Overall - 80%
Dreamfall Chapters promises to provide a memorable, emotionally driven, and truly rewarding story experience that's only let down by needlessly time consuming puzzles.
Dreamfall Chapters is an episodic adventure game that pays tribute to the point and click games of yesteryear, with a modern take on exploration, character interaction, and a vibrant game world. It’s the third game in The Longest Journey franchise, following on from The Longest Journey and Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, and was originally released between 2014 and 2016 on PC. Offering two parallel universes with unique themes, characters, and environments, has Dreamfall Chapters stood the test of time or is this one for the history books?
The recently released PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of the game are the complete edition of the game, and include all five episodes. It immerses players in the final saga of an epic story that has spanned nearly two decades. With the roots of the franchise sitting somewhere in the late 90s, there’s a good chance many of today’s budding adventure gamers would overlook a franchise they know little about. However, as someone that had next to no experience with the previous games, I’m delighted to report that there’s plenty here for those that have yet to sample the wonders of The Longest Journey.
At its core, Dreamfall Chapters is a modern take on the point and click genre, with the vast majority of gameplay involving simple movement actions and interaction with the characters and environments you encounter. There’s very few combat scenarios throughout the game, so adrenaline junkies won’t find much here worth shouting about. However, anybody looking to immerse themselves in one of the most intricate and emotionally-driven storylines in modern gaming have found their game.
The franchise takes place in two parallel universes: a cyberpunk future take on earth and the magical fantasy realm of Arcadia. Aesthetically, the two couldn’t be any more different. One embraces the future of technology and science-fiction in every way, while the other proudly holds its roots in the realm of fantasy and magic. While the two worlds seem separate at first, subtle similarities emerge for those with a keen eye and more obvious and hard-hitting connections become apparent later down the line. Those with past experience of the franchise will no doubt be aware of much deeper and more important ties between the two. It’s very much like playing in the game world of Deus Ex for an hour or two before being plunged into a Skyrim-type setting. Developers often struggle to immerse players in a single setting, but Dreamfall Chapters is entirely committed to both, and it works brilliantly.
With two very different worlds comes two very different sets of characters, storylines, and important events. Zoë Castillo, the female protagonist from the franchise, is recovering from a coma following events in previous games that saw her expose a global conspiracy aimed at enslaving people through the manipulation and control of their dreams. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the male protagonist Kian Alvane, a once proud warrior that was outcast and disgraced by his people following events from the previous games.
As you progress, you’ll often find yourself switching between the two protagonists on carefully crafted cliffhangers that make it both exciting and rewarding to return to the other character. I did not feel it was too short or too drawn out between the screentime of the different protagonists, which is a very impressive feat. While the story telling elements of the game are easily its standout features, it is heavily supported by choice and consequence decisions – some of the best I’ve ever seen.
This is no illusion of choice. This isn’t a poorly executed TellTale game. These are choices that can shape everything. From the attitude of a character towards you during your next encounter, to the life or death or another. What would otherwise appear to be a simple journey through a new and exciting game quickly becomes something that will test the very fiber of your morality and ethics. Something most games that boast choice and consequence can only dream of achieving. The developers have done a fantastic job of keeping the player informed through end-of-chapter rundowns and on-screen prompts. You’ll know when you’ve made a decision, you will know how important that decision is, but the actual effects are a mystery until you discover them for yourself.
Dreamfall Chapters is an experience unlike anything you’ll see in recent years. The game wants to tell you a story, a story that would rival that of anything you’ll see on the big screen or read in a book, and it does so in a very refreshing way. To spoil even the most minor elements of the story would be unfair to such a well-constructed plot but I will say this. You will laugh, you will cringe, and there’s a good chance you’ll shed a tear or two. The writing, the way each important character carries themselves, the voice acting, all at the very pinnacle of storytelling and it comes together to create a truly memorable experience that’s likely to hit you right in the feels for many years to come.
While the story is pushing the boundaries of artistic credibility in gaming today the actual gameplay mechanics themselves are very disappointing and at multiple times, incredibly frustrating. Between the emotionally driven story segments are large 3D environments that you can explore, completing sub-objectives, and encountering new characters and plot twists. While the end result often adds more depth and connection to the story and characters, the journey itself does not.
Dreamfall Chapters main gameplay mechanics revolve around solving puzzles, but sadly most of these are not puzzles to be solved with logic or experience, but dumb luck or a massive process of elimination as you run around for an hour looking for a single object you need to interact with. Two of the most frustrating scenarios that come to mind take place relatively early in the game as you’re tasked with locating a number of items in a very small environment. A seemingly easy task that took me close to 60 minutes to complete because the location of the items made very little logical sense. Another scenario gave me the objective of finding a way to incapacitate a character during a story segment. That was the only clue given, and a huge town was the playground in which I had to explore to find the solution. Needless to say, this was just another of many long and drawn out puzzle sections that add nothing to the gameplay and greatly detract from the overall experience.
Thankfully the culmination of the events that unfold quickly removed any sour taste I had remaining after sampling the games attempt at puzzles, but these types of situations are quite common and do very little to compliment an otherwise stellar experience.
While the majority of the story, characters, and events make sense, there are elements that will seem alien unless you’ve played the previous games. Meeting characters from the franchise and discussing past events can be quite confusing for newer players, but these situations are few and far between. The game does just enough to get new players up to speed.
Dreamfall Chapters promises to provide a memorable, emotionally driven, and truly rewarding story experience that’s only let down by needlessly time consuming puzzles.