Dreamfall Chapters Review (PS4)
Seeing as the first title in this series, The Longest Journey, came out in 1999, and its sequel Dreamfall in 2006, it has been a near decade for the release of the latest instalment. The first book of Dreamfall Chapters was initially released to PC in 2014 after a successful Kickstarter campaign. Developer Red Thread Games had a game that was awaited on by diehard fans of the series and looked upon curiously by newcomers such as myself.
The newly released PS4 version is the Final Cut and includes all five books.
Having never played the previous titles in the series, the first few hours of Dreamfall Chapters were a mysterious slow burn. As I was slowly and steadily given a wealth of information about the worlds contained within, I found myself increasingly enthralled with the mix of magic versus machinery.
Dreamfall Chapters manages to successfully tell an enthralling story spanning multiple worlds and characters; Zoe, who has recently awoken from a coma must contend with amnesia and her rocky relationship in the world of Stark. Stark is a futuristic dystopian version of our own world, evoking the gritty cyberpunk aesthetic of Blade Runner with garish neon signs and an oppressive police force. While Kian, a fallen high-ranking military officer, is due to be executed for disobeying his superiors in Arcadia. This is a world that would not be out-of-place in a fantasy novel, where magical beings are being persecuted and ostracized by non-magical beings. And there is a third character, Saga, whose otherworldly origin and journey ties together the destinies of the other protagonists in an interesting manner.
Being an episodic game, the choices you make across the game will have immediate or far-reaching consequences that will affect the story being told. Entire segments of each chapter will play out differently based on decisions that you have made previously. And your decisions may affect who is standing with you by the end of the game. Even seemingly innocuous decisions can have devastating consequences down the line. When making a key decision, you can get a glance at the percentage of players that made each decision. However the clock is ticking while you do this. It is an interesting approach, but some gamers may just go with the popular options. This feature can be ignored or turned off in the options however. At the end of each book your decisions are summarised with a brief description of the effect that it may have in the future. With these potential decisions having very hard-hitting consequences, a few decisions I made came back to haunt me and I really felt it for not only the protagonists, but also the supporting characters.
The dialogue is well written and the voice acting is natural. Even conversations with secondary NPCs seems integral to the story, which is always a bit refreshing in an episodic game where a lot of the interaction is through these conversations. While narratively, Dreamfall Chapters manages to hit most of the right notes, other gameplay components do detract from the experience.
Although the two locations you play in are not particularly large. You will spend a lot of time navigating between locations and the map system does everything in its power to make that tedious. Europolis, the futuristic city in Stark, has multiple levels to traverse. You can only set beacon points by speaking to a map system. Rather than leaving discovered locations on the map, you must ask each time to set a new location. While Marcuria, the medieval style city, has a map that you must constantly check on every corner to make sure that you are going in the right direction. Eventually you will get your bearings, but neither implementation of a map system is particularly intuitive.
Scratching your head
Also, the puzzles and challenges in the game are not particularly difficult. But a few of the puzzles can be quite obtuse. This is probably owing to the series roots as a point and click title. There were instances where I found myself wandering around interacting with everything to ensure I had all the items I needed to complete a puzzle. Only to be frustrated when it turned out that I was expected to exhaust dialogue options on an innocuous object before being able to interact with it.
…and your eyes
Graphically, the game is serviceable and the city locales look appealing. However the character models suffer from stilted animations. There are a few instances when characters kiss, but their faces hover close together before pulling away. Also the performance takes a hit in certain areas and there is a lot of hitching. The loading times are also frequent and long, which can get grating as you travel between locations. These are minor points, but it does make it a bit disappointing when the narrative is so interesting.
Am I in a Dreamfall?
It took me around 15 hours to complete Dreamfall Chapters. In my time with it I found myself charmed with the characters and locales. Every decision I made felt like it made a real difference and the story was very enjoyable. Though it does have a few baffling gameplay designs and graphical quirks, it is a title I would still recommend to fans of adventure games.
6 winks out of 10