Not a nightmare, but not quite a dream-come-true
The adventure game genre is certainly an interesting one. For the longest time, it was at the top of the food chain. Back then, it felt like every day there would be a new game like King’s Quest, Dark Seed, or Myst. But that time has passed, and here we are in 2017. Adventure games just don’t thrive like they used to. But hey, that doesn’t stop some developers from trying to keep the genre alive. Is it faring as well as it used to, though? Well, there’s only one way to find out. Let’s take a look at Dreamfall Chapters!
The Story so far…
A quick heads-up to those who may not know; Dreamfall Chapters isn’t a standalone title. Rather, it serves as a sequel to the 2006 game Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, and is the third title in the The Longest Journey saga. Despite Dreamfall: TLG being released over a decade ago, Chapters expects you to know what’s going on. There’s very little in the way of setup, so it’s up to players to understand the story so far beforehand.
Dreamfall Chapters begins pretty much right where Dreamfall: The Longest Journey left off, with Zoë stuck in a coma, trapped in Dreamtime — the world of dreams. Despite what you may think, Zoë doesn’t seem too perturbed about her predicament. She’s safe, comfortable, and can use some pretty neat powers to help others who are trapped in their own nightmares. Of course, she knows that she can’t stay there forever. After a bit of soul-searching, Zoë admits to herself that, like it or not, she needs to return to her own world, Stark. And that’s just what she does.
Shortly after Zoë’s introduction, the game switches over to Kian, the second protagonist. He isn’t doing as well Zoë. A once-proud holy assassin of the Azadi empire, Kian has since been jailed and sentenced to execution for refusal to assassinate the Rebellion leader known as Scorpion. As he begins to make peace with his fate, he is rescued by none other than a Rebellion member calling himself “The Captain” — setting off a chain of events that will forever change Kian’s future.
Later on in Dreamfall Chapters, players are introduced to the game’s final protagonist; a baby named Saga. Well, she doesn’t stay a baby, but she starts out that way. Saga’s story works a bit differently, and for that reason I won’t be going into hers. Rest assured however, that she plays just as vital a role as Zoë and Kian.
Walking Around in Circles
Knowing that Dreamfall Chapters was a modern-day adventure game, I went in expecting to find an abundance of two things; puzzles, and dialogue. And, while I was right about the dialogue, I found the game to have a strikingly odd absence of puzzles. Truthfully, this worked out to my advantage — I’m not the best with this genre — but it sometimes made progression seem empty. Now before anyone says anything, I’m not saying that there was a complete lack of puzzles. In fact, the puzzles that were in the game were generally multi-step ones that took a decent bit of thinking on the player’s part. And they weren’t hard in the traditional Sierra Games “how was I supposed to know about that” way, either. They were legitimately good. Unfortunately, they were way too spread out. What did you do instead of solving puzzles, you ask? Well, you walked around.
When I wasn’t actively conversing with someone, I spent most of my time in Dreamfall Chapters walking around. To be fair, this wasn’t always a bad thing. Both worlds were incredibly diverse, and it was obvious just how much attention had been paid to detailing them both as much as possible. Getting to know the sights and sounds of each setting was fun. I particularly found myself liking Stark (for the most part, anyway). I feel like we’ve largely moved away from the whole “dystopian cyberpunk” theme that was oh-so prominent in the years past. Seeing it brought to life on such a grand scale was impressive. And there was so much to explore, too! …But that was also the bad part.
I liked exploring, but after you’ve seen everything then, well, you’ve seen everything. Initially, needing to run around each area was pretty neat, but it got boring rather quickly. It started to feel like nothing more than a means through which to artificially inflate gameplay. Needing to constantly run from Point A to Point B just to have a small conversation thrown at you and be re-directed to yet another location drew out certain parts of the game much longer than it should have. Even worse was the fact that it could be difficult to find certain locations. Most of the time, maps weren’t marked with specific location names or icons and, because of that, you could end up — say it with me — walking around in circles.
