Before we begin this review, please keep in mind that is “ongoing.” While you can only install it as a whole game, it is being released in episodes without all of them being out yet. As such, this review will be updated as the others release and I play through them. This review now covers all 5 books.
Once again, we delve into a title that I have quite a history with before we begin. Back when I was a senior in high school and graduating soon, I bought my first PC. Keep in mind, this is not the first PC that I owned… it was just the first one I bought completely on my own since my DOS based 486 was something I got help with the folks for when I was going into high school. But this one was special, as it was entirely my own doing. I had picked out a nice Pentium II by NEC and brought it home. Dubbing it Shodan, it was on this machine that I would be introduced to The Longest Journey, a point-and-click title with so much to it, it spanned 4 CDs, and to run anywhere near descent required you to install the whole thing to your hard drive.
So install, play, and finish this game I did… and when the sequel (Dreamfall) came out, I had that one as soon as I could get my hands on it too, but that one left me and every fan of the franchise it and the original had gained with a cliffhanger ending we would not see completed for over 8 years. Now, we have finally seen the final chapter unfold, and it is one hell of an epic conclusion.
Story: Dreamfall Chapters covers the story of two people living in parallel dimensions. And in order to do it justice, I need to give you each character on their own. So please, let us begin with Zoe…
It has been a year since Zoe fell into a coma. To explain how and why she is in this coma, I would advise you to play the previous game in the series: Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. It is not my place to spoil another really good game to explain this one (even if you consider it’s incredibly terrible ending). However, if you wish to jump in here or it’s been a long time since you played the previous game, there is a “Story So Far” option that will summarize the events for you. Still, to get back to this point, she has been in a coma for a year, though it is not a normal coma. Rather, while her body is out cold, her mind has remained in a place between worlds known simply as “the Storytime.” Here, she has the ability to observe the dreaming minds of others.
As a result, her reality is rather spectral in nature, and she would probably have plenty of opportunities to experience the absolute perfection some people dream about, but in her case, these are not the places she focuses. For over the year, she has spent her time trying to help people trapped in dreams that are not their own, but artificially induced by the newest entertainment phenomenon to hit the populous, the Dream Machine. Most of the time, people using it will go to sleep connected to it and replay a pre-recorded dream the device pumps directly into their brain. However, sometimes, things go wrong, and people get stuck, unable to wake up without help. It used to be a lot worse then that, but then to understand how, you will again need to play Dreamfall: The Longest Journey to see Zoe’s previous adventure or at least let this game recap it for you.
But things have begun to occur again, calling Zoe to action as more and more people are falling to the machines sitting in their homes, some as addicts, some just stuck, but the influx is definitely increasing. And while she can certainly help those she finds in trouble in her current state, Zoe is completely powerless to find the cause. It’s time to wake up and return to the world of Stark: a version of Earth based completely on heavily advanced sciences taking place in the distant future. Once awakened, we see Zoe three months later, doing her best to remember the events of her last year before the coma as well as hang on to whatever shards of memories she has from the coma itself. She remembers enough to know she has something important she has to do, but her real life is in pieces and like most dreams the past year is often nothing more then a hazy feeling.
With this as the setup, you will play Zoe as she does her best to get used to her new life once again and see the beginnings of trouble for her as character behaviors change according to how you play. But before you finish, she will be wrapped up in a story of corporate and political intrigue on an epic scale and even beyond the reality of her world. And this time, I can say with complete confidence, her story is both finished and satisfying.
The other character you will play is Kian. Like Zoe, he is also trapped, though in his case, he was imprisoned as a traitor. Also unlike Zoe, his adventure occurs in the land of Arcadia, a version of Earth that has rudimentary science only since anything too advance breaks down. Instead the world is run by magic. Again, to see the events leading to this, you will need to play Dreamfall: The Longest Journey or watch the recap offered here. But while he is imprisoned, two things happen: The order of paladins he once belonged to go around the laws of the land by force, pushing his execution up to the sunrise following when the game begins. And while this is not good for this would-be hero of his tail, the other thing you will see is a prison riot. The resistance to his now ex-legion have started it and are using it to bust him out. After which, he can “pay his debt” by helping them.
