Sorry, everyone, but I’m going to have to drop into melodrama and feelings for a little bit. Bear with me.
Dreamfall – the second game in the The Longest Journey series, and the direct predecessor to Dreamfall Chapters, which is what I’m supposed to be talking about – is a game that means an awful lot to me. I can’t really explain why without going into an awful lot of irrelevant faff about my life, but at the time when I played it, the fictional character of Zoë Castillo resonated an awful lot with me. She was going through a lot of the same issues and existential crises I was, and as a result, Dreamfall is a bit special to me.
That was eight years ago, so it’s perhaps fair to say that Dreamfall Chapters is something I’ve been waiting for with no small amount of anticipation and trepidation. It’s also perhaps fitting (or ironic) that I’m currently going through an awful lot of personal bullshit again, just at the time when Dreamfall Chapters – the continuation of the Dreamfall story – is beginning.
“Continuation.” That’s an important word, and one which I’ve chosen very carefully, because Dreamfall Chapters is set one year after Dreamfall ended – and Dreamfall ended on a rather dark note without offering much in the way of closure.
Obligatory warning one: if you haven’t played Dreamfall, then you’re really not going to get the most out of Chapters. You won’t know the characters. You won’t know the events that led up to this. You won’t know a lot of things. I’ve finished Dreamfall multiple times, and yet I’d completely forgotten some of the bits and pieces Dreamfall Chapters referenced.
So here’s the thing. From here on out, I’m pretty much going to assume you’ve played Dreamfall (if not The Longest Journey) to completion – and Dreamfall Chapters pretty much assumes that, too, considering the intro sequence reiterates the ultimate fate of each of Dreamfall‘s three protagonists. If you haven’t played Dreamfall, go and do that. It’s digitally available, it’s cheap, it’s got some of the best dialogue and characters in any game to date, it’s got a fantastic story, it’s a really good lead-in for Dreamfall Chapters regardless, and it’s also likely to tell you whether or not you’ll enjoy Chapters.
Obligatory warning two: I’m not going to spoil Dreamfall Chapters, but major spoilers for Dreamfall will begin in five… four… three… two… one…
Dreamfall Chapters kicks off pretty much where the previous game ended. All three of our protagonists are “inactive” (and that’s putting it optimistically), but Zoë’s the one on whom Book One focuses. Since the end of Dreamfall her mind has been trapped in Storytime, and she’s been using her mysterious powers to assist those who’ve been trapped there by Dreamachines – devices that let people enter a lucid dream whenever they want. Which totally doesn’t sound addictive or dangerous at all.
Then she once again meets the Vagabond, who tells her that she has to get back to the real world, or Bad Things will happen. She does so, but when she wakes up she can’t remember most of the past game, let alone what happened in Storytime. We meet up with her again some time later, after she’s moved to Europolis, reunited with Reza, and found a therapist.
Barring a rather cryptic interlude and a brief segment with Kian, the bulk of Dreamfall Chapters: Book One is set during Zoë’s time in Europolis. There isn’t anything hugely plot-heavy here – it mostly lets us reunite with Zoë after the eight-year gap since Dreamfall‘s cliffhanger, and get a feel for where she’s at and who she is now. There are hints as to what’ll be happening in the coming Books and a few potentially major events are set in motion, but by and large, you’re getting to know characters and performing a few odd jobs.
It’s all very Dreamfall, too. There are a couple of simple inventory puzzles (one of which relies on using inventory objects in a hilariously convoluted way, but as that’s a tutorial puzzle, you’re pretty much told the solution anyway) but none of them are overly complicated, not least because it’s incredibly rare for you to have more than one item in your inventory at any given time. There’s no combat, and almost no stealth. But there’s quite a lot of roaming around Europolis talking to people, then walking back across Europolis and talking to other people, then walking through Europolis again and talking to some different people…
If there’s a large problem with this, it’s that Europolis is big and empty. I mean, it’s got a Blade Runner vibe going on, and there are all sorts of bits of incidental detail in the buildings and signs, and you can overhear plenty of interesting conversations on the street… but there’s very little to actually do there. There are bars and stores, but Zoë doesn’t want to go into them, and there aren’t any proper conversations aside from plot-relevant ones. There’s this big open city, but you’re pretty much just following a set path of goals and objectives, with each leading directly to the next. There’s no investigation; there’s just “go and do this.”
It’s worth noting that a lot of what’s here seems to be a set-up for later events; Red Thread Games have clearly been playing Telltale’s recent adventures, because “THIS CHARACTER WILL REMEMBER THAT” is a common piece of text on the screen, and the ending offers a look at what decisions you made and what impacts they might well have.
Anyway: it’s hard to know whether or not this… linear wandering… is the direction Dreamfall Chapters will be taking in the long run. As mentioned, one earlier segment in Book One is heavy on the puzzles (even if those puzzles are simple) so it’s entirely possible that the Europolis segment is largely an early breather section in the grand scheme of things, aimed at giving you a feel for everything without taxing you too much.
I can’t say I mind overmuch, because dialogue and characters are two things that this series has turned into a fine art, and Dreamfall Chapters lives up to those expectations. Book One introduces a slew of entirely new characters, and I’m a pretty big fan of all of them. There’s Zoë’s therapist, and the shouty Marxist running a food-cart, and Zoë’s profanity-spewing boss, and… well, there’s Shitbot. Shitbot is wonderful. The segment involving Shitbot had me laughing for pretty much the entire time it lasted.
Oh, there are so many glorious bits of dialogue. So many wonderful characters, and so many little tiny incidental bits. Zoë’s journal – updated as the game progresses – is a fantastic read, offering both some insight into what was happening before we took control of her in Book One, as well as adding some cynical, self-effacing, humorous asides to whatever current situation she’s in.
Okay, stop. That, right there, is what I wanted from Dreamfall Chapters. A deep game? No, that’s not what I want. That would be a bonus, but I want a deep story with deep characters. I wanted to reconnect with Zoë and see what direction her life was taking, because as I mentioned, she was always a character who resonated with me. Happily, I think that’s exactly what I’m going to get as Dreamfall Chapters plays out over the next year.
But fucking hell, I hate reviewing episodic games (and if that swearing shocked you, this really isn’t the game for you). Look: I have no idea how good Dreamfall Chapters will prove to be, because this feels like the prologue to the story proper. I have no idea what sort of mechanics later Books will focus on. I have no idea whether the story will offer proper closure to the many, many lingering questions left over from Dreamfall, let alone the new ones asked in this Book. I have no idea about a lot of very important things. It’s also a bit buggy, and while it looks lovely some of the animations are a little iffy, and a few of the voice actors aren’t that great, and there are a few performance issues, and… okay, no. Honestly, I can live with all of that. I don’t care about that.
Dreamfall Chapters: Book One is a visually resplendent and artistically written work of incomplete fiction. I have no idea if Dreamfall Chapters is going to be a good game. I have no idea if it’s going to be a good story. Book One set off joy fireworks in my head, so I can at least say it feels authentic to the series, but I cannot review a product based on the first three hours. I can’t review something so story heavy based on the very start of the story; I want to find out what happens next, but I have no idea if the payoff will be worth it.
I’d love to give this a 9, and in my heart I really want to, but there’s too much I don’t know to do that. I’m optimistic that I, at least, will get what I want out of Dreamfall Chapters, but I have no idea what form that’s going to take, and whether or not that’s likely to please the vast majority of people. So I’ll just say this: I backed this at the $75 tier, and right now, my only regret is that maybe I should’ve backed a little higher. There’s a lot to come, and my proper judgement of this will have to wait, but right now I’m definitely not disappointed.