Dreamfall Chapters: Book One - Reborn
It’s been a long time since we
left April, Kian and Zoe behind. Eight years in fact, and after much
talk of a new game over the intervening period, here we are with the
first part of a 5 piece episodic adventure that steps us back into that
complex, political and intriguing set of worlds.
The Longest Journey and
Dreamfall were both big games, story driven to the extent sometimes of
wanting them to let you do something other than listen. They were wordy,
with considerable dialogue and extended exposition, and the plots spread
across different worlds could be hard to stay on top of. None of that
was a bad thing; to the contrary, the depth was one of their strengths.
Based on what we have here, the pattern will be repeated.
Which is a very good thing.
What won’t be quite so good is
how that lends itself to being episodic. In my view, most episodic games
are better being played in one go, but if ever a game demanded that to
occur, this feels like it. Keeping track of the multiple threads and
complexities will be made all the more difficult episode to episode. I
fully intend to wait until the rest of the chapters are available, then
play it right through.
You can often leap into sequels
with no knowledge of the earlier versions, but with Dreamfall, having
played the earlier games is almost required. Newbies may well feel more
than a little lost, even overwhelmed, although after 8 years I can’t
pretend to be completely on top of past events. In that regard, a useful
feature is the capacity to choose a recap from the main menu, and I
thoroughly recommend it for all players.
As with the previous game you
get to play as different characters, in different plot threads. We start
as Zoe, savings souls in Storytime. There is a rich tapestry to what and
why this place is (like most things in the Dreamfall world), and while
it was somewhat perfunctory, it’s necessary given where we left off.
That said, I wasn’t unhappy to leave. It does help you settle into the
game mechanics though, and it probably should be looked at as more of a
tutorial prologue to the main story.
We then skip to Kian Alvane,
awaiting execution in a jail cell in Arcadia. A soldier and assassin, we
would expect to find him in jail, given he was hauled away as April fell
from the pier in Dreamfall. It’s a year after those events, and he seems
to have accepted his fate, but we very quickly find him trying to
engineer an escape, the result of a surprising twist and an uprising
taking place around him.
This is our only exposure to
Arcadia in this chapter, and we get but a glimpse of the “magical” side
of the world, and only a peek at the machinations enveloping that realm.
We will no doubt return, and it’s tantalising, albeit relatively short
and mostly straightforward. It also has one of the silliest puzzle
solves I have come across for a while, and I intend to say no more about
“I'm rootless. No roots. I
can go anywhere”
Then it’s back to Zoe, several
months on and now in Europolis, a city described by Red Thread during
its Kickstarter campaign as “the filthy bowels and bloodied entrails
of Europe". Sprawling across what was central Europe and is now part
of Stark, it’s a city Rick Deckard would be at home in. Zoe has made a
new life in Propast, a bohemian district in the Prague part of the city,
and for all but the very final part, the rest of the game, and indeed
most of the game, takes place here.
It’s an exotic multicultural
place, and well worth exploring. Detail abounds, and the city is very
much alive. People bustle everywhere, street life happens around you,
and in keeping with its size, and there is a real sense of being in a
city. The gaming environment also opens up, and not everything has to be
done or experienced to finish the chapter. You can talk to all sorts of
non playing characters (NPCs) as well, which adds further depth to the
landscape. This is where the episode started to hit its straps.
Yet most of what you do is
rather mundane. We have skipped three months ahead, and Zoe has a life
like so many others. She lives with her boyfriend off Sonnenschein
Plaza, she has a job and a therapist, and has gone back to university.
We go to therapy, we procure lunch for the boyfriend, we do our job. We
do a lot of errands, we get lost in the sprawl doing it, and none of the
errands seem overly special. Some though are clearly precursors of
things to come.
“Three months in therapy –
still batshit crazy”
Zoe now has a journal, one her
doctor said to start, and if you want to know what she has been
doing while you were busy being Kian, you can give it a read. If you
don’t want to know, you should read it anyway. Like so many things, it
adds depth, and you will be missing so much of what is good about these
games if you don’t get on board and read, and ask, and chat, and listen.
