Dreamfall Chapters

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Rating by Iznogood posted on Jun 20, 2016 | edit | delete

Exciting, Disappointing and a must play!

Overall I have some mixed feelings about this game and feel very ambivalent, both very excited and very disappointed at the same time - let me try to explain why.

The story is indisputably the strongest part about the game.
It is a sequel to The Longest Journey and Dreamfall which has some of the best storytelling ever seen in a game, not just Adventure games but games in general, and even though Dreamfall Chapters perhaps doesn’t quite reach the same level of excellence, then it continues in the same path and takes place in the same rich universe.

Perhaps even more important, it is the second half of the story started in Dreamfall and brings a much needed conclusion to the story, something that we have been waiting for for 10 years! So even if it had only been mediocre in itself then it was something that we absolutely needed.

BUT there is also a rather large unbalance (pun intended) in the story or at least in the way that the story is told.

Dreamfall not only ended on a cliffhanger, but there was also quite a few balls left hanging in the air, but instead of simply gradually revealing these or letting Zoë discover this throughout the game, they decided to completely ignore all of that for the first 4 books, and then dump it all of us in one large exposition in book 5 - And that is simply not good storytelling in my book!

I mean would it really have been so bad if we had learned what had happened to the white of kin in the dark peoples library earlier in the game? Perhaps when Zoë first meets Crow. Obviously RTG wanted to keep the suspense and not reveal anything before the very end, but there are plenty of other revelations to be revealed, no need to save absolutely everything for a large endgame exposition.

And there are other problems, like in order to actually save these things for later, they have to pull the amnesia card on Zoë, and even to some degree on Crow - A cheap trick imo and something that was also completely unnecessary. Having Zoë remember what happened in Dreamfall would have changed the story, especially in the first two books, but not in any major way, you could still more or less have the same main plots without pulling the amnesia card.

On top of that there are also many story-arcs from the first game and even some started here in DC, that are just left hanging in the air, perhaps not outright retconned but instead just abandoned. Now I’m all for open ended endings and not explaining everything in minute details, but there is a rather large difference between leaving something open-ended and simply abandoning a story-arc completely.

I think that the main reason for this unbalance basically comes down to the time between the releases of the two games. RTG very clearly tried to make a game that would appeal to players that has never played the original Dreamfall. The problem however is that Chapters simply isn’t a new story taking place in the same universe, like what Dreamfall was to The longest Journey, it is the second half of the story started in Dreamfall, and in their eager to appeal to new players, RTG kind of forgot this - at least that is my interpretation.

When RTG pitched Chapters in the Kickstarter they referred to it as an adventure game, but sometime during the development they changed it to “a story driven game with adventure elements”, and that unfortunately shows.

The first book actually started out perfectly fine. It was perhaps not the most engrossing or difficult puzzles, but there where plenty of them, and the special dreamer abilities Zoë had in Storytime showed a lot of potential for excellent puzzles.

BUT already in the second book the TTG tendency started to show its ugly face, and even though there still was puzzles, then they started to take a backseat and decline in numbers, and by the third book we are down to something like one single puzzle per chapter.

The puzzles that there are are not necessarily bad, but they are most definitely on the easy side, and perhaps more important, there are several sequences that just begged to be a puzzle and could have been excellent puzzles imo, but for some inscrutable reasons instead ended up as cutscenes or boring non-puzzle tasks.

Well, at least they didn’t go the full monty and completely removed all puzzles, for that I’m grateful.

Choice & Consequences
Unlike in the TTG games the C&C system actually worked quite well. For the most part you choices actually made a difference, even if it was mostly only minor consequences. But in some cases it actually had some large influence and in one case you even had two completely different paths (shitbot vs. kidbot) based on your choice. So kudos to RTG for actually making a meaningful C&C system.

