The day has finally arrived. The long-awaited continuation of The Longest Journey Saga (there is a good reason why I used upper case for “saga” but you’ll have to play the game to discover it), Dreamfall Chapters Book 1 has been released. After so many years of rumors and teases, following a successful Kickstarter campaign, Ragnar Tornquist is on the verge of completing this epic story of two worlds on the path to reunification.
And now we’re about to find out what that long wait has resulted in. However, to understand what this game series is all about, let’s take a short look at its predecessors.
Beginnings (some slight spoilers may be included, but come on, both games are old as dirt by now)
The Longest Journey is considered by many to be one of the best adventure games of all time. I, for one, subscribe to that view. It has a great story, an epic tale in which you, as the protagonist, get to save the world(s) from destruction. It contained multiple beautiful and diverse locations, from underwater, to giant cities, to jungles and fairy tale settings. The puzzles were creative and fun, many relied on different combinations of items and some even on reaction time. The characters were unique and fun to interact with, and the voice acting was top-notch. The ending teased a continuation of the tale, and eventually it happened.
Dreamfall: The Longest Journey was a resounding disappointment. The most glaring problem about it was that it shifted (in-game joke) perspective from the Point & Click model to the 3rd Person model, controllable by keyboard. Why? What was wrong with the old-school approach? Secondly, they decided to not just make it a simple adventure anymore, because that would be too boring… So they traded witty and smart puzzles for mundane ones and some new game mechanics, like combat and stealth. I understand the reason behind this (mass appeal, not just for people who enjoy walls of dialogue in their game); however that doesn’t make a game good. Or anything. Just look at the Star Was prequels.
Another fault with Dreamfall was the characters (some of them at least). Zoe was a boring protagonist and April was just… well, not April. The sarcastic and smart April from the first game was replaced with a jaded, goth freedom fighter who complained about how her destiny was stolen from her, or some crap. Why was she complaining about not being the next Guardian? Seems like a boring-ass job to me… Anyway, the only interesting playable character was Kian, who at least had some sort of redemption story. But that seems like enough regarding the past of the series. Let’s talk about Chapters.
The Longest Dreamfall
The following paragraphs will contain massive spoilers from the ending of the previous game and from this one, so if you don’t want to know, don’t read it. Last time, on Battlestar Galactica… Zoe was put into a coma by her own mother and she managed to make her dead sister stop haunting the grid, ending up in Storytime, a place of dreams; April got a spear in the stomach and fell into the swamp; and Kian decided to spare April (aka the rebel he was ordered to hunt and kill) and got captured by his own people.
Let’s start off with the whereabouts of the characters. Zoe is still in the world of dreams, where she spends her time freeing people held captive by the Dreamachine in their own nightmares with her newfound powers (3 of them, we’ll discuss them later). Of course, because you’ve seen the trailer, you know that she will escape and return to the real world where she will suffer from cliche-itis (aka she will suffer partial amnesia and won’t remember large chunks of last game). Although we don’t see any important revelations or major events in her storyline, the setup is paced well, readying the moment when she will snap out of her cliche and start saving the world.
Kian is also back, and his whole storyline has already been revealed in the gameplay footage posted a few months ago. He just breaks out of prison. As for April, there’s no way I can speak about her without spoiling you, so I’ll just pass. Now, they previously said that we would control 3 characters in this game, and that’s true. Whether the third one is April or someone else, I also decline to respond for obvious reasons.
Unfortunately, this game inherits the 3rd person exploration mode from its predecessor and I’m not overly fond of that. The same control scheme, the same mode of interaction (get close to an object, left click, interaction options), the same movement modes (walking and running, mercifully they gave up on stealth). Apart from these, they introduced a new focus mechanic, by which you can keep lock on moving objects (this is used only once, in a very creative mode during a dream sequence). Speaking about dreams, let’s talk about the powers that Zoe has in the dream world. She can find the light in people in order to awaken them, she can slow down time and can go sparkly-glowy mode by activating the symbols on her arms and head. The puzzles which can be solved by these powers are easy and are made easier by Zoe’s inner monologue hinting heavily at the solution.
