As part of Gamereactor UK's new policy towards episodic titles, we'll discuss individual episodes as they release but leave a final roundup verdict until the entire season is completed. As a reflection on that, these recaps will also pinpoint the strongest and weakest elements we found in each episode, and as such contain spoilers.
The wait for the continuation of the Dreamfall saga has been a long one. There is no point denying that. Eight years is a long time to sit tight for eager fans, and postponing the next instalment in the series comes with a few risks. Firstly there's the risk that fan interest might simply fade away, or that events and incidents from the previous games have long since been forgotten. Secondly it's a risk that the fans who actually remained faithful to the series through all the years, have such high expectations that the final product could never to live up to their hopes and dreams.
After playing through the second of five episodes, it is apparent that both of these risks are in danger of manifestation. On the one hand I feel that the game is not quite what I had expected, and it does in fact fail to fully live up to my lofty expectations of the long-awaited sequel. At the same time I notice that my memories of the events of the first Dreamfall game are patchy enough that it can be difficult to keep track of how everything is connected.
And yet, despite the sceptic that dwells within me, I refuse to give up on Dreamfall Chapters. Like its predecessors the game has found the sweet spot in the balance between the two worlds, Stark and Arcadia, and this combination of sci-fi and fantasy still manages to maintain my interest. I'm not sure if it's stubbornness, nostalgia, or something more genuine and universal, but the second episode of Dreamfall Chapters shows that the game clearly has bright spots. The brightest of these spots have to do with setting, story and characters.
It's difficult not to appreciate the varied and interesting gallery of characters you meet in Chapters. Like earlier, the series' veterans, Kian Alvane and Zoë Castillo, mostly steal the show, but this time they have to share at least some of the spotlight with supporting characters. It's not all about Zoë, and contrary to the first episode, where he was little more that a glorified extra, Kain is now more than a background character.
He takes on a more central role as part of the resistance, and not unlike a certain resistance movement in a galaxy far, far away, Arcadia's resistance is characterised by a wide range of colourful characters. To make things even more interesting Blind Bob, who we recall as one of the more memorable side-characters from the previous game, is one of the leaders for the rebellious group of misfits.
He really livens up the atmosphere, adding odd dialogue, strange situations and other absurdities linked to his good name and stature. These situations occur when you least expect them, and mostly while you are controlling Kain, not Zoë. That in it self is funny, as Kain unmistakably is the more melancholic of the two. He's nothing like Blind Bob, that's for sure.
In terms of progression through the episodes, the second book requires you to use your brain more than the first one. Some of the challenges, particularly one in Zoë's section forces you to keep your eyes open for details, and you're rewarded for trying out various solutions. It's all about experimentation, and I was pleased to discover that Book Two offers more of a challenge. That bodes well for the future episodes.
That being said, there's a lot backtracking here. A lot! You're moving back and forth through the same areas countless times, and neither Kian nor Zoë seem to be in much of a hurry. They refuse to move any faster that light jogging, and that gets old pretty fast. Much of the game requires you to move around as you're solving puzzles or looking for clues, and I would have appreciated a swifter pace.
All this backtracking also leads to a familiar feeling I remember from the first episode. The feeling of being on the brink of an adventure that hasn't really kicked off yet. It still feels like the developers at Red Thread Games are building up to something that in all fairness should have been released already. At least parts of it. I don't understand why they're seemingly holding back, and I sincerely hope that the finale to the story will be all the more impressive as a result. If not Dreamfall Chapters in its entirety will end up as a huge letdown for me personally, but there's still time to turn this around.
I still believe that Dreamfall Chapters will turn out great in the end, as the story is clearly building up to something. It's taking its sweet time, but it's getting there. As you would imagine for an episodic adventure game choices are paramount, and many of your decisions from the past episode carries over through to this one. I would expect the same to apply for future episodes as well.
The consequences of past choices are rarely more dramatic than what I can live with, and in some cases I wished I had the option to refuse performing certain tasks. Particularly in Zoë's story there are a few events where choices are made for me in a way, and that hinders my ability to control where the story is heading as much as I would have liked.
All in all, I remain patient. I'm still staying put, hoping that things will kick up a few notches as the story draws nearer to its conclusion. The first episode left me disappointed, but second episode was a bit more interesting. Red Thread Games are on the right track here, even though they are easing into it a little to slowly for my liking. My fingers are crossed for a more exciting continuation, and I truly believe it's in the cards.
We reviewed the first book of Dreamfall Chapters (with score and all) over here - from here on we'll review each episode with this kind of recap and then we'll review the full season (with a score) as it concludes.