by Julie Morley
Back in 2013, Red Thread Studios launched a Kickstarter campaign to continue along The Longest Journey/Dreamfall games: the brainchild of Ragnar Tørnquist. On October 21st, Red Thread Studios released Dreamfall Chapters: Book One, and now that I’ve had an opportunity to play it I wanted to share my thoughts on it. Before I get into my experience though, let’s have a little review of The Longest Journey saga.
In the late 90’s, Ragnar worked at Norwegian game studio Funcom, and led the development team for The Longest Journey, the first installment of the Dreamfall games and Funcom’s first original game.
The Longest Journey is a point and click game that takes place in the future, in the year 2209, where the protagonist, April Ryan, finds herself inevitably in between a conflict of two different dimensions upon discovering her ability to shift in and out of them by dreaming. April winds up exploring the world of Arcadia (the magic filled fantasy world accessible by dreaming) and discovering a truth about her true origins and the metropolis of Stark from the realistic realm that shake her understanding.
The Longest Journey was quite the success and praised all around. When 2006 came around, it was time to make a second game.
Dreamfall: The Longest Journey is considered to be a sequel to The Longest Journey to some, but many argue that it is in fact a spin-off instead, following an alternative storyline with different protagonists in the same universe. The story of Dreamfall: The Longest Journey takes place ten years following The Longest Journey and follows the lives of April Ryan, Kian Avane, and Zoe Castillo, all from different perspectives of the conflict at hand. When her journalist boyfriend, Reza, goes missing, Zoe looks into it, discovering the creation of the dream machine and gets caught in an international conspiracy that leads to her spending months in a coma. As for April and Kian, Kian is sent to assassinate April but when he meets her on a no-name basis, he questions the task at hand. In the end, Kian’s allies try him for treason and murder April.
Dreamfall: The Longest Journey took a different route when it came to gameplay, exploring the third person exploratory sandbox design and exporting to both PC and Xbox as well. Similar to The Longest Journey, Dreamfall: The Longest Journey has an interactive dialogue interface and allows the player to interact with objects and people. Like it predecessor, it was well received by both critics and players.
In the years that followed, Funcom took a strong interest in making online games particularly and determined that The Longest Journey was Ragnar Tørnquist’s intellectual property. In 2012, he formed his own independent studio, Red Thread Studios, and the concept for Dreamfall Chapters was born. A $1.5mil Kickstarter campaign, and a little help from the Norwegian Film Institute, later and the game was funded and ready for development.
Whew, now that the history lesson and introductions is out of the way, on with the review.
Dreamfall Chapters is an episodic 3D adventure game with somewhat of a sandbox and exploratory dynamic. The entirety of the gameplay revolves around puzzle solving, interaction, and, of course, exploration. Dreamfall Chapters is planned to be released in episodes, Book One (which is what this review covers), and book two, each containing chapters which represents the protagonist’s chapters of life.
The protagonist, Zoe Castillo, is still in a coma but her mind is stuck in the dream world Storytime. We begin the story learning of April’s death then transitioning to Zoe’s tasks in Storytime, which generally consists of helping people addicted to the dream machines in Stark. WatiCorp’s dream machines have brought billions of people into the world of lucid dreaming, but there’s a serious problem. The people are getting stuck there, stuck in dream loops, like falling from the sky repeatedly, for example. The rate of dream junkies are rising and Zoe is unable to catch up with it. The Azadi Empire in Arcadia continues to harvest dreams. It’s apparent something must be done.
Upon confronting her own personal nightmare (fears and insecurities about returning back home after everything that happened in the previous game), she manages to wake herself from her coma and returns to the world of Stark as an ordinary citizen. However, all her memories of Storytime have vanished and despite the months of therapy, they will not surface. Now, it is the year 2220, and Zoe’s life is seemingly normal. She’s rekindled her relationship with her journalist boyfriend, Reza. Depending on the player’s choices, she could work at a robotics shop named Pandemonium, a lab, and many other options, I’m sure. And she’s even taken a turn for the political and started volunteering for an up and coming political figure. But there is still a sense of something important she’s forgetting.
In Dreamfall Chapters: Book One, we’re taken into Zoe’s everyday life following the awakening from a coma and the beginning of her reinventing herself. The entirety of the story concentrates on her exploration of the beautiful, dystopian, cyberpunk Europolis and running errands. Gameplay-wise, Dreamfall Chapters is not a completely open world but paints the illusion of one by granting players the ability to explore and roam a portion of Europolis.
Similar to Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, Dreamfall Chapters is played in a third person view, allowing the player to control the character with the WASD keys and mouse. This broadens the interactivity in Dreamfall Chapters for the player and gives them a sense of free roaming. Various objects throughout the streets and NPCs can be interacted with, accessible in an option hub or wheel, containing the multiple interactivity options including conversational options.
The player has many options when it comes to dialogue and decision making that may not impact the overall outcome of the story but adjusts small details along the way. If players struggle with a decision, they are capable of seeing statistically what other players chose in that particular situation. At the conclusion of Book One, it spells out the statistics of the different decisions per characters.
Aside from playing as Zoe, briefly we take over as Kian, breaking out of a prison in Arcadia. The Azadi Empire wants Kian’s head and he’s on the run, teaming up with the resistance. Additionally, we play a newborn child at the “House of All Worlds,” whom we explore the household with and learn of a spirit promising to protect her. These experiences are brief but they’re excellent breaks from Zoe’s story and tie in Dreamfall: The Longest Journey pretty well to Dreamfall Chapters.
In playing through Dreamfall Chapters, I was unable to break away. Europolis gave the impression of an alternative world, free for exploration and escapism, shining attractively with its cyberpunk prominence and political instability. Europolis felt real, stable in the most unstable manner, and tangible. And oh boy, was it beautiful, enchanting, and chaotic.
The sense of instability and a politically (and socially) destructive tipping point was drawing near everywhere I turned. Dream addicts were comatose with faces frozen on the dream screen, posed in an unsightly display at just about every corner, alley way, and stairway you find . Political posters in just about every direction you could imagine. And robotics or various mechanical elements wandering about or prominently taking over the environment. It was a picturesque dystopian cyberpunk wonderland.
Overall, Dreamfall Chapters: Book One delivers a thoroughly immersive and fantastic story, tying in Dreamfall: The Longest Journey and The Longest Journey beautifully, as if sewing in the final stitches of the saga at last. The entire experience is highly compelling and puts the player in control, or is organized to make the player feel in control, in specific moments. Dreamfall Chapters is planned to be released in five books, containing thirteen chapters overall, all spanning over a year and through the different phases of life.
The release date for the second book has yet to be announced, but following my experience with Dreamfall Chapters, I’m absolutely giddy to get my hands on it and continue this story.
[author image=”http://cliqist.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/julie.jpg” ]Julie Morley is a freelance writer and comic artist from Spring, Texas. She attended the Academy of Art University for two years, studying Animation and Illustration. Whilst here, she learned about writing comic scripts, storyboards, and general storytelling. Since leaving college, she has been working on personal comic projects, stories, and illustrations. She aspires to release a self published comic within two years. For the majority of her life, she has been playing console games, typically being third-person shooters and sandboxes. Her favorite game of existence is Dark Cloud II (Dark Chronicle) and her favorite Indie game is Gone Home.[/author]