Dreamfall Chapters – Review
PC, Xbox One, PS4
This is a review about Dreamfall Chapters, an adventure game spanning two different universes, Stark a place of science and Arcadia, one of magic. However, dear reader, before we get to Chapters, we really need to briefly cover the game where it all started, namely, The Longest Journey (TLJ), and its sequel, Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. Why? Well, if you plan on playing Chapters (spoiler alert: I think you should), then you really need to go back and play the games in order, or risk missing out on some great story and characters. I also need to admit that I am a big fan of the Longest Journey games and old style adventure games in general. If you’re short on patience, or like lots of guns and explosions, well, just keep that in mind while reading.
The Longest Journey tells the story of its heroine, April Ryan, a seemingly ordinary young woman who gets caught up in a magical adventure. April is such a relatable character. The game starts by navigating her ordinary life as an art student and continues as events become weirder (and more awesome). The dialogue between April, her friends and others she meets is a highlight. Apart from classic adventure tropes you also get to make decisions about April’s personal life, and there are choices that affect the story in the game. I thoroughly enjoyed this game and it was the reason I jumped at the chance to review Chapters.
Before starting Chapters, I decided I had to finally pull Dreamfall: The Longest Journey (D:TLJ)out of my “I’ll get to it” pile. Seven years had passed since TLJ and D:TLJ had transitioned to a 3D adventure game. This game starred two new protagonists and follows on some time after the events of the first game. You get to play as Zoë Castillo, a young woman who seems to have lost her direction in the lift, and Kian Alvane, a zealous assassin. Once again, I really enjoyed the story, dialogue and voice work. This game also included some awkward combat, but luckily there isn’t much of it. Stealth sections were also a bit of a low point. Overall though, it was great to have more adventures across Stark and Arcadia.
This brings us to Dreamfall: Chapters, which follows directly on from the second game. Like its predecessors before it, Chapters takes place across the two worlds, Stark and Arcadia. Zoe and Kian from the previous title are still the main protagonists, but I think this game improves on D:TLJ in almost every way.
To begin, the controls felt a lot more fluid. The camera is better. Highlighting interactive objects in the game world is more intuitive, and the characters seem to move better in general and you’ll do a fair bit of walking and running during the course of the game. Inventory management is also simpler than the previous game and still supports investigating and combining objects to solve puzzles. But of course, this game is really all about the story and choices you make.
Puzzles in the game are generally straightforward, although there a few modern day equivalents of the classic pixel hunt. A couple of sequences require you to search your surroundings very carefully to find some needed objects, and I eventually had to consult a guide to find some of them. It’s not a big complaint, certainly not enough to detract from the game in my opinion.
Both worlds feel far more lived in and have more character. Stark is the vision of a dystopia, with armed guards patrolling the streets and addicts passed out in the streets. It really evokes the atmosphere of films like Blade Runner, and Ghost in the Shell. Arcadia, on the other hand, has a medieval fantasy feel, with ye olde inns, strange creatures and humanoid folk, village style markets and magic. Yet Arcadia still evokes menace from various sinister goings on, be it racist oppression of magical races, the foreign occupation of the city hosting the bulk of the story, or the evidence of steampunk technology. Both worlds feel more populated than in previous games which brings this title in line with more modern games where the player can eavesdrop on interesting conversations or watch NPCs going about their daily business. One little memorable element was walking along a street in Stark as Zoe, and find a guitarist playing and singing to a small crowd. He was singing an actual song with lyrics. It was cool to stop and listen for a while and really added to the atmosphere of the city.
Chapters forgoes D:TLJ foray into action adventures and really centres itself around the story and player choices. Player choices are far more significant in this game, and there is a game system that alerts you whenever you’re about to make an important decision. At various points in the game, you’ll be presented with two actions or dialogue choices, and time will slow down as you get to choose an outcome that will affect The Balance. If you are online, the game shows a pie chart of player decisions for that choice, so you can tell what percentage of people had the same idea as you. Making these choices is nerve wracking, and the options are never clear cut. A helpful feature of the game has characters provide some inner monologue as you hover over each choice, which can give you more detail before you make your decision. I would sometimes pick what I thought was the more morally palatable option, only to discover late that some aspect I had not considered results in death or misfortune. Actually, similar to games like The Witcher, you’re often picking between two bad options, but that’s cool and you get to own your decisions and live in the world your mould. It’s also good to see that some decisions have profound effects on the story, while others merely affect minor details.
The voice work and writing were fantastic. I really enjoyed talking to the various characters in the game as their personalities really came to life. The cast is also quite diverse with a range of accents on show. Apart from the leads, two stood out for me. One was an Indian lady running a shady tech repair shop who had a terrible temper and foul vocabulary. Another was a Zhid (think … cat girl) rebel who gushed dialogue like a teenager and was often speaking her inner thoughts out aloud.
When the game was originally released, it came out in chapters, with the final chapter being released mid-2016, and of course, the Final Cut console versions in May this year. The game is long, but not in a bad way at all. I felt it lived up to its title as you go on this tumultuous adventure with these wonderful characters. A lot of game also has a dream-like quality in the mood and the art that suites the title well.
I’ve purposely tried to be as vague as possible with plot and story details so that I don’t ruin the adventure for anyone wanting to try Chapters, and indeed, the other games as well. I really enjoyed this game and the series as a whole and think that adventure game fans should definitely check this title out.