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Dreamfall Chapters

Dreamfall Chapters - Book One: Reborn

After 8 long years of waiting for the continuation the first book of Dreamfall Chapters is off to a cagey start...

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With the exception of Half-Life 3, few games in the industry have amassed a more ardent and patiently waiting fanbase than that of the Dreamfall series. It is by no means strange. When Dreamfall: The Longest Journey was released, the sequel to what is arguably the best Norwegian game ever (The Longest Journey, 1999), we saw a story that ended abruptly halfway through the narrative. After that, all was suddenly quiet from Dreamfall-creator Ragnar Tornquist and Funcom, who had to devote their full attention to MMO projects such as Age of Conan: Unchained and The Secret World.

But Dreamfall was never forgotten, that much Tornquist himself assured me when I interviewed him about The Secret World three years ago. Still, he had to form a new studio, Red Thread Games, fueled by a Kickstarter campaign before we could finally continue the story through the worlds of Stark and Arcadia.

Dreamfall Chapters

First of all. If you have not played the first two games in the series, or know you're somewhat rusty on how it all hangs together, it is highly recommended that you dust off these two classics before embarking on Dreamfall Chapters. The game offers no insights as to what has happened so far, no guide as to who's who, nothing to help refresh old knowledge on familiar names and faces. Under normal circumstances this wouldn't be a problem, but after eight years we could have done with a summary of sorts.

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Secondly, as the name suggests, Dreamfall Chapters will be divided into several parts, with this being just the first of five episodes. The development team have been pondering the idea of an episodic sequel since long before Telltale Games made that model mainstream, but in its realised form Dreamfall Chapters sends a clear message. Not every game is suited for such a way of telling the story.

The drive, rhythm and progression is highly controlled by dividing the story into smaller parts. Unfortunately it does not feel like Red Thread Games has taken into account how this affects the game as a whole. Dreamfall Chapters tries to go in a different direction, but at the same time a lot feels very similar to the previous games. They had a winning recipe, and they've changed it for no apparent reason apart from the financial upside of getting the first part out the door. As you'll swiftly reach the end of the episode, the drive and magic of the storytelling must present itself earlier than would've been the case in a more traditional "start to finish in one go" game.

Thankfully the foundation of the series remains solid, and even though the new format doesn't fit it perfectly, it stays well clear of ending up a complete disaster. We follow the story about Zoë Castillo in her coma state, and warrior Kian Alvane who is imprisoned. Even though the story didn't really grab me in this first episode something else did; the atmosphere. The combination of mystery, humor and a distinctive feel is certainly noticeable, and in keeping with my expectations for a new chapter in the series. This is helped along by brilliant voice acting, small doses of humour, and lots of references throughout the environments, not to mention great background music that really sets the mood. Meanwhile, we're not treated to enough to make the game shine as a whole. Don't get me wrong, I'm hungry for more, but it's mainly due to the great foundation the series had prior to this chapter, rather than this chapter alone.

From a gameplay perspective the biggest new mechanic in Dreamfall: Chapters is the inclusion of moral choices. From time to time you have to make decisions, and those will have consequences for how the story develops. Exactly how it all will turn out in the end remains to be seen, but in the first episode the choices we were given didn't come across as monumental. To be honest it felt more like an attempt to copy the episodic games that masters such choices, namely The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us. The problem is that here it's not executed as well.

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Dreamfall Chapters

Apart from the decision-making the rest of the game mechanics are mostly the same as in the two predecessors. The much criticised combat system from Dreamfall: The Longest Journey however, has thankfully been scrapped, and so far there haven't been any physical confrontations in the story. Whether this will continue remains to be seen, but the indication is that this will be a series of games that go back to the more point-and-click oriented gameplay that defined the first game. This does not have to be negative. Good point-and-click games can certainly present a challenge, and we appreciate the exclusion of often overused quick-time events.

That being said, the point-and-click elements makes the gameplay look sort of old and outdated. Most of the game mechanics look as if no work has been done since the launch of the previous games. In addition the visuals have varied quality, stretching from very pretty to downright ugly. The level of detail is not necessarily the most important part of this type of game, and the two previous games were never top of the class in this regard. At the same time it does not help when the level of details is poor in combination with stiff animations, flat textures and strange bugs (such as disappearing feet and doors you can just pass through). It gives you the feeling that the franchise has been left behind while the rest of the industry moved eight years into the future.

Dreamfall Chapters

At the same time I get that Red Thread Games have to focus their efforts on certain areas. It's a small studio, and the overall mood, the aesthetic style and the storytelling is still more important than the number of polygons on the screen. Yes, the inclusion of choices that shape the story shows that the developers have gazed upon Telltale's games for inspiration, and that can most certainly be a good thing in the end. The overall presentation of Dreamfall Chapters however, still has a long way to go to reach the bar set by Telltale Games. Thus far the game lacks something truly immersive, something that makes you forget or simply not care about the slightly out-of-date feel.

Dreamfall Chapters

I'm still hopeful. After all I waited a long time for this, and it's far too soon to say if it was in vain. Hope lives on as there is always the promise of the next episode that might raise the bar, enabling Dreamfall Chapters to reach its full potential.

06 Gamereactor UK
6 / 10
+
It's finally here!, It still has a great blend of mystique and humour, Moral choices are a nice addition.
-
Quite a few of the gameplay mechanics feel outdated, Visual shortcomings and odd bugs, Fails to really captivate, No recap of previous events, Remains to be seen if the episodic structure fits the game.
overall score
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"Despite the technical side faltering a bit, it's an entertaining package of storytelling and puzzle solving."



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