Dreamfall Chapters Book 1: Reborn - Review
Dreamfall Chapters Book 1: Reborn - Review
Dreamfall Chapters Book 1: Reborn - Review by Jeffry Houser. "A pleasure to be back in The Longest Journey Universe, and despite a few hangups, I loved every minute of it."
Posted: 10/23/14 | Category: Review | Developer: Red Thread Games | Publisher: Red Thread Games | Platform: Other, Microsoft windows, Apple macintosh

Note: This review contains several Dreamfall spoilers.

Dreamfall Chapters Book 1: Reborn

I am about to launch the first book in the Dreamfall Chapters game. This is the third game that takes place in The Longest Journey universe and was funded, in part, through a Kickstarter campaign. The game will be released episodically across five books, with the first book being comprised of four parts.

The History

The first game in the trilogy, The Longest Journey introduces us to the universe. It follows April Ryan as she discovers she has a power to shift between two worlds. Her home is an industrialized world called Stark. The other world is Arcadia, which is your typical fantasy environment. April spends much of the first game trying to restore balance between the two worlds.

Dreamfall is another story in the same universe, primarily following Zoe Castillo. Zoe accidentally falls into an investigation of a form of entertainment which, surreptitiously, enables lucid dreaming. Its real purpose, however, is quite nefarious.

During Dreamfall we also get to play as April Ryan and Kian Alvane, an Azadi soldier. Dreamfall is only half a story, however, and the ending leaves a lot of loose ends: Zoe is in a drug-induced coma; Kian has been imprisoned as a traitor by his own people; and April is stabbed and falls into the deep waters of a swamp, her fate unknown. 

We've had to wait eight years for the continuation of Dreamfall, but it has finally started. The Longest Journey is one of the best adventure games I have ever played, while Dreamfall has a compelling story, but horrible gameplay. What do I expect from Dreamfall Chapters? I expect a compelling story with cinematic visuals and some infuriating cliffhangers. Let’s see how they did, shall we?

The Story

I want to avoid story spoilers, so here is a quick spoiler-free rundown. Dreamfall Chapters starts one year after Dreamfall ended. Zoe is still in a coma, her mind trapped in the Storytime, "where stories are told, stories that create the sky and the ground and all that is in between."

Zoe roams the Storytime, helping dreamers escape nightmares while trying to find a way to wake herself up. Kian is in prison, his execution impending. His portion of this story follows a riot in the prison. April’s fate is made known very early.

Book 1 does not have the rich story depth that I have come to expect from The Longest Journey universe. I believe this is because Book 1 only tells the beginning of the story. It's focused on putting the characters in place so things can happen to them later. I expect the story to expand as new books are released.

The gameplay is very linear, and you easily move from one challenge to the next. There is never a time where you have two puzzles ongoing. You can spend some time exploring Europolis, Zoe’s new home, but it's more for curiosity’s sake and will not help you progress through this Book.

Throughout the game, you’ll get to make a bunch of choices and these choices will have an effect on characters and interactions in future chapters of the series. This is an awesome idea; something similar was implemented in Telltale’s Walking Dead series. Unfortunately, the game does not always make it obvious that what you're choosing will affect the game’s progression. Even in Book 1 you can see the effect of your choices, so be sure to play it twice with different sets. Although these choices affect your journey they apparently will not affect the end game, which we won’t see for months.

The Production Values

Dreamfall Chapters is a very beautiful game. The grittiness of Stark’s Europolis will make you want to wash your face. Kian’s prison is equally bleak. The Storytime offers some expansive landscapes, although jumping into people’s nightmares is less fantastic than it could have been. I can’t wait to see what they’ve done to Arcadia, as I hope the next book will move out of the grimy worlds and into something with a different sense of beauty. I always liked Arcadia more than Stark.

The puzzles don't offer any real challenge and if you're a seasoned adventurer you should slip through them with ease. I did find a handful of bugs. Some were minor visual oddities, but a few times I crashed to the desktop when trying to enter a building in Europolis. A restart let me back in every time.

The interface is easy enough to get used to. To move the character, you can use the standard WASD keys to move around. You can look up or down, left or right, using the mouse. The shift key lets you run, which will be important when exploring the large area of Europolis. I use a left-handed mouse at my computer and the controls are easily adjustable, something many games with complex control schemes do not get right.

Selecting or examining items in the environment is a bit confusing, because the hotspot shows up automatically when you're near the item. This can be perplexing when items are close together, but overall it's not a big deal. A few other keys handle other tasks, such as using the tab key to open inventory, the ‘j’ key to open the journal or the ‘g’ key to open goals.

I do have one complaint with the controls and in game instructions. The first time the game tells you to open the journal it says to use the ‘I’ key to open the journal. However, the ‘I’ is used to open inventory, so I was left very confused for a bit as to what the game wanted me to do. I hit every key on my keyboard before discovering it. I have no idea if this was a font issue where the ‘j’ and ‘I’ look similar to my eyes, or if it was a bug in the game text.

The system for saving games is confusing. You can never save the game manually, but the game does provide auto saves. The autosave icon goes off all the time, but when you restore—or reload the game to continue—it puts you back to the last save point. Where are the save points? I have no idea; they aren’t distinguished in the game world in any way. There is a “Save and Quit” but I’m not sure if that actually has any effect.

After a few crashes, I reloaded the game but there was no way to determine what I had already done or not done. I could use the goals window to see the open tasks, so I knew what I needed to do. But, did I eavesdrop on this conversation already when walking around Europolis? I don’t know. Does the game reset those conversations so you can eavesdrop multiple times? Does it matter if I skip or miss a conversation? Is this conversation taking place twice as a game design decision, so I can start the puzzle from scratch after restarting? Or was the game just not saved after I had the previous conversation? An important aspect of interface design is “don’t make me think” and in this approach, the game designers failed.

Final Thoughts

It is a pleasure to be back in The Longest Journey Universe, and despite a few hangups, I loved every minute of it. I wish I had all five parts of the game right now! If you’re a fan of Dreamfall or The Longest Journey, then check this out. I’m thinking that Dreamfall Chapters may rival The Longest Journey itself in terms of quality. It is a return to form, focused on puzzles and interaction instead of combat and sneaking.

Final Grade: A-
Stunning visuals 
+ Focused on puzzles and interaction rather than combat and sneaking
+ Your choices affect the gameplay
- The story lacks depth, but more books are coming
Minor technical glitches

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