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Why Was The Dragon Age: Veilguard Reveal Trailer Like That?

Yassified Varric can’t hurt you!

varric and harding from the trailer for dragon age: veilguard
EA, Bioware

I know that a new video game is more than just its initial trailer. And I know that a game that’s been in development for as long as the new Dragon Age is bound to be compared to the imagined, perfect version of it in my mind. And I know that, as a fan of Dragon Age, as long as I get to kill Solas I will be fine. But still the question remains: why did the reveal trailer for Dragon Age: Veilguard suck so bad?

Veilguard having a weird and bad trailer is part of the long legacy of EA not knowing how the fuck to market their own games. Dragon Age has been the victim of this before—for whatever reason, a 2009 trailer for Dragon Age: Origins featured “This Is The New Shit” by Marilyn Manson. It was a bizarre choice for a dark fantasy game at the time, and now gives the game the stink of being associated with an artist who has been credibly accused of sexual assault by multiple women, including in one case assaulting a minor.

Given what I know about Dragon Age’s fanbase (this game has broken up more than one real life friendship that I know of because someone played Inquisition and then fell in love with Solas and got very defensive about their new parasocial relationship with a fictional bald elf who committed genocide and wants to do it again), licensing a David Bowie song for this new trailer seems, at first, like a better choice. But the pieces just don’t come together. While I think that the art style looks much better in the gameplay video, combined with the Whedonesque quips, it comes off like Dragon Age with all the rough edges sanded off. 

As a player, those rough edges—the places where the characters are alienated by your choices as a player, or where the lore doesn’t quite make sense so you get more lore to make it all sort of congeal, or where the writing humanizes characters who would otherwise be irredeemable—those things are Dragon Age to me. Not necessarily darkness and grittiness, like a Marilyn Manson song choice suggests, but a sense of a world that is much bigger than simply good and evil, light and dark.

Most frustrating is this really weird cover of one of David Bowie’s best songs ever. It’s “Heroes” interpreted as an unironic arena rock song rather than a melancholic longing for the idea of heroism that the singer knows doesn’t actually exist. It is such a wrongheaded rendition of the song that it honestly feels disrespectful of the dead. Worse than that, it does a poor job of setting the tone of what the wildly different and much better gameplay reveal trailer shows: this is a game where one of the members of your party has to stop their old friend from ending the world. The original version of the song would have matched that tone handily!

The gameplay trailer does actually show all the things I wanted to see. It is much darker in tone and also in its color palate. The dramatic lighting does a lot of work to highlight the sharp edges in the stylized art, bringing it closer to Dishonored than Overwatch. It also demonstrates the central conflict of the story in a much better way, and in a way that makes the stakes much clearer. You aren’t just getting a team together for some generic purpose. You’re in the final act of a conflict that has been brewing for centuries, and the way you navigate it will be reflected in the world and characters.

Dragon Age is a series that differentiates itself from the glut of dark fantasy slop in its specifics. The Veilguard reveal trailer doesn’t really show you any of that—I’m happy to know that it’s there, but I wish EA had a better understanding of the game they’re trying to sell.

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