Today marks the twentieth hour that I have played Disney Dreamlight Valley. I’m at a point where I am viciously swinging between hate-playing it and adoring it. There’s no inbetween: it’s a game that knows all my buttons, but can’t discern between the bad ones and the good ones, and it’s just jamming its fingers into them with a Goofy smile on its face.
There’s no secret about Disney Dreamlight Valley’s ambitions. Animal Crossing has had something of a good couple of years, arriving at precisely the right time (lockdown) and feeding a ravenous audience eager for laid-back sims. But it’s not multi-platform, and nor is it an IP that everyone will recognise. So, in strides Disney Dreamlight Valley, tossing about its Disney and Pixar characters like confetti while arriving on every console imaginable, all while reimagining the framework of Animal Crossing in glorious third-person.
It’s a fair bet, to be honest. While it might seem a derivative play from Disney and their partners, Gameloft, there’s going to be plenty of people (us included) who lie smack in their bullseye. I am not afraid to admit that Disney is a draw (Moana and Maui are in it? Oh, well, consider me sold. WALL-E too? Yep, hook and line), and there is room in the games I play for a fallback game that I can wander into for an hour or seven.
You may have noticed the odd ‘P’ in the title of the article, changing it from a Review to a Preview. That is because Disney Dreamlight Valley is arriving in a Game Preview format on Xbox. Game Pass subscribers are welcomed, and those willing to purchase Founders Packs at various prince intervals are also getting access with varying amounts of pets, outfits and consumables. But this is not the final launch: that’s coming in 2023, when Disney Dreamlight Valley will be released completely free. With in-game purchases.
It makes for an odd proposition. Is now the time to play? Or should you wait until the full release, when everyone can access the Valley? It will be more bug-free by then, too, which only muddies it further.
Having merrily sunk twenty hours into Disney Dreamlight Valley, we can say with conviction that this is not a messy or incomplete Game Preview title. Heaven knows, we’ve seen plenty of them. Disney Dreamlight Valley isn’t only remarkably polished (with some exceptions – more on them in a moment), but it’s full to the brim. Like Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the content is water that just keeps on coming, and no matter how much you try to mop up, more missions and objectives surge up.
It also has a game loop that works well. We’d actually point to Cozy Grove more than Animal Crossing as a comparator here: Disney Dreamlight Valley shares that game’s fantastic ability to house objectives that overlap each other. Complete one small mission and you make minor progress on roughly a million more, meaning that you are always tempted to finish off another objective, and then another, and then yet another. Every action has several reactions, and the many ‘duties’ in the Collection Log, the Star Path (the game’s battle pass, purchased with real-world currency) and the game’s quests can be completed, only to find more forking off. It’s an addiction engine.
And like Cozy Grove, there is a lovely message underpinning it all. Rather than take the traditional RPG tack and ‘improve oneself’, you are altruistically helping others. Your progress in the game is dependent on the happiness of the other characters (who are all amnesiacs, bless them), so your objective is often improving relationships rather than furthering an XP pool (although, those exist too – Disney Dreamlight Valley doesn’t miss that opportunity to add more objectives). Unlocking Remy from Ratatouille, for example, and completing quests with him in tow, is always a joy.
Disney Dreamlight Valley’s fortunes will depend on how it addresses its problems. It’s at something of a crossroads, as it has enough stuff to do and gain that we would never consider paying for its cosmetics or Star Path. But, yet, there are some areas of the game that have been compromised by the need to draw out play sessions and make this monetisation system work.
Quests require unholy amounts of certain resources, and often random rare resources that you can’t guarantee will turn up. But there’s only minor diminishing returns at play here: you are not effectively pushed out of the game when resources dry up, as you do in Animal Crossing or Cozy Grove. The impact is that you are often tempted to grind or farm certain resources, as they reappear in just enough quantities to make it worthwhile. It means that Disney Dreamlight Valley can feel tiresome and tedious, when Animal Crossing has already solved that particular problem.
You sense that Disney Dreamlight Valley is trying to get in your way. Inventories are extremely limited, and a pathetic little chest is given to you for your opening house. With resources raining from the sky like it’s Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, the process of keeping and selling items can get laborious and worrisome: are you selling the right things? Will you need that pink flower later? And finding characters is more cumbersome than you might expect. They move around and teleport, often just before you reach them. Ursula in particular can do one.
Plus, there are bugs, albeit less than you might expect from a Game Preview title. The camera decides it wants to travel to other regions across the map, but just for a few seconds. Resources get trapped in walls and under buildings. One quest was impossible to complete for us, as a valuable jug was dropped between a sofa and a living room table. Donald Duck kept shouting at us to pick it up, but we could only shrug.
What is here in Disney Dreamlight Valley is already voluminous and glossy. If you were wary of the Game Preview sticker, then you needn’t be: this is as close to finished as you can get, give or take the odd bug. But you sense that it needs some more time to find its soul. Tasks are more menial and grindy than they should be, and the story doesn’t have that flicker of imagination that you expect from the Mouse House.
But they have a while. The full game of Disney Dreamlight Valley is due in 2023, and you suspect that there’s more than enough time for the rough edges and soulless interactions to be compacted by WALL-E. If and when that happens, Animal Crossing should probably be wary. There’s a new contender for the laid-back time-waster crown.
Huge thanks go out to Gameloft for giving us access to Disney Dreamlight Valley on Xbox Series X|S. You’ll find the game over on the Xbox Store. It’s also on Switch and PC.