Some games are so epic in story and scale that after a few hours of playing you can’t actually remember how things began – it’s already shifted character, location and story about a million times, that you’re just trying to cope with the here and now. Sometimes this doesn’t work very well and it becomes too damn confusing to follow, but there are other times where you get whisked away on a journey and you just have to submit to it. Dreamfall Chapters treads the line carefully between the two, but which side does it fall on?
Dreamfall Chapters was first released on PC in 2014 in chapter forms like The Walking Dead and Life is Strange, but now it can be purchased in its complete form on Xbox One. The game is a 3D story adventure with an emphasis on character interaction, exploration and puzzle solving.
As the player you control three main characters, with two of these played out in different universes, across different time zones. The first character is Zoe who is trapped in a coma to begin with and you have to help her traverse the dream world. Here people are using dream machines and can’t seem to get out of the nightmares they cause. Zoe escapes her coma and we find ourselves in the future cyberpunk world of the 23rd century. Her home is a multicultural city where Zoe deals with local and national politics, trying to discover hidden truths about her past and role in the story.
On the other main multiverse you play as Kian in the magical world of Arcadia. It’s a fantastical multi-raced old world much like that found in the Elder Scrolls universe. Again this world is a magical, deeply complex political place with a lot of story to discover and secrets to be uncovered.
The third universe concerns the character of Saga who we meet as a baby, in a world of mixed magical races and normal home life. There is however much more than meets the eye and we find out more of her story over the next five chapters and how all three of these worlds are linked.
Now the story Dreamfall Chapters tells is a brilliant one – one that is very well conceived, deeply multifaceted and told extremely well. It’s the glue that holds the whole game together. It’s also a long game, told over five chapters, and can take the player about 12 hours or more depending on how much you explore. You can see the love and thought process that has been put into Dreamfall via the immense detail that is on show. I have to say, I much preferred the modern day setting, over the other worlds, but that’s a taste thing and others will possibly disagree. Whichever you prefer though, you’ll find that it’s very clever and unique in telling this multi-versed saga. There are surprises, twists and revelations throughout – all the things you expect from an epic tale.
Gameplay wise the game does take some getting used to though. The conversion from PC to console isn’t as smooth as many may like. You basically have a run button – although mild jog is more accurate – a multi-task action button that brings up the many options like talk, pick up, use, slow time…the usual things that you would expect to see in fact. Then you have an inventory that is bloody tricky to control at first, with everything feeling a bit sticky.
It is the gameplay which is the saving grace here, with absorbing puzzles and many different clever ways to keep changing up the gameplay; collecting kids’ pictures and putting them in order to release a portal, mixing chemicals to make a firework, and testing a robot who loves welding, are just a few of the many different things to do in this universe. There is a lot of talking as well and dialogue trees full of important decisions are in place. These decisions see a definite shift in the balance, which have a direct change on the nature of the gameplay and your personal journey. I have found that sometimes the cut scenes go on for far too long, and you begin to feel disconnected from the actual gameplay itself.
Visually things are a bit mixed with Dreamfall Chapters too. The character models are brilliant, with a fantastic selection of humans and different races of fantasy creatures. The city landscape found in the future has some superb design aspects and lovely details. The fantasy landscapes can however look a bit last generation and a tad generic at times. The cut scenes are good though and overall the quality is of a high standard, seeing me reminisce of games like Beyond Good and Evil. The soundtrack meanwhile mixes different genres and effects brilliantly throughout the journey, whilst the voiceover work can again come across as a mix of the very good and a bit annoying. But that’s to be expected with a game this reliant on narrative.
In conclusion, Dreamfall Chapters is like a book you might read on holiday – full of adventure and epic dreaming. Its story credentials are very high, even though at times the gameplay can be static with some pacing issues. The ambition of the developers at Red Thread Games cannot be faulted and I like that there are games out there that push the boundaries and deal with complicated social/political issues.
If you like point and click adventures with a big side dose of narrative and wish to spend some time dreaming, then Dreamfall Chapters is a place that is well worth visiting.