Dragon Age’s former lead writer has many, mostly positive thoughts on Veilguard’s romance options, story and environments

Former Dragon Age lead writer and Summerfall Games co-founder David Gaider has strung together some opinions on Xitter – the original spawning ground for all opinions – about the full reveal video for Dragon Age: The Veilguard, expressing broad enthusiasm for the new RPG’s narrative tone, combat system and environments, while offering a more ambivalent analysis of BioWare’s decision to let players seduce every last member of their party.

Those Xeets came through yesterday. Since then, in the wake of a bunch of articles recapping his thoughts, Gaider has chucklesomely added that “I should shut up about Dragon Age for a while” and that “I have other things to do than to provide fodder for news articles that like to talk about what “former Dragon Age lead writer” tweets, after all”. Ooft!

I’ve seen this kind of jovial bait-and-switch before, when an industry luminary serves up some insight on social media, waits for the internet’s news mosquitos to swarm the jar, then slams down the lid and traps those foolish insects of journalism in an atmosphere of mild professional embarrassment and self-loathing. Well, I didn’t make it into your dang jar yesterday, David. I was off buzzing around Monster Hunter at the time. So here I am fluttering at the glass, trying to rejoin my brethren. Let me in, David! I also wish to batten on the sweet nectar of your comparisons with Dragon Age 2!

Here’s Gaider’s initial thread on the full reveal gameplay footage – not to be confused with the much clowned-on story trailer, which is one wisecrack away from having Chris Pratt abseil through the ceiling in a tuxedo.

“Overall, I’d say this made for a better introduction than the reveal trailer,” Gaider begins. “We see some story, and tone-wise it feels a lot darker and more DA. Like I said, trailers often need to be taken with a grain of salt, and my impression is that many fans are relieved. Which is great.

“I could pick on a few things,” he adds. “The stylized characters will take some getting used to, but the DA art style has changed every game so that’s nothing new. Combat is more action-y, without any tactical elements, but it seems fine. Style is not much different than, say, DA2’s combat.”

There’s some commentary on the environments, which “look amazing, full stop. To see the sprawl of Minrathous – wow. I wish we could have done this for Kirkwall or even Val Royeaux. Utterly gorgeous, sells the breadth and tone, such great work.” Gaider also notes that Veilguard’s dialogue icons resemble those of Dragon Age 2, and is happy to see Solas back and causing a ruckus. “Could probably chatter about the implications for days, and how this aligns (or doesn’t) with where I thought the story would go… but I won’t. I’m just eager to see where this goes. To the folks at Bio: great job.”

In a response to a response to his thread, Gaider had a touch more to say about Dragon Age: The Veilguard’s combat, noting that “it’s not that far afield from where DA’s been headed, though I’ll miss the more tactical elements of the past, it’s true. I imagine they’ll make it fun, regardless.”

All pretty upbeat, then! In my own preview of the game from SGF I focussed on the comparison with Dragon Age: Inquisition, the most recent Dragon Ager, but the link to Dragon Age 2 is worth pursuing. Depending on whether you’re playing it in 2011 or any year after, let’s say, 2015, Dragon Age 2 is either Dragon Age’s lowest moment or its secret finest hour. It’s the more impetuously action-skewed of the existing Dragon Agers, especially before they patched in a proper auto-attack, and the least expansive or if you prefer, more focussed in terms of setting. Perhaps the better way of thinking about The Veilguard is that it’s a sequel to Dragon Age 2, rather than a streamlined version of Inquisition.

In a separate thread, responding to an article from our colleagues at the Ian Acquisitions Network, Gaider offered a more involved appraisal of Dragon Age: The Veilguard’s letting you win the hearts of each and every one of your companions, noting that if you make a video game character a love interest, it stops you doing much else with them.

“First off, the fandom is pretty split on romance design,” he wrote. “A huge part just want whoever they want, and NOT getting to romance them is tantamount to a slap in the face. Others like characters with more agency, even (and maybe especially) if it doesn’t align with their preferences.

“Nothing wrong with either desire, honestly,” the thread continues. “It all depends on what you want out of your game. We’re not all here for the same reasons, OK? The only unfortunate aspect, in my experience, is that these two approaches are more or less diametrically opposed, from a design standpoint.

“The DA writers realized, eventually, that as soon as you make a character romanceable it limits the type of character they can be and the types of stories they can tell. They become beholden to their romance arc and their need to, ultimately, be appealing.

“Why is that a limitation? Because not all character story arcs are defined by being appealing to the player. Even if the appeal of an arc is for a relatively limited audience, the requirement of having appeal inherently restricts the potential stories to a fairly limited band.”

It was for the above reasons that the Inquisition writing team decided to make Varric, Dragon Age’s smooth-sipping dwarven pulp novelist, a non-romanceable character, despite much Varric thirsting on the forums. “The call to back away from that approach in DAI was mine, made with [Mike Laidlaw]’s and the team’s support,” Gaider recalled. “I didn’t like what taking away the followers’ agencies did, that it turned them into sex dolls whose only purpose is to have the player mash them together and go “now kiss!”

To address the unclothed Githyanki in the room, Gaider also feels the hanky-panky-abundant Baldur’s Gate 3 might have been better if certain companion characters were off-limits. “Several characters would have had a stronger arc without romance, and the feeling I got from having this entire huge crew all ready to drop trou if I blinked wrong… meh.” He thinks that Veilguard should get along perfectly well on this count, however, as long as “they unapologetically lean into it as BG3 did it”, concluding that “it’s a legit approach, like I said, and many many fans will be gleeful and happy for it.”

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