The back story is also referred to; as Zoe says about what happened
“I thwarted a global conspiracy and in return Mummy Dearest injected me
with an experimental drug”. Which explains where you first find Zoe.
If you don’t read it you won’t
know that she doesn’t like Europolis, or the reasons why she doesn’t, or
the fact that its actually fantastic and she loves it, or why she didn’t
go to Mumbai instead, or her reasons for becoming politically active, or
why urination with gusto makes a difference. So like I said, get on
board, or (probably) play something else.
As in the recent Telltale
episodic games, you make choices that effect how the game plays out. You
get feedback that tells you that such a choice has been made, although
the fact that you have several dialogue options to choose from is clue
enough. These choices are, by and large, presented in a way that makes
considerably good sense. The playable character (lets go with Zoe for
the moment) will generally have to respond to a question or situation,
and will have a number of simple options available. Hover the mouse over
each option, and Zoe essentially mulls things over to herself about that
particular response. The different responses are generally subtle
variations on a theme, as opposed to being blunt opposites, and they
help define Zoe, or your own vision of who Zoe is (or should be). Some
are seemingly innocuous – what to choose for the boyfriend for lunch –
and others have more profound outcomes, resulting in a shift in the
“balance” (the equilibrium between chaos and logic, and a key part of
the Dreamfall universe).
Graphically, Europolis sparkles.
Wind everything up to maximum if you can, and lay back and enjoy the
visual feast. It's audibly excellent as well, and I include the score.
There are some “glitches”; eyes flash and while Zoe moves out of the way
of NPCs, gates pass through Kian. But the biggest visual issue is the
characters themselves. While lip movement is good, they are a tad too
wooden, accentuated by the pasted on hair that doesn’t move a jot. They
aren’t poor, just less than their surroundings.
“I don't want to remember.
I want to just move on”.
While it’s a Machiavellian plot,
with dark undercurrents of political intrigue, it can also be humorous,
most notably through a hovering bot called Shitbot. I hope we see more
of him, although he may dedicate himself to a life of welding.
Language can be (more than)
colourful and Mira, proprietor of the Pandemonium garage, is the most
colorful character by far. If language offends, gird your loins before
entering her establishment, but you will also encounter it elsewhere so
Dreamfall Chapters uses a third
person perspective, with the view over the shoulder of the playing
character, although you have a pretty much unfettered 360 degree panning
around that character. You can also map the keyboard controls, which
means you can use right mouse for forward motion and steer the character
around using the mouse (my preferred configuration), rather than using
w,a,s,d keys for movement. You can die, and I did, but the game resets
before the key moment, and it saves automatically, rather than at will,
so watch for the relevant icon. The playing character will also “look”
towards a hotspot he/she can interact with as you pass, and actions
icons will be available if you stop to further investigate.
Fundamentally, this episode sets
the table for what is to come. It ends a tad abruptly, and as a
standalone episode it is less than it will be as the first instalment of
a whole. I have to confess I was predisposed to like it; I have played
the other games more than once, and have almost every boxed version
available in English in my collection. Nonetheless, on the strength of
this, I can’t wait for the rest.
Dreamfall Chapters: Book Two
It took me a while to get to
this and I am not sure how I feel. Regardless, what I am pleased about
is I can pretty much go straight on to Chapter 3.
There is a Monty Python skit
about black pudding and how it was so black, even the white bits were
black, and there is a bit of that here. Not black pudding, but I felt
that while I liked what had happened, I wasn’t sure I liked how it
happened, at least not all of it. So the bits I liked I wasn’t sure I
liked, at least not completely. Am I making sense?
Let’s move on.
This time we have Kian’s
storyline bookending Zoe’s. While the rebel in the title is an obvious
reference to what Kian is doing, there is clearly a rebellious part of
Zoe’s character. There are some biggish issues tackled here, both large
in scale and more mundane, and it’s in the latter that some of the
biggest impacts occur. Who said how relationships play out is boring?
