It’s been almost a decade since the ending of the previous installment left us with an abrupt cliffhanger while making us eager for more ventures of Zoë Castillo.
Ever since then, the future of Dreamfall was uncertain, with Funcom shifting its focus to online games before finally being salvaged with successful Kickstarter funding. So how does the first episode hold up after all those production perils and is it a worthy successor of the Dreamfall series?
For those of you who just tuned in and are unfamiliar with its predecessor (shame on you!), this story-driven adventure game takes place in two worlds, technology-infused Stark and magical land of Arcadia. Our heroine Zoë will start the journey by investigating the disappearance of her ex-boyfriend Reza Temiz, before unraveling a global conspiracy led by Japanese toy manufacturer WATIcorp. As you would assume, their real focus is far from making toys for kids and more on delivering a new, vastly damaging lucid dreaming drug to the market, something which will have dire consequences on both Stark and Arcadia in later events. Slowly you are introduced to new characters and find yourself jumping between worlds following the WATIcorp trail before realizing how small of a cog in a story they are and that much more is at stake.
The story picks up several months after the Longest Journey ending with Zoë still being stuck in a Storytime limbo. It is an otherworldly realm now swarming with Dreamachine addicts and other trapped souls. Following the gloomy finale in The Longest Journey, WATIcorp has gained even more power and influence by openly selling dream consoles from previous game labeled now as “Dreamachines”, a device marketed as a tool for enhancing lucid dreaming while making most of its users highly addicted in the process. You will get to witness that side effect firsthand while roaming through the streets of Europolis later, tripping over many of its comatose inhabitants in street corners.
At first, you will get a glimpse of storyline by helping other trapped souls and Dreamachine addicts in Storytime and later reconciling with our old mysterious friend Vagabond, who will inform us that both of the worlds of Stark and Arcadia are in great danger and Zoë’s help is needed once again. Before finding ourselves in Stark again, the game will briefly reunite us with another familiar face Kian Alvane, where we also learn more about his fate after the events in The Longest Journey. Along with Zoë, he is one of the three playable characters in the first episode of Chapters (I don’t want to spoil who the third protagonist is but let’s just say it is someone who I found quite charming and took me completely by surprise).
Seeing how this episode mostly acts as something to entice new and returning players of Dreamfall, I can understand the lack of challenging puzzles in game for the most part. Usually you will find yourself merely repeating what the game asks of you or just combining items on few occasions but sadly that’s all there is to it. Luckily, that would probably be the only flaw that you might see in game, since everything else has been polished to the perfection. From the soothing scenery of Storytime (but only if we ignore that nightmarish wardrobe with slimy tentacles coming out of it) to the luminous and lively streets of Europolis – it is quite clear at first glance to where most of the love for the game went.
Some older fans of Dreamfall might be displeased with the new voice actor for Zoë Castillo but frankly, that is something you might notice if you finished the previous game in the series only recently. And I assure you, beside that minor change the game does not hold back when it comes to delivering some quality voice acting. I can safely say that now we have a strong contender for one of the most adorable voices for a repair bot in video games ever.
Speaking of Europolis, it is one of the few locations in first episode where you will spend most of the time and for a good reason. The whole city is gorgeously designed, highlighting the contrast between rich and poor on every corner. One moment you might find yourself gazing at the beautiful skyscrapers in Sonnenschein Plaza before stumbling over one of the many slumbering Dreamachine junkies. And let’s not forget our old pals from EYE, a global police agency who will watch over your every move, creeping on you and thousands of other citizens in Europolis.
In most games and movies, I always found the inclusion of lens flare nothing more than a cheap gimmick and what developers tend to incorporate when they run out of any other creative additions. But in this context, it is a feature which works incredibly well and adds something new to the whole dreamy (wink wink) undertone of the game. Dreamfall Chapters also does a remarkable job in pushing the capabilities of Unity engine to the sheer limits. Often i found myself going on short breaks from whatever game was asking me to do and decide to take an excessive number of screenshots instead. Even some seemingly bland section such as medieval prison complex makes up for an interesting and enjoyable location in the game.
Another thing on what developers focused more in Dreamfall Chapters are choices. Just like in a certain Telltale’s post-apocalyptic zombie game, you will now be notified with a large text prompt whenever you make an important decision while having an option to see the percentage of selected choices from other players online which might significantly help you in making a decision. The real question here is will these decisions result in greater variety, establishing a different image of the world for each player or are they nothing more than templates merely guiding us to one of the few prearranged endings of the game. For now, I believe it could go either way. One of my decisions in prologue during the second playthrough resulted in having a completely different job and doing business with a new key NPC once I found myself in Europolis again. Every other choice implied we might only see possible results of them in upcoming episode(s), especially when I played with Kian Alvane. To be fair, I am still a bit skeptical on how my choice between pork sausages or cheese soup for boyfriend’s dinner might leave a significant impact on the future of both worlds but i guess only time will tell.
Despite the serious lack of challenge in puzzles and relatively short length (although this point might prove invalid later with the release of new episodes), Dreamfall Chapters is quite deserving of your attention. With its superb voice acting, stunning locations and captivating story which will only leave you counting down the weeks for the release of the next episode, I will say we have a rewarding sequel for the Longest Journey. After an intro as good as this one, it’s hard not to expect only the best from the next episode.