BUT I also can’t help wondering if this is really a game that is suited for the C&C style gameplay? The story is or at least should be strong enough to stand on its own without the need for this extra element. Also RTG has spend a lot of time, energy and resources on it, that perhaps would have been better spend on improving other aspect of the game.

Open world(ish)
The game is a direct control 3D game using the standard controls know from so many other genres, but only rarely used in adventure games. And more importantly it is fairly open world-ish, with two large hubs that you can freely explore at leisure, something that you only see very rarely in AG nowadays.

When they pitched the game in the kickstarter, this was actually the one thing that excited me the most, as this is something that I have been longing for in AG for a long time.

And at least in the first too books it didn’t disappoint!
I actually spend quite a long time just running around the two cites simply enjoying the scenery and the freedom of not being guided on rails and cramped into claustrophobic one room locations.

BUT this unfortunately didn’t last for the whole game. It is really only the first two books that takes advantage of this, and by the time we reach book 5 everything is back on rails with no free movement whatsoever. At one point they even had the perfect opportunity to let us run freely a bit, when we have to get from point A to B in Marcuria, but instead of letting us run ourselves, they instead teleport us directly to location B.

Whether they changed this because of all the whiners who were complaining about having to spend 2 minutes running to a destination yourself, instead of automatically being teleported as they are used to from other games, all the other whiners who apparently are severely directionally challenged and kept getting lost, or they changed it for some completely different reasons, that is an open question. But it is a sad thing that they were not able to maintain this vision for the duration of the game.

In general the game looks incredible good, both in the character models and the backgrounds, and in the beginning I spend a lot of time simply running around enjoying the beautiful scenery in both Europolis and Marcuria.

Or at least it used to look incredible good, BUT then they updated the engine from Unity 4 to Unity 5!

This update was probably necessary for many reasons, and it did result in a large performance increase, but it unfortunately also completely broke all the graphics because of changes to the lightning model etc. This was something that RTG was never able to recover fully from, and they never managed to remake the graphics to that same high quality that it was before the update.

So what we ended up with instead was grossly over-saturated images that looks like an explosion at a paint store, especially in Marcuria, plastic like textures instead of realistic looking masonry and steel, and filters like peripheral vision blur, bloom and lens flare that perhaps can serve their purpose when used with moderation, but is clearly overused and completely destroys what otherwise was and could again have been beautiful scenery. And you can’t even turn these filters off in the settings, not anymore, that was actually possible in an earlier version but was removed in book 5 for some unknown reason!

Okay .. I’m probably exaggerating a bit here, and it mostly still looks okay, especially the characters, but seriously, I pity the players that never got to experience the graphics in its full glory before the Unity upgrade!

Episodic game
When the game was pitched in the kickstarter it was sold as a single game release, but for various reason RTG later changed it to an episodic release, something that also pissed a lot of people off.

The positive thing about this, is that it also allowed RTG to expand the game and make it much longer. Where it was originally planned as a 10-15 hours game, we now instead have a game that took me more that 30 hours to complete. So I can’t and will not complain about this decision.

BUT it is also very clear that this is not really a game suited for an episodic release. In order for an episodic game to work, each episode has to be a full game on its own, with a beginning, middle and end to each episode, and only an overall story arc across the episodes, but this is clearly not the case here, instead we have one large continued story.

It has also caused other problems, like some very noticeable design changes during the episodes, which gives it some consistency issues. In fact, with the release of book 5, they also remade some parts of the very first chapter, mainly to alleviate some of those consistency issues, and they are planning more changes before the physical and PS4 release. Something that imo should never happen for an episodic release, and is a clear sign they see the game themselves, as one whole and not as individual episodes.

Final verdict
4 out of 5 stars!

This might seem like a high rating based on the many issues mentioned above, but the simple truth is that the positive still by far outweighs the negative, and .. for Christ sake .. its a new game in the The Longest Journey series, my all time favourite series and a game we have been waiting for for 10 years!

Time Played: Over 20 hours
Difficulty: Easy

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