Dreamfall Chapters handled story progression pretty well. Given the extreme variation between the two main stories (three, if you count the Interlude), transition could have been a major obstacle. Fortunately, it wasn’t. Dreamfall Chapters was good at giving you just enough of each character’s story during their time in the spotlight, but never so much that you felt completely satisfied. There was almost always some sort of tease that made you want to know more. Because of that, I never felt disappointed which switching between characters. I always had something to look forward to, and it only got more intriguing when the stories began to intertwine.
I also appreciated how the game handled each of its worlds’ denizens. Stark and Arcadia may be parallel worlds of sorts, but it wasn’t so simple as taking one thing and painting it two different ways. You couldn’t just say “oh, this is Stark’s version of this character” every time you ran into someone. Sure, there were some similarities here and there, but I suppose that it wouldn’t be a proper parallel world without a few coincidences. Getting to know more about each character was just as rewarding as progressing through the main story itself, and that really says something about a game if you ask me.
Dreamfall Chapters did a nice job overall with its story, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the game can get a little heavy-handed at times; especially with politics. In what I assume is an attempt to make the game more relatable, Dreamfall Chapters throws in plenty of issues pertinent to things going on in the real world right now. I think that the developer meant well, but it got to be a bit much. For a good portion of the game, especially in Stark, you’re pelted with a barrage of social and political issues that stick around for quite some time. What this basically amounted to was the game saying “I know you’re excited about saving the world, but modern-day politics am I right or what??” The end result was an unnecessary sub-narrative that did nothing but make me uncomfortable. That might just be me, though.
Dreamfall Chapters may tell a story of its own, but it’s not as concrete as you first would think. Much of the goings on in the game revolve around what the player decides to say and do. Or what they decide what not to say and do, for that matter. Decision-making heavily drives the game’s narrative, so always think before you act. Not only will you have to get used to making tough calls, but you’ll have to get used to doing so frequently. Considering that the balance of multiple worlds is as stake, there’s a lot you’ll need to do. And there isn’t much time to do it!
Perhaps more importantly than the mere inclusion of decision-making, is the impact that your decisions will have. The game is very upfront about how important player choices are. Nearly choice you make sets off a chain of events. Even neater is the fact that you won’t always see things happening. Much like in real life, most consequences won’t immediately become clear. Dreamfall Chapters does a great job with waiting just long enough for the player to forget about certain choices that they’ve made before rewarding or punishing them later on.
Worlds Apart, Pretty Art
I mentioned it earlier, but Dreamfall Chapters really did a great job with its visuals; especially when it came to scenery. Neither world was favored over the other; both Stark and Arcadia were full of life, and an absolute joy to look at. I was especially impressed with the amount of detail given to Stark. Although it was largely a dystopia, it had just the right amount of sci-fi wonderment to make things exciting. The characters were diverse as well, didn’t present themselves as strongly as the worlds themselves. Though the models were nice, movement seemed odd. Still, it wasn’t ever anything too bad.
The audio was just as strong as many of the game’s visuals. Most of the soundtrack consisted of ambient melodies. They were never the core focus, but that suits a game like this perfectly. Dreamfall Chapters also had some knock-out voiceovers, ensuring that there wasn’t even one weak voice actor in the entire cast.
An End to the Story
My experience with Dreamfall Chapters was very mixed. I felt that much of the story was pulled off nicely, and I appreciated how well the game did with juggling characters. The way it slowly brings together each character’s story is also done well. It wasn’t without its flaws, however. Between the lack of puzzles, needless wandering, and general heavy-handedness with certain topics, there were certainly times when I wasn’t enjoying myself as much as I probably should have been. Still, if you’re an adventure game fan, or a fan of this series, you might want to check it out. After all, the balance of multiple worlds is at stake!
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: PS4 (Reviewed), PC; Publisher: Deep Silver ; Developer: Red Thread Games ; Players: 1 ; Released: May 5, 2017 ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $29.99
Full Disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Dreamfall Chapters given to Hey Poor Player by the Publisher.