It remains a people and story
driven product, although mechanically it does get a bit fetch and carry
and move on. Do things and look for things because you need to move on,
as opposed to being the obvious thing to do. And do it by running hither
and yon, and hither again, trying as Zoe to find your way through what
is now a far more difficult to navigate city. Throw in what is an
unnecessarily convoluted environmental puzzle and I did feel a tad
frustrated, and I did reach for a walkthrough.
Overall, the other stuff does
compensate, but it’s a balance.
The choices I made/make do seem
to be playing out somewhat more “personally” than in other similar
games. I felt at one point that I wished I had made a different choice,
as ordinary as that choice was, and the little things do seem to matter.
Life is like that, in ways we can never imagine. I look forward to
seeing how things evolve from here.
The focus on the people remains
strong, particularly those people who are willing to risk themselves in
some way. Not just heroically, but in far more subtle ways.
Taken as a whole, Rebels felt
like a set up for what is to come rather than a continuation of the
first Chapter – although in that sense it is a perfect continuation.
More people, more threads, a bit of a rush at the end, but set up nicely
for Chapter 3. Let’s get to it.
Dreamfall Chapters: Book
Three - Realms
I ended the last episode
revelling in the fact that I could go straight onto this one, which I
did initially, and then got side tracked by real life, and then I ended
up playing both back to back given the complexity of the story. Nothing
has convinced me that Dreamfall should be played any other way.
This time we have jumped a
little ahead in time, and both Kian and Zoe sport new looks. It adds to
the sense that time has indeed passed, and was a well-considered
development. You can decide for yourself what you think of the looks
We start with an interlude,
involving a character we met briefly at the end of Book 1. I didn’t
mention her then, but she has clear links to April. I didn’t much care
for the fussy scavenger hunt that occupied the bulk of the interlude,
but the end was intriguing, and suggestive of interesting developments
I confess it’s a grumblement I
had about a fair bit of the puzzling in Book 3. Lots of hunting and
gathering, sometimes with very little direction, mercifully in a
generally contained environment. There are some puzzles I had a lot more
fun with, which helped to balance the whole thing, but I didn’t think
this was a high point of this book.
We again play both Kian and Zoe,
and I like where both of them are going. We have also spent enough time
with them, and learned enough about them, to “know” them as characters.
The choices they made are clearly playing out, and while new ones are
limited in this episode, the consequences are there to behold. Nor does
the game shy away from tackling some meaty issues; does the end justify
the means or not? How the consequences are revealed and discussed can
also be compelling. At one point I found myself regretting what seemed
both the humane and strategically appropriate course of action, based on
the discussion which ensued. It is a credit to the writing.
Which remains one of the high
points. Which is good, given there continues to be lengthy periods of
listening and watching.
The plots remain complex and
playing it all in one go will enhance the ability to keep it all in
one’s head. There is subterfuge on high, rebellion, and less than
savoury practices enveloping Kian, and shady dealings and political and
corporate machinations occupying Zoe. Both plots developed but didn’t
really get closer to resolution, but the main protagonists got a lot
closer to each, at least geographically. Dreaming is also more
While it revolves around Kian
and Zoe, other characters moved far more to the centre. Some are
pivotal, some promise to be. Many are interesting, Queenie and the Mole
being among them. I was taken by the mysterious Anna and I enjoyed the
quirky nature of Enu. Likhu I empathised with, and am glad I took him
with me at the end. Mira remains a good friend, and as foul mouthed as
I said in Book 1 that I hoped we
saw more of Shitbot, and we do. He was there in Book 2, but only to hold
up our access to a particular location. Here he has a short but
prominent role, and his is one of the more “fun” puzzle solves.
Crow is back too, and is still
very much Crow.
The environments continue to
sparkle, and we finally get to see the city of Marcuria in all its
daytime glory. A Damn fine thing it is indeed.
