Inside Pulse 12

Review: Dreamfall Chapters – Book One: Reborn (PC)

Dreamfall Chapters – Book One: Reborn
Developer: Red Thread Games
Publisher: Red Thread Games
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 10/21/2014

It’s been eight years since Dreamfall: The Longest Journey first came out. Likewise, there was a six year gap between The Longest Journey and Dreamfall. After a successful Kickstarter campaign that exceeded the original $850,000 goal, Red Thread Games has released the first chapter (or book, as it’s called). How well did it follow in its predecessors’ footsteps?

The story in Dreamfall Chapters picks up where Dreamfall left off, with both protagonists in far from ideal circumstances (to put it mildly). Naturally, things don’t stay that way, though most of Book One focuses on Zoe. Like the previous entries, the magic and mundane are separate, though also intertwined. In this book, you get to see Storytime, Arcadia, and Stark (specifically Europolis), though you spend the most time in Europolis. Stark is science and technology oriented, gritty in places, and ruled by heavy government oversight. In contrast, Storytime and Arcadia are both fantastical in nature, with Storytime being the realm people end up in when using a dream machine and Arcadia resembling what people usually imagine when they think of a fantasy land.

There’s lots of dialogue, both ones you’re actively involved in and ones you can hear when passing by people. At points you have to select options, which partly colors the protagonists’ personalities. Zoe and Kian ruminate on each dialogue choice, giving you a better idea of what will happen in each choice and the reasoning behind it. This is an extension of the little comments that appear when you hover over a dialogue option in Dreamfall. The comments in this game are longer (a couple or few sentences), though it’s possible to end up picking an option that ends the conversation without being able to pick the others. There’s some witty (and occasionally a bit self-deprecating) commentary on Zoe’s part.

For those who haven’t played Dreamfall (or are rusty on events therein), a short video recaps the events of Dreamfall (needless to say said video contains major spoilers for that game), and various conversations and Zoe’s journal touch on some events as well. So if you don’t mind spoilers, you can play this without having played the previous games since the basics are explained. However, you won’t get the full impact or context you would from playing at least Dreamfall. Both games are well worth playing in their own right, but the events in The Longest Journey aren’t as directly relevant to those in this game (though they are to Dreamfall – so really all three games are like links on a chain). Like in previous games, there’s a journal detailing events that happened after the first part of the book. It also contains running commentary on events that just unfolded and tasks Zoe’s in the midst of completing. While it feels like a prologue of larger events to come, with most of the focus being on Zoe working on picking up the pieces from the fallout of events in Dreamfall, there’s hints of something larger to come in later books.

The environments are varied and rendered with plenty of details. Storytime feels surreal with sundry things floating in the sky. Europolis looks and feels like a bustling city. Since you only see one place in Stark, it’s a bit harder to talk much about that world, though I’m sure there’ll be a lot more to see there in later chapters. The character models mostly look and move fine, and Zoe had different outfits for Storytime and Stark (the latter depends on the career path she’s on). I found Europolis a bit difficult to navigate initially, but I got used to the locations of different places as I walked around more. While the game ran fine on my computer (I left everything at the default settings), there’s been reports of lack of optimization and the game lagging, especially in Europolis. Red Thread Games has been patching the game with more graphics settings and fixes to memory management and frame rates, so hopefully those should allow more people to run the game smoothly.

The random snippets of dialogue you can eavesdrop on, street musicians with people gathered around listening, and the sights made it feel like a bustling city.  The depiction of Chinatown stuck out to me because it reminded me so much of the Chinatowns near me. Haggling therein reminded me of the time I spent in China. The voice acting suits the characters well, but the lip movements not synced with the words – either the character’s mouth doesn’t really move much or the back of the speaker’s head is shown. It’s sort of strange hearing the character emote while their face stays mostly still (the back of the head part isn’t egregious as long as it’s used sparingly). The music is atmospheric and sets the mood for the contexts the play in well.

The game plays somewhat like a Telltale game (complete with the “This person will remember that”-type notifications), though there’s no QTEs or combat. You can reconfigure the controls, but by default WASD moves, holding down shift at the same time runs, and the mouse cursor looks around and, depending on context and where it hovers, clicking interacts with an object or triggers commentary from the character you’re controlling. There’s a few inventory puzzles, but since you can only carry a maximum of five items at a time (and usually you don’t even accumulate that much at once), there’s less guesswork involved in figuring out what to do next. The emphasis is on wandering around inspecting your surroundings and picking up objects, though you can’t actually enter many places unless specific plot reasons call for it. During major decisions you can see what other players chose before selecting an option (unless you choose to play offline). There was one choice I found particularly hard to make, and ultimately I ended up choosing the one I didn’t think I would but was drawn to after hearing the arguments for both (and I also ended up in the majority).

As I played, I found myself immersed in the world and wanting to keep playing to see everything there was to see in the book and what happened next. I kept looking around and inspecting anything interactable just to see what commentary would come up. While you can wander and explore to some degree, the fact that you can’t enter a lot of places helps guide you along to your actual objective, though it does . There’s no game overs even if you do something wrong. The part where you can “die” is in Kian’s part if you don’t move fast enough, and even then it starts you right before that moment so it’s not much of a setback. You can’t get permanently stuck, and even the one other time timing matters at all, you can just keep trying over and over until you nail it. There’s a list of goals so you always know what your next objective is. There’s two career paths Zoe can take, which alters her outfit slightly and affects who you work for, though the decision point that determines it is set towards the beginning, so it would require replaying a chunk of the game to see that path. I look forward to seeing how choices made here impact future events.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Dreamfall Chapters Book One: Reborn is a strong start to the follow up of Dreamfall. Both the returning and new cast have distinctive personalities, and watching them interact was fun. While the changes in format – the episodic nature, removal of fights – might take a bit of getting used to, the overall structure still works well with providing areas for exploration and events to unfold. There’s only a limited amount of puzzles and places you can actually enter, but this is only the first book of five, so there’s still room for expansion in later books. I had a blast with returning to the Dreamfall world and look forward to future books.