in 2014. The Veilguard, which is set to finally wrap up the devastating cliffhanger of Inquisition’s Trespasser DLC, is just a few short months away, and after a name change, cinematic trailer, and gameplay reveal, fans finally have something substantial to chew on, rather than sustaining themselves with comics, short stories, and a Netflix anime. Having watched BioWare fans go through some tough times between Inquisition and The Veilguard, it’s heartening to see the explosion of fan art, theories, and love outpouring from every side of the internet in anticipation of the next chapter. But that anticipation is tinged with a bit of fear. After waiting all this time, what happens if The Veilguard doesn’t live up to the game someone has imagined for ten years? Worse yet, what happens to BioWare if it has what some might consider its third “strike”?

While Dragon Age itself has been slumbering for ten years, BioWare has not. In 2017, the studio released Mass Effect: Andromeda which, despite some pretty ambitious combat and a cast with the potential to grow into something as beloved as that of the original trilogy, was lambasted for its bugs, awkward animations, and bloated open-world design, to the point where BioWare put the series on ice. This was followed by Anthem, an ill-advised loot shooter that felt like a misuse of the RPG studio’s talents, and ultimately ended up going nowhere after the studio canned its planned overhaul. Both of these games were reportedly mired by development issues, and from the sound of it, The Veilguard has also been struggling to get off the ground after Inquisition’s development wrapped.

Image: BioWare
Image: BioWare

The Veilguard has apparently gone through at least a few iterations since BioWare began development, including versions that centered live-service elements and multiplayer. Now, The Veilguard is being marketed as a streamlined, single-player, micotransaction-less action RPG. It seems like BioWare has its priorities straight, but it also sounds like The Veilguard exists in the form it did after the studio and publisher Electronic Arts got it wrong twice in a row. That’s what makes it easier to get excited about the fourth game. BioWare has said a lot of the right things in just the past two weeks since Summer Game Fest. The Veilguard went from a mostly conceptual idea in Dragon Age fans’ heads to something very close to what those fans have been asking for since party-member-turned-villain Solas announced his plans to watch the world burn in Trespasser.

Of course, it’s also been divisive. Dragon Age has shifted subgenres throughout the past 15 years, but The Veilguard is more of an overt action RPG than even Dragon Age II was in 2011. So naturally those who are pining for the tactics-driven gameplay of the series’ first game, Origins, have taken issue with BioWare’s acrobatic gameplay showcase, especially on the heels of Baldur’s Gate 3’s success last year. Look, it would not be a BioWare game if it didn’t also invite some of the most vitriolic online discourse known to man. But after seeing the studio go from chasing bloated open-world trends to making a live-service loot shooter in the past seven years, seeing BioWare make a game that is trimming all that away to get at the heart of what the studio has always done well has reignited excitement for the studio again. I’ll admit, watching The Veilguard’s behind-closed-doors presentation at Summer Game Fest got me welled up in a way that’s only happened a few times in my career.

The thing is, BioWare fans never really venture too far while their favorite series is on hiatus. If nothing else, the studio did a good job leading into The Veilguard through extended media like comics and short stories to introduce characters the studio was working on for the fourth game. In fact, a few of The Veilguard’s party members have been waiting for their grand introduction for years. So fans have had time to get a sense of who new characters like Neve the detective mage and Lucanis the mage-killing assassin are long before they showed up in a video game.

Fans may come to love those new characters, but at the same time, The Veilguard is bringing people back to a story they’ve waited a decade to see through. BioWare is clearly aware of just how invested these eager fans are, and is playing with their expectations and years-long investment. How do you hook a fandom that’s been dying to see a story wrapped up for 10 years? Put one of their favorites in danger in an angsty shouting match between him and an old friend. Tug on their heartstrings and remind them of all the choices they’ve made over the past three games, knowing it was all leading to this moment. Give them something to project their own journeys onto.

With all the strife The Veilguard has reportedly gone through in its multiple iterations, fans seem relieved to see that, based on what BioWare has shown, a lot of the original vision still seems to remain intact. Case in point: Fans have been scouring old teasers for clues, and a 2016 post by then-producer Mark Darrah (now working on the project as a consultant) has caught the attention of Dragon Age diehards. It shows Darrah looking through what seems to be a design booklet for the game with a rook chess piece on the cover. Rook is the name of The Veilguard’s main character.

While The Veilguard seems to be prioritizing continuity and payoff, the road to arriving at this current vision for the game has been tumultuous, to say the least. BioWare’s turnover in the past decade hasn’t gone unnoticed, and the studio even laid off 50 developers last year, including veterans like writer Mary Kirby, who had been a key creative force behind the Dragon Age series. The studio has also been at the center of a legal battle over severance owed to laid-off employees. Even as some key leadership has stayed at the studio, BioWare has lost some of the major players that helped make some of its most celebrated games what they were.

With all those key players gone, it’s a studio at a turning point, one that could aim to stay true to the work done by those who have gone before, or chart out new paths of its own, or find some happy medium between the two, honoring that legacy while also venturing into new territory. What we’ve seen of The Veilguard suggests that it’s aiming to do the latter, and it feels like a leap of faith for BioWare after all this time.

There’s a lot riding on Dragon Age: The Veilguard. The stakes are high for the series, which fans have been dying to return to for so long. They may be higher for BioWare itself, though hopefully, with this release, a studio that we’ve all collectively watched stumble into the modern era can right the ship as it navigates the tumultuous shores of this incredible volatile industry. I’m excited and terrified to find out when Dragon Age returns this fall.


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