It clocked in shorter than Book
2 (probably 4 to 5 hours) which made it tighter in its telling, and less
likely to drag. Despite the puzzling I was left well pleased. I feel
like we have done with setting the scene and we are now focused on
getting to the points over the course of the next two books. I won’t be
able to resist playing the fourth when it is released, but will then
relish the opportunity to play, with very different choices, the whole
lot in one go once five becomes available.
Dreamfall Chapters: Book
Four - Revelations
It has taken me a while, but I
finally returned to Marcuria.
More than any previous book,
this one felt the like mostly listening and watching, with an occasional
bit of prodding to move things along. Except for breaking Kian into the
Nazi flavoured prison camp, apart from the puzzle at the very end, it
pretty much trundled along with very little puzzling to do. It also
seemed fairly short, a few hours at most.
Lots happens, which is good, and
things seem set up for a serious climax, but I was a little
Zoe occupies the bulk of Book 4,
and having convinced the rebels she is not a threat, she ventures first
into Marcuria, then out into the wider and wilder world, ultimately in
search of a Soul Stone. Her travels end back in the world of science,
but she learns much, and achieves much more, before she gets there.
Dreaming and its nature is writ large, and it's certainly the most
mystical of the Books so far. But then we are in the land of once was
magic, and we still have a talking bird for a companion.
Both Zoe and Kian can "die" or
be captured, but the game restores you to just before the relevant
moment and you try again. There is a battle or two to win, one of which
used Zoe's dream powers and which I have no idea how I solved. The
puzzle at the end, part of the ever more intriguing interludes, is worth
mentioning again, because I do know how I solved it and I thought it was
April is also talked about a
lot, and there are some interesting developments in that regard.
As a standalone Book it didn't
do it for me. But as part 4 of a 5 part adventure that demands to be
played through from beginning to end, I am sure it will slot in nicely.
Dreamfall Chapters: Book Five
If it took me a while to get to
Book 4, it took even longer to get to the end, as I was determined to
play the whole lot through from the start.
But at last, here we are.
Apparently there were some content changes as the game was patched as it
went along, and if you Google you can get all sorts of information and
detail. I confess to only playing each book once, and perhaps after it
was patched, so am not familiar enough with the “original” to be able to
identify whether this detail or that had changed. So be aware that
everything in the review that came before is as I played it at the time,
and this bit is based on my impressions of Book 5 and of the game having
played through in one go.
Much like the last Book, there
is a lot of listening and watching, but there was always going to be. As
the promised ending to an epic tale, there is a lot of stuff to pull
together and resolve, or at least tie off. While the back end does feel
a little unbalanced, taken as a whole the five books come together
As an ending I was well
satisfied. It groaned occasionally under the weight, but ultimately
stood strong, much as Saga does at a critical point. Books 4 and
5 were also less obvious in terms of gameplay when absorbed into a
Book 5 starts with where we left
Zoe, and a rather good sequence follows involving memories, real and not
so. I wasn’t expecting what followed, and then we skip to Alvane, for
some decisions arising from events on the last occasion. We split our
time between Zoe and Kian, and at least initially neither fare too well.
In a poignant moment, nor does another.
What goes on and how it ends is
the point of playing these games, so enough said. From the previous
reviews, and what we all know about the twin worlds, we have corporate
conspiracies, religious zealotry, magic and science, oppression and
rebellion. It’s a rich tapestry that warrants a single play.
There is room for more but by
all accounts there won’t be. The epilogue deserves a mention, and the
final scene was truly full circle.
Episodes don’t do it justice,
and I suspect looking back my final feelings were a result of having
played it initially in pieces. While I was blown away by the first Book,
as a whole it didn’t do it for me like the first two games did. However
that is a comparative analysis, and its scope and grandeur and ambition
leave many other games in the shade. Kudos to staying true to its roots,
and in the end delivering a complex and rich lore filled experience.
I played on:
OS: Windows 7
Processor: Intel i7-3820 4GHz
RAM: 12GB Ripjaw DDR3 2133 Mhz
Video card: AMD Radeon
HD 7800 2048MB
GameBoomers Review Guidelines