Dreamscaper is an RPG styled roguelite game, developed by Afterburner Studio. You play a character called Cassidy, who has nightmares when she falls asleep; the player has to battle their way through to save her soul while piecing together her memories.
It is a beautiful, artistic game with a story that will tug at your heart strings. It’s not perfect but there is so much to like about this game, and the easy to pick up combat will keep you coming back for more.
Dreamscaper opens within Cassidy’s dreams, to get you through a quick tutorial on how to play, then after you see a vehicle driving into a town. Cassidy has moved away and is seemingly trying to get away from her past while searching for her own purpose. Every time she goes to sleep, you take control of her within her dreams. From here you start to look for memories that appear within the environment and she reminisces about the memory you have collected.
This is where you piece together her background and her family. You traverse these memories by going from one zone to another, frequently encountering enemies which take the shape of her own personal demons. Eventually as you defeat enemies you will be able to go to other locations, pick up hidden items, weapons, keys and much more. At the end of each level, you take on a boss and after successfully defeating them, fall deeper into her dreams and into a whole new level.
There is one catch though, as soon as you die, Cassidy will wake up. It’s then when you get to experience a whole other game while she is awake.
Whilst in her dreams it’s about finding her memories and saving her soul, when she is awake Dreamscaper is more about finding out who she is as a person; discovering how she can fit into this new town.
One way you do this is by talking to a number of different people in several locations in the town. To talk to people, you first must find out what their interests are and from that information you can craft an item to give to them as a gift. That is where you will start a conversation with the character. Each character you meet, is unique and has their own personalities. Some will speak to Cassidy for help and advice, while others will help her. But most importantly, each character has their own story and from speaking to them and getting to know them, Cassidy comes out of her own shell and starts to find her own purpose.
Now, talking to all these characters is not just crucial from a story point of view, but also for boosts and advantages for Cassidy when having nightmares. Each character you talk to, will provide you with some type of boost, ranging from improving attacks, better loot being found, increasing elemental damage and more. The more you talk, the stronger your bond becomes with them, and this in turn upgrades the stat boosts they provide.
Dreamscaper is truly a work of art. When you’re awake and visiting different locations, it comes across as a hand drawn painting, brimming with different colours and vibrancy. There is even a day and night cycle that dramatically changes the look of each area. All the characters you meet – including Cassidy – have blank faces; think of a doll, just with hair and clothes on. I actually really liked this artistic decision and it fits in with the brilliant writing and thought provoking stories. Whenever I read traditional fictional books that do not include pictures, I imagine what the characters look like in my head. I’m not just talking about facial features, but expressions and also how they sound and talk. For me there is something powerful when it comes to pulling you into a story and connecting with its characters. So, I have to give the highest of praise to the art team but also to the writers for doing such an amazing job in connecting the player with the story.
The attention to detail and high-level art design carries over to the dream world. Each level is vastly different from the previous one, some being a mix of Cassidy’s memories with danger creeping around every corner, while others are more representative of her fears and impending danger. The only complaint I have is found in the enemy designs. Many are recycled, with different colours and others are almost like different variants of each other. Having said that, the bosses you fight stand out, look menacing, and have a much more supernatural look to them.
As mentioned earlier the gameplay is easy to pick up. You have normal, strong and ranged attacks, are able to block and parry, dodge, and finally use an ability called Lucid Attacks (more on that later).
As you explore the dream world you will find different weapons and attack types. There are a ton of these to find, and when you’re awake you can craft more that will appear randomly in the world; from wolf claws, baseball bats, to even umbrellas. You will be surprised how effective they can be, especially when you combine them with elements like thunder, water and fire. On top of that, the Lucid Attacks can be the difference between being overwhelmed by enemies and dying, to wiping out a gauntlet of enemies and making it to the next area. As you progress, you can improve the duration and effectiveness of Lucid Attacks.
Furthermore, the currency in Dreamscaper – sand – can be used to upgrade weapons, health regens and more. The variety of weapons and abilities help stop the combat from getting stale, especially when you’re facing the same type of enemies. Honestly, this is a game rich for experimentation. It’s so easy to do, and you get a great taste of what the game has to offer with some great results to boot. And visually some of the Lucid Attacks just pop out on the screen and can change the landscape of the area momentarily. Again, it’s another brilliant way the artists have found a way to express themselves.
I talk about the dream world, and the real world a lot here; there is a good reason for that. That is, you will die, you will die a lot. And when you die in the dream world, all your progress is lost. All of it, so if you have gone through four levels and died on the fifth, when Cassidy falls asleep again you will start from the first level. That means going through the same levels and getting good weapons and Lucid Attacks and upgrading them again. You can skip bosses if need be, but you don’t want to do that, as you will miss out on the rewards these provide.
However, your progress in the real world is never lost. So, all the abilities, weapons, and character boosts you have unlocked will reappear in the dream worlds. Eventually after the first few deaths, the early levels will get easy and you will start breezing through them. What helps is being able to quickly fast travel between areas, so you’re not track backing often. Plus, the levels themselves aren’t huge, the challenge is just getting through the enemies and boss fights with a good amount of health to keep progressing through each dream. I would be lying that the feeling of repetition doesn’t kick in and can almost feel grindy.
There were times where I made a lot of progress through Cassidy’s dreams, only to die after getting really far. I would then fall back on my chair with a huge sigh, concerned about having to build up from scratch again. It is annoying, but that is part of the roguelite charm, and I know that is what fans of this genre like.
But if you find that it’s not challenging enough and you’re getting through the levels fairly easily, Dreamscaper will let you unlock higher difficulties. It’s not just a case of going from normal to hard though – you can choose what elements of the game you want to make more difficult. For example, making the areas smaller, more enemies appearing, amount of damage you can take and more. You essentially have different toggles which allow you to shape Dreamscaper, playing the way you want it to. The harder you make the game, the greater the rewards and this is a great touch by the developers, which no doubt many will make the most of.
Despite my long sighs of losing progress and having to start over and over again, I did find myself coming back to Dreamscaper for more. Each time death would occur it gave the opportunity to craft items and talk to characters in the real world, adding further layers to the story. Story driven games have always appealed to me, so this mitigated the feeling of having to go back to the dream world to start again. Overall, I really enjoyed trying out new weapons and Lucid Attacks, and I’m not totally averse to challenging games. I will just say, Dreamscaper is a game that you probably will not sit and play for hours on end, wondering where the time went. I think it’s better experienced in shorter playthroughs; easy to just jump straight in and get playing.
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the music! It’s so sombre and melodic, and just fits so perfectly with the overall mood and atmosphere of the game.
If you’re looking for a roguelite game, or something that is story driven and easy to pick up and get invested in, I highly recommend Dreamscaper.
You can pick up Dreamscaper from the Xbox Store