Has Dragon Age lost its identity, or am I just being grumpy about BioWare’s new take on it?

Dragon Age: The Veilguard trailer
(Image credit: BioWare/EA)
Recent updates

Update: We've now seen a little gameplay teaser ahead of the full reveal.

Let me be very clear right out of the gate, I'm owed absolutely nothing from EA, BioWare or the Dragon Age series. Just because I've played every Dragon Age game to date, and consider the series one of the great videogame events of my life, that doesn't make me entitled to anything—and it's certainly not up to me the direction the next game in the series, Dragon Age: The Veilguard, takes.

However, after watching the new reveal trailer, my personal concerns about this sequel have hit DEFCON 1. I'm worried and deflated, questioning myself if, actually, I'm the problem in this series' roadmap to continued financial success thanks to my expectations and wishes, while also at the same time praying to the Maker right now that this cinematic introduction to The Veilguard is not representative of the actual game.

Tonal shift

My colleague here at PC Gamer, and fellow Dragon Age fan, Robin Valentine, upon watching the trailer, asked, "Is it just me, or do the newly revealed companions of Dragon Age: The Veilguard look like they're in a hero shooter?" And he's bang right, they absolutely do. In fact, I'd go as far to say they look like something from a battle pass expansion for a Marvel movie tie-in game. Like, what is going on with the trailer's cartoony, Pixar-lite art style? Or the cheesy freeze frame superhero-style intros? Or the nonchalant-at-best, outright-comedy-at-worst, general tone? It is so far removed from anything we've seen to date in Dragon Age cinematic trailers that, if it didn't show me Varric and Scout Harding briefly and have one of them say 'Darkspawn', I'd have no idea this was actually a Dragon Age game. I mean, was that the plan? Did BioWare and EA want to largely wipe the slate clean with this release, recalibrating the series into something else entirely? If so, then this trailer is mission accomplished.

(Image credit: BioWare/EA)

I'm not mis-remembering things, either. Compare with the Dragon Age: Origins - Sacred Ashes trailer, or the Dragon Age: Inquisition - The Hero of Thedas trailer. The difference in art style, music and tone are marked. They're not only darker and more mature, with an art style that is far from cartoony, but the vibes communicate a world consistent within the fiction that has danger and consequences. The threat within the narrative appears very real and serious in these trailers, which in turn gets me invested in the characters and plot of the game. Even the Marilyn Manson Dragon Age: Origins trailer actually showed the game and stayed consistent to its experience, even if the choice of music was a large misstep.

(Image credit: BioWare/EA)

The Veilguard trailer, on the other hand, has a palpable sense of tween, with super hero-style cartoon characters engaging in technicolour feats of zero-threat heroism or hilarity. When new character Bellara, nicknamed 'The Veiljumper', is dragged seemingly back into the Fade seemingly to a horrible doom by a Cthulu-style tentacled uber beast, we get a comical eyes-bulging, mouth-opened shocked face instead of any sense that any of this actually matters. Ha! Ah, I'm sure she'll be alright guys.

Or there's that moment, also played for laughs, when a cartoony glowy eyed skeleton ambushes two unaware warriors from behind. Ha ha! He's behind you! Or the bit where the unamed hero player character is jumped on by 10 guards at once in a pile-on, and then all the guards are crushed by a falling chandelier, but the hero emerges unscathed. Ha ha… ha.

(Image credit: BioWare/EA)

Now look, things change, right? Tastes and styles move with the times, as too do audiences. Things absolutely should evolve to stay fresh. But, that said, there's also that moment when something is changed so much that it no longer carries the same identity (or, potentially, quality) as the thing that started it, and feels alien to its heritage. For me, watching The Veilguard trailer, that point feels like it is rapidly approaching.

(Image credit: BioWare/EA)

Hi, it's me, am I the problem?

When I watched the trailer for Baldur's Gate 3, last year's groundbreaking fantasy RPG and PC Gamer's highest-scoring game of all time, despite the huge visual change from Baldur's Gate II and the new cast of characters, I immediately felt like I was home, so spot on was the art style, dialogue, music and tone. Larian Studios understood the brief supremely well, producing a game that felt fresh while also honouring its immense heritage and beloved world, characters and lore. It was a game for those who played Baldur's Gate I and II all those years ago, like me, as well as completely new players.

But as I watched this trailer for The Veilguard, I didn't get that sense at all. I got a vibe that not only was this going to be a very different experience to what I've played before, but also that this game was clearly not made for me, now the legacy gamer in The Veilguard's roadmap to financial success, but for gamers much, much younger than me, with an affinity for hero shooters and superhero movies. And that's totally cool. There are some really great games and films in those genres! I've enjoyed some myself. But, Dragon Age has never been those things before and, also, whether or not The Veilguard will resonate with gamers who like those things is currently unknown. If Dragon Age adopts their character and tone, shedding some of its own identity in the process, will that be enough to win them over?

Maybe I'm wrong and this trailer is in fact not that representative of The Veilguard's actual gameplay, which we're getting our first taste of very shortly, but right now all I have to go off is this, in my opinion, rather concerning first look. Needless to say, I'll be tuning into that first The Veilguard gameplay reveal tomorrow at 8:00 a.m. PT, hoping to be proven wrong.

Print Editor

Rob is editor of PC Gamer magazine and has been PC gaming since the early 1990s, an experience that has left him with a life-long passion for first person shooters, isometric RPGs and point and click adventures. Professionally Rob has written about games, gaming hardware and consumer technology for almost twenty years, and before joining the PC Gamer team was deputy editor of T3.com, where he oversaw the website's gaming and tech content as well its news and ecommerce teams. You can also find Rob's words in a series of other gaming magazines and books such as Future Publishing's own Retro Gamer magazine and numerous titles from Bitmap Books. In addition, he is the author of Super Red Green Blue, a semi-autobiographical novel about games and gaming culture. Recreationally, Rob loves motorbikes, skiing and snowboarding, as well as team sports such as football and cricket.