I'm going to be talking about the immersion/atmosphere/mystique in Dreamfall Chapters as it appears in Part 1 and appears to be the trend for the currently unreleased parts, i.e. the quality of the writing and the mechanics of how the game conveys you that writing. See other reviews for stuff like graphics and whatever. I played TLJ and Dreamfall in like 2012 or something and loved them so those don't really matter to me too much.
Dreamfall Chapters seems to also rely on the story to carry it, but I don't think it will.
The expansion from point-and-click 2.5D static background in TLJ to the simple 3D corridor in Dreamfall survived decently well, but Dreamfall Chapters just drops the ball on the atmosphere as far as I'm concerned.
With TLJ the technology limitations and game type worked fairly well together. Fixed background allows easily for design to really make it feel more like an art piece and really define what it is that the player sees. The nature of clickable things being part of the fixed background though kept it on the game side via interactive exploration. April growing and shrinking also gave a more effective sense of distance than I think game developers these days are willing to admit.
Dreamfall managed to keep the transition to 3D decently since 3D world capabilities were probably fairly limited back then. Our world's cities were fairly narrow without too much "open world", but there were enough things to interact with to not feel like it was simply a walking simulator. Marcuria's city was the same way.
Dreamfall Chapters however is way too populated with interactable things that do absolutely nothing.
What happened in TLJ when you clicked on things and they had no purpose in the story or its progression, it simply gave you no response. There were things here and there you could look into, but there weren't that many and they gave you a feel of the situation, things that felt like they were there to speak for the music, the art style, and the premise of the story.
Dreamfall somewhat removed this with its eye/highlight system, but it was a reasonable system. The system had a very narrow range of view when selecting things to highlight, and although scanning was a lot easier than running a tiny cursor over the whole screen, it retained enough of the TLJ spirit to it to feel like I was still exploring and finding things out. The world shown was fairly small, but the way things were talked about made it feel fairly big and alive. Sort of like Remember Me, if you played that. The small corridors with glimpses of a huge world behind it are pretty good design choices. Creating a desire and hinting at it is often stronger than fulfilling a desire that one is unaware of; see skimpy clothing on women and basically any PR/hype for any product before it's out.
The population of the world in Dreamfall Chapters completely reversed this. I can remember the look of some people and some of the things of TLJ and Dreamfall. The autotaxi I thought was super neat, and the space station scene and the type of people in it have been strongly imprinted in my mind.
Whereas the technological limitations were implicitly acknowledged in TLJ and Dreamfall by its design, Dreamfall Chapters makes it way too obvious to the player. Now instead of a few things that you really pay attention, there's a torrent of repetition. In Europolis no matter what I higlighted in the market I heard the same things over and over again. Why are there 20 or so market tables but only 2 or 3 messages I hear about all of them? What is the purpose of 10 selectable trash cans? The adbots of Dreamfall Chapters nowhere near compare to the Screens of Dreamfall. There's a bunch of people now walking around that I really don't care about, and a lot of things strewn about that I don't know if I should really care about.
And I know where every single one of them are because with almost no effort on my part any time I look in a general direction, I'm told exactly what is and what isn't selectable.
There's something else that causes this complete lack of atmosphere or mystique.
It might be the writing.
In the opening of TLJ and Dreamfall we're introduced to a bit of the mystery and the scale of the story we're about to uncover within the first several minutes of the game. TLJ opens with a girl in underwear clearly from a time and place we can relate to and in a world which is clearly not. Dreamfall opens largely the same way with some vaguely modern guy with a bunch of kooky priests doing kooky stuff.
There is none of this in the opening of Dreamfall Chapters. We're told everything matter-of-factly, Zoe Castillo seems to perfectly know what she's doing except when she doesn't, and whatshisface opens his mouth too much in too many stupid ways and there's nothing amazing about any of it at all. Storytime used to be this really unknowable timeless place, now it's, oh, it's basically just where dreams happen. And we have this guy who has a poor command of the english language who appears sometimes. And we have superpowers somehow. We're told that we need to go back and stop the undreaming or something, which could be great even if the intro was poor, but we don't do any of that. We go back into the real world and all we talk about is Zoe's feelings and politics. There's nothing tying this to anything at all.
Not knowing the whole story is integral for a story to move forward, but thinking you know the next step is necessary for a story to even happen. April knew what her next step was going to be at all times, even if it was wrong. Zoe Castillo in Dreamfall knew at all times what her next step would be, even if it was wrong.Zoe Castillo in Dreamfall Chapters doesn't know jack about anything and any time she's about to reveal something important, we're told to decide what it's about instead.
What was the 20% point for the average playthrough of TLJ or Dreamfall? Surely it's different from this. Looking over various Steam reviews it appears the average time to completion of Book 1 was somewhere between 4-8 hours (mine was 6 at time of writing). I took 13-14 hours to get through Dreamfall and about 15-17 to get through TLJ. I've seen a lot of defenses about how gameplay time isn't representative or whatever and this is true but the flow of the story is undoubtedly different and whether by percentage or by absolute playtime (which cannot be completely ignored) and in basically any story you see by the 20% point or in any game/movie/TV series/book by 4-8 hours in (unless the story is several hundred hours long) you have a fair idea of what is going on. At any time the audience can feel disengaged and you always have to have something around the corner to keep them turning the page or whatever it might be in that medium.
There is nothing of the sort in Dreamfall Chapters as far as I can tell.
I don't think it is reasonable to say that Dreamfall Chapters is good. I have no real reason to come back to it except for the fact that I backed the game and want to see how things turn out. I cannot recommend this game to anyone who has not already played TLJ and Dreamfall, and even to those who do I cannot really say it is a worth spending money on.
For all the reasons that can be said about releasing a game in chapters, it is undeniable that RTG thought that this first book/chapter/part of their game was worthy of releasing to the public and thus fair for any and all criticism. It is not an alpha or a beta or an early release. It is a public release of a section of the game.
Unless the design philosophy changes quite radically I don't think I will be changing my recommendation.
Oh yeah, "THIS PERSON WILL REMEMBER THIS" blares in your face after like every convo choice.
It's like RTG forgot "Show Don't Tell" is the key to immersion.