Now, you may have heard that this game contains decisions which will affect future events and relationships to other people. And it does. There are 2 types of choices you can make in this game: choices regarding your relationship to other people, complete with the same message you get in Walking Dead (X will remember that) and big plot choices, which are accompanied by the message “The balance has shifted”. I am curious to what extent these choices (which are more numerous than in The Walking Dead game) will influence the following parts. I am especially keen to find out how choosing a sausage over a soup will affect the plot.
The puzzles are a joke. The dream world ones are simple because you’re literally just standing around using a combination of 3 powers in obvious ways and Kian’s puzzles are simple because they just involve one tour of each floor to pick up crap, combine and get to the next floor. When we reach the city, the only difficulty involves finding different places because it’s such a large area.
One last consideration regarding gameplay is the lack of a map button (or, you know, a GPS on the Eyephone) when presented with a vast city environment to explore. The only map available is via a street CrowBoy panel which you can find from time to time. To be honest, I got lost more than once, which may have added 15-30 minutes to my playthrough. This is a mistake which I hope they will fix in the later books. I mean it’s the 23rd century, do they really not have the ability to create a map app for the eyephone? And yes, they actually have an eyephone, Futurama-style.
Aesthetics Over Graphics
This game was made in the Unity engine, and you can tell. They did a fine job updating the models from the previous game and creating new environments. I was not expecting next-gen graphics from an indie studio, and I didn’t get it. Despite the FPS drop in certain spots in the city (which I hope they will be able to fix until the next book is released) the aesthetics are great. The dream world is stunning to admire and the city has an air of complexity and cluttering, as is only normal.
There are references to certain objects from previous games (remember the rubber duck?) as in-jokes throughout the city, references to the fates of people Zoe knew and sleeker dialogue interfaces. As for the dialogue and supporting characters, I must say I’m pleased. In The Longest Journey there were a plethora of great characters, each with their own unique style, from the Flipster, to the Banda, to Cortez and Brian. In Dreamfall, the new characters were kind of clunky and boring (Blind Bob, Crazy Clara, Reza) and the returning characters seemed sort of less of what they were.
In Dreamfall Chapters, this problem has been solved. We have interesting and unique characters (including an Indian mechanic, a huge cyborg mute, an Aussie Chinese and a few others) which, apart from fulfilling the diversity quota, are fun. The dialogue is much better written than in Dreamfall, and brings back the flavors of The Longest Journey comedy which I was afraid was lost. And the delivery is no longer bland and emotionless. The characters emote, they get angry, they express worry and concern, they can quip, they feel more real than in Dreamfall. Even Zoe, who was just this bland “OK, whatever” gal is now more connected to what’s actually going on around her and actually emoting.
The graphics are not the best, as I’ve said; you can see some bad textures from time to time and the occasional mistake (like Zoe’s finger disappearing into her own shoulder), but on the whole, aesthetics wins over graphics. The way the graphic elements are combined creates something beyond the sum of the parts, a credible atmosphere. The smalltalk heard when walking the streets, the guy with the guitar singing about dreams on the sidewalk, the cops harassing everyday people, the different business names (The White Swallow? Really?), the diversity of nationalities, these elements make the city breathe and give it credibility in a futuristic borderless world. In the same way, the colors and graphic fireworks make the dream world beautiful and the noise, smoke and shouts make Friar’s Keep (the prison that Kian is locked in) a building under assault.
More Books Please
Let me be clear. This game is not a revolution in graphics, game design or optimization. The individual graphic elements are somewhat lacking, the gameplay is not suited to a serious adventure game, the choice mechanics resemble the ones in The Walking Dead (except there are more instances of it) and if you want pretty graphics, your performance is going to suffer.
However, where it gets good is the story and characters. It’s a great continuation to the series; it answers some questions and offers so many others, it brings back and improves some characters from the previous games and adds more good ones; the dialogue and its delivery seems to be approaching TLJ levels and the comedy is on point (for the most part).
If you’ve played and liked the previous games, then this is a must buy. If you haven’t touched the series up until now, I would suggest you start with the previous games, because many scenes won’t make sense to you without knowledge of past events. As a stand-alone title, Dreamfall Chapters is only worth it if you’re into choose-your-destiny games, like The Walking Dead and if you enjoy well written characters and dialogue. If graphics and gameplay are a deal breakers for you, then there are better things you can spend your money on.
As a fan of this series, I am pleased with the result and I am looking forward to the next book.
Rating: GOOD (shite, cash grab, mediocre, good, excellent).