Dreamfall Chapters Reviews
Sequels after a certain point are a curious affair. Take Dreamfall Chapters, the third installment in The Longest Journey series. It's the end of a trilogy that also features 1999's The Longest Journey and 2006's Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. A big portion of gamers weren't alive in 1999 or were too young to be playing point and click adventure games on their PC. Its follow-up flew largely under the radar. This gave Chapters developer Red Thread Games the herculean task of appeasing old fans at the same time as captivating new ones.
Luckily Dreamfall Chapters is a beautiful, intriguing world filled to the brim with detailed characters. While playing the two prior games may help you catch some of the references and the finer points of the story line, it's not a necessity to be versed in them. The story ties together three people from three different worlds — the cyberpunk dystopia, the fantastical world of magic, and the otherworldly house that's seemingly in the middle of nowhere. There's the girl who has just woken up from a coma, the man set to be executed the next day and the little baby who can't do much other than crawl around their crib. Who are these people and where do we dot the lines that connect their stories?
To go along with these mysterious characters is well-written dialogue. The voice actors have taken the words on the page and given them life. Considering how much of Chapters is conversation and cut scenes, it's incredible how natural most of it sounds, despite the game spanning more than 15 hours. Outside of some romance sections that feel a bit phoned in, all the dialogue feels necessary and integral to the story. Looking back on a playthrough of the game, it's odd to think most of it was spent watching and listening as opposed to actually playing, although that's not necessarily a bad thing.
While players are observers for the most part in Dreamfall Chapters, when decisions come up they have the potential to change the outcome of the story. They might alter the way an entire segment of the game plays. They might change others' opinions of you. They might cause a dialogue option to appear six chapters later that otherwise would not have been there. They might change who is standing by your side when all is said and done. In fact, they might just cause the game to end right then and there if you do something extreme enough... or they might have no meaning at all. You never know as you're making them, but once you realize you have the potential to change the game, it adds weight to the decisions and makes you really stop to think about how you want to proceed.
A bot that does stuff for you. Maybe our dystopian future isn't so bad after all
While Dreamfall Chapters is excellent when you're sitting back and enjoying the story, it suffers during the parts when it actually has to be a game. Map navigation is a nightmare at first and you're more likely to memorize areas you frequent as opposed to actually using the map. When navigating the town of Marcuria in the magical world, you can look at the map but can't actually set a waypoint, so you're stuck with opening it up at every corner to make sure you're still heading the right way. In the futuristic city of Europolis, you can mark something on the map, but you can only do so by walking up to a city map and telling it where you want to go. Unfortunately you can only specify the main areas, so it won't direct you to anything besides a major segment of the city. Both cities are confusing, filled with twisting and turning paths as opposed to straight roads; many of the areas are blocked off and one city even has multiple levels to confuse you further.
There's also the matter of the "puzzles," if you want to call them that. While a challenging, thought-provoking puzzle is nothing to scoff at, the puzzles in Dreamfall are more comparable to guessing games. The solutions range from head-scratching and obscure to "I never would have thought to interact with that picture seven times on the off chance something happened the seventh time." To give another example, when presented with a locked door, most players' first instincts would not be to attach a broomstick to a pillow and hold the pillow out the window so it could then be shot by an arrow and the arrow could then be used to pick the lock. After a while the thought process deteriorates into blindly attempting to combine everything in your inventory with everything else, interacting with everything and hoping for the best... and then consulting a guide when that doesn't pan out.
No, I'm not Ezio, I'm Kian, for the last time
The developer also plays fast and loose with what your character can do. At first the gameplay is strictly puzzle-based. Despite one of the protagonists being a famous warrior, he is hesitant to take another life and opts to create distractions or elaborate non-lethal solutions when he needs to sneak around enemies. Then suddenly, during one segment, the solution is to simply stealthily walk up behind a guard and take them out. It makes no sense since the game had previously forced the player to spend hours and hours taking painstaking care to avoid hurting anyone and that option was never given again after that. There's also one agonizing section where you're responsible for rowing a boat, despite all prior travel having been automated. There is no meaningful dialogue during the segment, which consists of five minutes of occasionally tapping RB. This should have been relegated to a skippable cut scene at worst or scrapped entirely at best.
As for how the game performs, even though the graphics aren't the latest and greatest — it runs on Unity and Chapters already graced PC in 2014 — everything functions well and the visuals are really quite striking. The worlds, especially the cyberpunk universe, are carefully constructed and beg to be explored, making the player wish it was an entire game of its own instead of just somewhere you occasionally go to point and click. It has its limitations; for example, if an NPC says they are performing an action like tying a rope, their hands will just be moving around wildly as opposed to actually visibly doing the action, and when two characters go to "kiss," their faces are six inches apart in actuality, but these visual blemishes don't matter in the grand scheme of what the game offers.
Part reindeer, part smurf, part human. Probably.
As a point and click, none of Dreamfall Chapters' achievements are especially difficult to get. Many are unmissable thanks to being part of the story line and most others can be obtained for completing miscellaneous actions throughout the game, although you should make sure to be aware of these in advance so you don't miss them when they come along. The tricky part comes in the form of achievements related to multiple decisions that can be made to alter the course of the game. Unfortunately, these decisions aren't so simple as making one decision and then quickly reloading your save and selecting the other option. They often affect the chain of events way down the line, several hours later, which means there will be a good bit of replaying involved to get them all. They're all straightforward and there are plenty of guides out there already thanks to the existence of the PC version; time commitment is the only problem players will face.
SummaryDespite being the third part of a series, Dreamfall Chapters will draw in many new players with its striking environments and fleshed-out characters. The story is intricately woven and it's an intriguing one. Much of the game consists of cut scenes and dialogue, all of which are well-written and impressively delivered. In a rare delight, the player gets to make decisions that actually hold importance, forever changing the outcome of their story. However, Chapters suffers during the moments it's required to be a video game as opposed to an interactive movie. Certain features aren't up to snuff, such as environment navigation, and the puzzle solutions are obscure instead of challenging. Fortunately, the story is engaging enough that Chapters is able to weather the storm brought on by the lackluster gameplay elements to become a title that both new and old fans of the series should enjoy.
- Intriguing world, characters and story
- Well-written and convincingly-acted dialogue
- Decisions carry weight
- Striking visuals
- Convoluted, often illogical puzzles
- Some gameplay elements and segments not up to par, like unintuitive map navigation
The reviewer spent 18 hours on their playthrough of Dreamfall Chapters. 39 out of 45 achievements were won for 910 gamerscore. An Xbox One code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
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