Once out, you will find yourself playing him as he assists the resistance to save the “magical” races that used to be dominant in the land before his legion invaded. They are literally fighting for their lives, and your actions will directly influence how effective they are at it as well as the personal development of Kian from being simply a broken man who betrayed his nation to… wherever he is going. Like Zoe, his character will develop as much by your actions as the events around him. Unlike Zoe, however, his story doesn't so much reach an end as a good stopping point, much like the original Longest Journey did with it's main character (and ultimately, I still reccomend starting with that title if possible). You know life has at least one more epic adventure for Kian, possibly connected, possibly something completely new, but this adventure, much like in Zoe's completed story, ends on a satisfying note should the writers choose to push it no farther.
While already there are certain events in both stories that are going to happen no matter what choices you make, there is a lot of the big picture influenced by what you do, and you will find yourself genuinely pausing when you see big decisions you know can have a massive impact on what occurs, even as time is cruel and waiting too long will force your hand. The author of this trilogy said he had completed the story before the first book of this game was made. Now, as I finish the game, I believe him completely.
So far I only have two real complaints about the story. I wish the game wasn’t so heavy-set about showing you when you are making huge choices or reminding you with text above the scene when events related to what happened prior have occurred or a choice you just made will influence the future. It would be far more fluid without these reminders mid-game and letting each book only tell you a handful of them when you get to the end (which is a really cool feature).
The other is how long it took for this game to start going somewhere. It wasn't until book 3 (and maybe the last scene of book 2) that we saw anything resolve at all. Make no mistake, this game is a slow burn, and the fact that the books (or episodes if you wish) are not self contained makes for cliffhangers all over the place within... thankfully with all the books in place, this is a very minor complaint, however.
Graphics: I’m going to be honest, the moment the game opened up I was rather amazed at what I saw before me. This is a game funded by kickstarter and written using the Unity engine, which if you spend any time online looking over free games, you will see used and abused a lot. Even the studios I’ve seen use it professionally, it’s usually left looking a little dated (even when the art style makes up for this). This game, however, you would likely suspect they bought the rights to use something more akin to Unreal or CryEngine… the game looks absolutely gorgeous. From the stone-work in the fantasy prison to the rain on the glass surfaces of the cyberpunk city to even the water look and movement in all places it appears, this game just hits all the notes it should to make the environments all come alive.
And the people who inhabit these worlds are also very well done. Granted they are not photo-realistic, but they animate smoothly and seem to walk close to the photorealism detail a lot of people want to see, but at the same time keeping it a little more simplified to avoid the uncanny valley. The end result of this is that we have a game that looks somewhere between high-end CGI movie and modern FPS shooter.
Sound: Dreamfall Chapters seems to have chosen to rely a lot more on ambient sound and background music then an actual sound track. And while I’m not sure how I feel about that, it is because of two completely unrelated reasons. It seems as of late I’ve found a number of games doing this like it’s the in thing to do, but at the same time, it’s an extra disappointment here, as when the game chooses to use a sound track, it punches in perfectly, actually pulling in music that you could expect to hear on the radio and not just orchestrated background. Simply put, those few times the music really comes in, be ready for a treat.
And that is not to say it is the star of the show. The voice acting is actually very well done as well. Everyone plays their part as well as one could expect and sound like they belong in this world. However, that is not to say it is perfect. There are a few points where the mixing seems wrong and the voices you are supposed to focus on (especially Zoe’s) gets quiet and tough to hear. Thankfully the later books in this game get a lot better about this, and a rebuild to update the original three to the new version of Unity the last two books were written in (required to have support for the upcoming PS4 release of the title) has definitely improved this situation, but they did not manage to clear it completely from game.
