[dropcap size=big]A[/dropcap]rcadia, the world of magic, is a twisted and enchanting place of wonder. Stark, the world of scientific probability, is comparable to the Earth we live in today. When a dream land known as Storytime is brimming with lost dreamers, our heroine, Zoe Castillo, maintains order between these planes of existence. At first we see Zoe in Arcadia, lying in a boat, deceased, in a candlelit sendoff. In Stark, her body is comatose. Finally, in Storytime, Zoe’s Dreamer self is trying to make sense of it all, while staring at a visual representation of her hospital room nested in a mountainside overlooking the dream land. From here, she encounters lost dreamers in dark situations, each desperate for Zoe’s help. After a foray into Storytime, Zoe makes the final decision to wake herself out of her coma and return to Stark.
For those just getting into Red Thread Games‘ latest iteration of Dreamfall Chapters, here’s a quick breakdown on this 3rd person adventure. The game world is beautifully rendered and realized in the Unity3D Engine, and gives players a good amount of liberty with camera movement, allowing them to zoom in, out, around, and over-the-shoulder. In order to examine objects, the player can click points of interest, keeping with the traditional point and click elements from past games. Certain objects may open up a wheel in the user interface to signify other interactions with said object such as utilizing Zoe’s Mind, Sight, Light, or Time manipulation powers. When interacting with other characters, the interface will sometimes prompt the player to make decisions that alter the path of the game. Depending on Zoe’s responses to the NPC’s, she will find alternate routes in the games’ story. The following review will show players what to expect in chapter 2. If you’re not already familiar with chapter 1 be sure to check out our review.
In chapter one of Dreamfall Chapters, we left off with Zoe talking to herself about herself, wondering if she should wake herself out of a coma. Eventually convincing her supposed “voice of reason” which sounded more like the “voice of discouragement”, Zoe returns to Stark, and we enter the next chapter as Kian Alvane, who’s imprisoned and awaiting his execution, which is hastened to the next sun up. After a little spat with the Warden, Kian remains in his cell for a bit longer, only to be disturbed by Balsay Bachim, breaking him out of his cell. According to the man, Kian is being given a chance to repay his debts, something that players of the previous games may be familiar with. Balsay arranged a riot to distract the guards so Kian can escape, but the distraction doesn’t last long, and time is of the essence. From here, the player is now allowed to get up out of their cell and begin securing their escape.
The ambient sounds create a believable atmosphere, where the player is surrounded by prisoners rioting, demanding their release from the cells, and guards shouting at the prisoners. Unfortunately, there are about three different lines of random dialogue that get repeated over and over, and it makes it feel a little too automated. Some events break up the exploration part of the game with a little character interaction. In one such event, Kian meets a prisoner who was given a fatal wound by a guard, this gives the player a chance to make a decision that will change the direction of the story. Beyond that, there’s a series of puzzles that increase in difficulty as the player ascends Friar’s Keep. Going from finding a key and picking locks, to devising a more resourceful method for moving forward with the escape. Pushing on, the player will encounter the Warden a second time, prompting a conversation that could have almost a handful of results. The Warden is blocking the next door that leads up the stairs, and the player must convince him to let them pass.
A little more puzzle solving, and the player will reach the top, where they’re met with a final decision on escaping Friar’s Keep. The puzzles up to this point are pretty straightforward. The player finds a key or combines some items to get past the next cell door. Though they slightly increase in complexity, the puzzle solving aspect becomes repetitive and doesn’t offer much variation. Once at the top (and sparing the spoilers), a heavy choice must be made, resulting in an open portal that aids Kian in his escape and narrowly avoiding Commander Vamon. Once completed, the chapter will change over to our other protagonist, Zoe. This next part taking place in Stark in the year 2220, is cinematic-heavy. Aside from a few player responses, there’s a lengthy (a little too lengthy) conversation between Zoe and her therapist, where she recalls past events in a timeline that spans the game series. I found myself skipping the dialogue to get to the action despite the pretty scenery and interesting camera shots. The player may examine the office, then exit to the city of Europolis, which is a bustling, living, breathing cyberpunk vista. People are working the food stands, the guards are harassing people, and political campaign signs are sporadic and imposing.
From this point, the player will meet Zoe’s ex-boyfriend, guide Zoe through a day of work, and put in some volunteer time with the political campaign. Personally, I wanted to tell him to bother someone else about bringing him lunch, but that choice was not presented, weakening my player-character connection with Zoe. Queenie, a local influential figure in the Chinese community, asks Zoe to look into the disappearance of a girl named Hanna Roth, prompting the player to begin the next part of their quest. The second chapter of Dreamfall begins strong, opens Zoe’s story a little slow, but makes up for it with character interaction. Zoe will meet many people and become tangled in a story with many twists and turns. Dreamfall strengthens its gameplay with a rich character roster, and plenty of interaction, but with a limited influence by the player. It’s understandable that the developer wanted to guide the player and the character through their story, but offering the player the chance to influence it is limited by allowing the player to respond after a few paragraphs of dialogue. After this, the story direction is very controlled by the developer, and it comes off more linear than a story that could allow the player more control of the direction. Perhaps that’s what they planned, but it’s easy to misconceive the game concept thinking it’s something like Mass Effect where every couple of sentences the player character can respond, altering their disposition and changing dialogue opportunities for the rest of the game. Claiming that the player influences the story, but offering a limited amount of turning points, detracts from personal player investment in the characters and story. Chapter 2 of Dreamfall Chapters concludes with Zoe being spied on by a creep listening in on her conversation with her ex, leaving us with a more impacting cliffhanger than the conclusion of the first chapter.
Dreamfall Chapters starts off with a slow pace, letting characters feel exactly what Zoe is experiencing. Ensnared in a strange epic that spans the realms, and brings many characters to meet, places to explore, and puzzles to solve. There’s no telling exactly where this interactive story will take you, and the variety in game levels, characters, and dialogue will provide an extremely unique, diverse, and creative experience that’s like no other. Dreamfall, since The Longest Journey in 1999, has been weaving an intricate tale of a fully-realized fantasy world full of rich culture and characters, there’s no doubt this five-book game series will pull players through a whirlwind of lush story and excitement. After a resoundingly successful Kickstarter campaign back in 2013, Red Thread is making sure Dreamfall Chapters is a title to be proud of. In the second part of Dreamfall Chapters, we discover that the title only picks up steam, and will surely involve us in a wild story like no other.