This is a spoiler-free review of Dreamfall: Chapters. Spoilers for Dreamfall & TLJ are within.
This I said this morning:
I’ve been waiting for the sequel to Dreamfall since I finished the first one. Then waiting for Dreamfall Chapters since Ragnar announced it in 2007. Then a year and a half since the Kickstarter finished. I suspect I can wait ‘til I get home from work. Then I can get on with waiting for the next chapter, I suppose.
So, I’m now waiting for the next chapter.
I replayed The Longest Journey at the weekend. It took me 12 hours to complete it, and I enjoyed pretty much all of that time.
I replayed Dreamfall the last few days, it took me 9 hours to complete it, and I enjoyed… some of it. These are things I have said about Dreamfall in the last 24 hours:
I replayed TLJ & Dreamfall over the last week or so to try to get my head back into the series. As mentioned above, TLJ holds up better than Dreamfall does. While the former ends up lego-brick pixels on a modern screen, Dreamfall’s shoddy camera makes its awful combat and occasionally random-fail stealth sections (being killed by an enemy you had no way to predict and the camera wouldn’t let you see is fun for nobody) a trail. The hacking & lockpick minigames are more fun, but only pop up a couple of times in the whole game. Also, adventure games rise and fall on how much they respect the player’s time. Dreamfall frequently makes you run across the entire multi-load-screen zone to fetch a single object from an NPC and then come directly back.
The thing that struck me was that the writing was so good, and the story so much deeper than the game had time to explain in detail. There were some amazing moments – playing both protagonist and antagonist in a couple of scenes – but that ending. The direct storyline concludes, but the last five minutes is so much setup for a sequel that never game… until now.
And, on the engine (specifically “why’d they have to change the engine for DFC?”)
You’re kidding me? Have you played Dreamfall recently? The camera is the leading cause of death. Not just of characters, but of computers thrown out of windows, killing innocents below. The character skins are stretched over duplo bricks, and on high graphics settings light blooms render two hundred pixels south-east of the source. The Shark Engine (the engine used for Dreamfall) was awful.
All these things are true.
The bits of Dreamfall I disliked were… obtuse.l resorted to UHS hints a couple of times, and both were full “How the fuck was I meant to get that?” moments.
So we move on eight years and launch Dreamfall Chapters, hereinafter DFC.
We move on directly from the end of Dreamfall. April’s fallen off the pier with a sword in her chest, Kian’s been arrested for treason, Zoe’s been injected with enough Morpheus to put her in an indefinite coma. Reborn is fairly heavily Zoe-centric, but both main protagonists for the new series (Zoe & Kian) go though their own rebirth.
Mechanically, it’s Dreamfall. Third-person camera, clickable objects, pick an action. The combat, however, has been entirely fucked off with, and deservedly so. The stealth is almost entirely gone – there’s a tiny fragment near the very end – but is no longer any real part of the game. The time-respect is up too, The fed-ex quests are a lot less frequent, and the lack of loading times between the ones that do exist make them significantly less of a bastard where they are.
Shades of Telltale’s expertise have filtered though. The game is littered with minor decisions (unflagged in conversation, but “Foo will remember you like egg sandwiches” type stuff pops up) and major ones (Heavily telegraphed, “THE BALANCE HAS SHIFTED”, complete with “ask the audience” mechanic for finding out what your facebook/steam friends did, if you connect them)
I was mildly disappointed to hit the top 10 percentile for most of my choices, with only two below 50%. I guess I’m a Mass.
Steam says I spent 4.5 hours playing it. It seemed short, but that’s I think mostly because it ends suddenly – it’s a lead-in to chapter 2, after all – and that’s with a moderate amount of read-all-the-things and ask-all-the-questions but no obsessive “What does Zoe think about that tree” “What are Kian’s opinions on levers?” wandering. The puzzles are mostly only taxing when the dialogue misses a line (this action must be performed outside) or when your next trigger is to follow a different plot strand. Fortunately a Goals tracker helps you with the latter, and a bit of experimentation generally satisfies the former. So it’s not a hard level puzzle-game with symbol matching and mini-games, not yet at least.
And, you know, it’s more TLJ. Stark and Arcadia are there, the Undreaming is Unchained, and something’s fucked with the balance. The characters are interesting and entertaining, the universe is well-grounded and deep. I’m massively looking forward to following the story.
I’m glad I replayed the older ones, though. It doesn’t even *try* to give a fuck about people who are new to the series, with a “story recap” menu entry that’s possibly linked to a kickstarter-mentioned introduction comic that was going to be released a month before the first chapter, but appears to have fallen off a cliff somewhere. If it’s been a while since you’ve played the other two, I’d recommend reading a summary of TLJ & Dreamfall, and then watching a Lets Play of the last 20/30 minutes or so of Dreamfall. Or replaying them.
As a kickstarter backer of this game that I’ve been waiting for for eight years or so, I’m happy with Chapter One. If they can keep up the episode lengths, it’s going to turn this into a 25 hour adventure game in total, but even if not needing to do so much exposition (and there is quite a lot) speeds up future instalments, I’m still going to be sitting here waiting for the next Dreamfall.