Dreamfall Chapters: Review - Games Weekly

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Dreamfall Chapters: Review

It was eight years ago we were left hanging, not knowing who lived or who died, who was real and who was unknowably other. Some players may recall arguing over the many loose threads of plot tangling Dreamfall’s forums. Others will remember Ragnar Tornquist's explicit promise to finish this story, no matter what. Dreamfall Chapters makes good on this, thanks in part to a successful Kickstarter campaign that was funded by fans who crave answers.

The current release introduces content, rather than resolving it, as yet. In one full chapter and a few, short sections, the conscientious explorer should expect around four hours of play.

Assuming you’re desperate to jump in, though, Chapters’ opening structure mirrors the other games. There are places between worlds, that massive Marcurian tower, and a detailed new location in Europolis to make your home. You play as Zoe Castillo, Kian Alvane and, briefly, a mysterious toddler. The game is mostly set in dystopian Propast, with the glimpses into contrasting Arcadia already feeling both special and magical.

New to the series, though? Uh oh. A lot of lore has already been laid down in earlier games. In brief, if that is at all possible, parallel worlds of science and magic are separated by The Divide, created by the Draic Kin. The Balance is regulated by Guardians, the most recent of whom had some troubles.

There’s a war in Arcadia, with marginalisation of “magicals” and technology emerging, alongside Waticorp’s malevolent dreaming empire, in Stark.

Can you play Chapters without prior knowledge? Probably, because Zoe is quite loveable and time is made for being comfortable in Europolis, even if trouble is afoot. The question, however, is why would you want to start here? With no combat and a basic selection of adventure style puzzles, you may find progression is simple. The presentation, in terms of level detail and character models, is nice enough, but not significantly better than in Dreamfall, really.
If you actually want to understand what is happening you have to seek answers
Story is why you play this series, it just is. What’s up with Zoe and Reza? Why is their relationship a bit weird? Are you sure you don’t want to know what the first games will tell you first? OK, if you’re still here, there are a few new and interesting ways in which the story plays out. Firstly, hovering over plentiful dialogue options provides insights into what your character might be thinking, even if choices often lead to the same outcome, or need to be exhausted.

Also, when you make decisions, you can see what other players have chosen, by percentage. It’s exactly like the feedback you get from The Walking Dead games except that, oddly, it is given before you make the decision. If I know only six percent of people have chosen the violent solution before I choose it, does that affect my choice? When decisions are made, The Balance shifts, but the link between the real world response and this in game concept seems tenuous.

Then, there is the potential to miss meaty content. Really, this is great because, if you actually want to understand what is happening, you have to seek answers. What is Zoe writing, between the lines, in her journal? What will someone say, but only if you pester them? Sometimes, if you don’t pay attention, an opportunity might pass you by. What future options are you losing, with a cautious response?

Most interestingly, we finished the initial chapter with the impression that it was quite linear. Then, with a quick replay, it became clear that one choice had led to an entirely alternate path, with different characters and quests. Only 5% of players had discovered this, at the time of writing. The other path and characters still exist in the world, they just didn't interact with Zoe. Many players will enjoy exploring discrete content options before more of the game is released.

Again, this is a game about story. You must remember that, while grappling with the interface. Movement is controlled by WASD, the camera is tied to mouse and, most frustratingly, you can only interact with hotspots by standing, practically, on top of them. The cursor jumps to wherever you are, loosely, pointed. This, combined with the inventory interface, ruins puzzles. If you logically guess you should turn off your torch, but can’t target your hand to do so, you’re forced into experimentation.

Propast is large. There are no markers to tell you where to go. This would be OK if Crowboy’s interactive maps were easier to read or pointed in a logical direction. There’s no minimap and it is easy to get confused. Picture spending thirty minutes trying to find “the biolab,” finding it, exiting the game, then loading it up again later to find it hadn't saved at the location. (There is no option to save manually.)

Exasperating as Dreamfall Chapters might be, at times, it is what you were waiting for. Or, if you haven’t played the series, it’s what you don’t yet know you’re waiting for. It’s armoured robo police and magic, despair and humour, a punk with a holo mohawk cuddling a chick in a hijab near the electric synagogue and Reza looking dangerously gorgeous. It’s not perfect, but it is a journey. One way or another, we’re prepared to wait, if impatiently, for more.


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