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Friday, 7 November 2014

Dreamfall Chapters Book 1: Reborn.

Big Hero 6 is getting released today.



Dreamfall Chapters
Book 1: Reborn.

Eight years. 

Dreamfall Chapters is the third in the Longest Journey series, which began with The Longest Journey and Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. Set in the dual worlds of Stark, a dystopian future America, and Arcadia, a high fantasy world of magic, Dreamfall Chapters follows two characters, Zoe Castillo and Kian Alvane, both from the second game. In the wake of the events of Dreamfall, Zoe is trapped in the world of Dreamtime while Kian is in a Marcurian prison awaiting execution for treason. Escape is on the cards for both of them, though, as the Azadi in Arcadia and WATIcorp in Stark seek to accelerate their plans.

If you're wondering why I'm a little grumpy writing this review, it's because I played The Longest Journey, and I played Dreamfall: The Longest Journey when it came out. Which was a little over eight years ago. Yes, like many games, Dreamfall Chapters has suffered the Duke Nukem Forever treatment of being stuck in development hell - in this case, largely because it was unable to gather funding. It's since turned to indie funding.

A lot of people find the rise of crowdfunded games to be a massive positive, and while I can't disagree with them, it always bothers me when developers who were previously producing professionally funded games find themselves shifting into the indie scene. It happened to Tim Schafer, it happened to Peter Molyneux, and now it seems to have happened by Ragnar Tornquist, and that's a little sad. A little strange, too, because in those first two instances, both developers were so popular that stamping their names on a game would probably make it an instant success.

But, anyway, it's here now - or the first book of five is, at least, with the second book to be announced, so I can surely expect another not-quite-a-decade of waiting for that, insert grumbling here. 

Does it live up to all the expectations set by the wait, though?

Well, Stark's looking great.

Well. Um. I'd like to say yes. I deeply enjoyed playing it, certainly. The storyline is very strong, putting Zoe and Kian centre stage in Stark and Arcadia respectively, and that storyline is only bolstered by some great voice-acting, good music, and good graphics. A bunch of interesting characters are introduced, too, including possibly the most mysterious of the bunch, Etta and Magnus (and their child, Saga), as well as some Dreamfall characters like Reza making a return. 

The Stark storyline with Zoe reminded me a lot of the early hours of The Longest Journey, in which the tension builds slowly while the player character more or less just goes about their day to day life. It's effective in a longer game, but I'm not sure how well it works in an episodic format.

My biggest bugbear with the story, though, is that while we see plenty of Dreamtime and Stark, we see very little of Arcadia, which I've always liked more of the two. In fact, pretty much all we see of Stark is a prison, and that's just not very interesting. My hope is that Kian will get a bigger role in the second book, or that Zoe might travel to Arcadia.

But who is the guy with the eyepatch?

But it's the gameplay that really lets the game down. Am I being ridiculous if I say I'd like more of the absurd point-and-click adventure gameplay of The Longest Journey, despite or perhaps because of how warped and impossible the logic was? No, no, I am not, I think, especially what's in its place is, for the most part, extremely simple puzzles. The gameplay does briefly shine when you have to collect arrows by attaching a pillow to a broom and poking it out the window, but it's brief and fairly simple. 

The game does try to insert some Telltale Games style 'you make choices and the game will ominously tell you that a character will remember them' gameplay, but it falls a little flat largely because I never felt that I was actually ever making a choice in this book. I felt very railroaded actually, especially since even when it did seem like I was making a choice that would have an effect on gameplay or story, I was swiftly ushered back onto the prescribed path. No amount of booming noises and dramatic statements that 'the balance has shifted' could convince me that my choices were actually making a difference.

The Longest Journey games have always been more story than gameplay driven, and that's fine, but you can't neglect gameplay entirely in a video game, and it feels like Red Thread Games really have. The book is, at least, a decent length, though, a little longer than most The Walking Dead episodes, which is a plus. 

Zoe/Reza forever even if Reecey and Cryaotic disapprove.
Watch the dude's Let's Play of this, by the way, it's great.
Guy's voice is like bloody velvet and honey.

Still, I have very mixed feelings about this first installment in the series, and I'm a little apprehensive. I adored the first game, and I really liked the second one too. Having waited eight years for the conclusion to the story, I want it to go out with a bang, instead of just fizzling and dying in a heap of mediocre gameplay and good-but-not-amazing story. 

Or worse, run out of funding halfway through. Genuine concern, there.


Eight years.

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