And as for sound effects, well, they tend to be a lot more standard. As we finish the title, we have a lot more going on and the sheer amount of effects will reflect this with sliding stone, rifts in reality, portals, clashing swords, guns firing, and even technical glitches that are part of the plot all playing in. There is quite the variety of things going on and everything sounds about right. They just dont stand stand out like the music and voices.
Overall, the game doesn’t really sing quite as much in the sound department as video, but when it does, it is audio butter, making it a very tough game to score.
Gameplay: Dreamfall Chapters is at it’s heart a point-and-click adventure game that is incredibly streamlined for the modern gamer. Rather then moving a mouse to click on things the camera will let you see, you use it as camera’s control, and when your character focuses on something you can interact with in some form, you will see an icon and a name float over it.
If the icon is an eye, you will simply look at and give a short vocal reaction to the item. If it’s a gear, however, it will open up a circle containing the options you can use to interact with it. Inventory only shows up when you hit tab, allowing you to select one of the items you can store. It will show 5 spots at first, but expands as needed. Only while interacting with these items does the ability to move the camera end.
This game finally offers a lot of puzzles to complete, varying from story-based, to sequence puzzles, to even clever ways of getting around characters who are simply in the way and need to not be. The variety is great and for the most part, the puzzles are very good, ranging in difficulty from obvious to devious. But they still take a back-seat to the story itself.
Which is a good thing as the interesting details are in how you interact with the other characters. When you engage in conversation, your options will float on the screen, but moving the mouse over them will actually give you an internal monologue from the character you are playing now, letting you get in their head as to why they might make the argument you are about to take, and the characters you talk to will remember this for later in the game.
But in addition, these interactions have become the basis for a few puzzles along the way, making them work completely different then you would expect! This is one of the few games that makes these points count as more then just simply points for the plot to move forward. Enjoy!
Bugs: While there is nothing game-breaking I could find, I did notice a few bugs while playing. Some will annoy, one is kinda funny and completely avoidable.
- Shadows: Overall, I am impressed with the look of this game. As I stated in the graphics section, to think something this good looking came out of using the Unity engine for a kickstarter-funded game is mind-blowing. But the lighting can be a serious issues from time to time. It seems the game has a hard time identifying when to render and when not to render shadows at a specific distance. This was likely added to improve performance on slower machines, but they “pop-in” like old school details on an Unreal 3 powered game. Add to this times when I found Zoe’s closest area darkened by a shadow instead of lit since up close she could see it better, and this could be annoying at times.
- Kian can't stop staring: At one point during Kian's first venture to help the rebels a rather funny bug occured as I passed some gaurds. Normally, Kian will watch them while he's close enough that if he interacts with them, he will be detected (according to the rules of the potion he drank, but I never tested this). In this case, I went to a map right after and somehow when I got back, Kian's head was fixed looking at the gaurds no matter where I went. It was kinda funny as his neck bent in any way the skeleton let him to do this.
- Bip Spazzed out: Similar to above, there is a young boy in the story named Bip who while trying to show me where a group of human-only people were organizing, lost track of his own position, causing him to spaz out for a second like something bit him. It was weird and kinda funny. to see.
- Crash: What is less funny to see is when a game crashes on you, and this game is the first one in a long while (shy of a pre-alpha demo, anyway) to do this to me. Towards the end of the game, there is a long narrative point where you get a lot of the detail around who the main villain of it is, and as the game finished this up, it crashed to the desktop with a message about debugging data stored aside and to send it to the author. Thankfully, this game saves often, so I only had the last scene to replay (which wasnt long) and it never crashed again, but... be aware, this game can do that.
Source’s Listed System Requirements:
- 2 Ghz CPU
- 3GB RAM
- Intel HD Graphics 4000 (so… not much)
- Windows XP SP3
- 16GB hard drive space
- AMD Phenom II 6X 1100T (6 core) processor running at 3.3 Ghz
- 8GB RAM
- Nvidia Geforece 760 GTX with 2GB VRAM
- and Windows 7