Inside Pulse 12

Review: Dreamfall Chapters – Book 2: Rebels (PC)

Dreamfall Chapters – Book Two: Rebel
Developer: Red Thread Games
Publisher: Red Thread Games
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 03/12/2015

Dreamfall Chapters – Book 1: Reborn was a long awaited return to Stark and Arcadia. It reintroduced us to Zoe and Kian, along with introducing new characters into the mix. After a six month wait, a continuation to the story is here.

(Sections from my review of Book 1, which cover things that remain the same in this episode, are in italics.)

Book 2 picks up right where Book 1 leaves off. Accordingly, some of the decisions you made in the previous book affect how some things play out here (who knew a choice in lunch could actually affect anything?). In Propast, the EYE Operative clamps down more on the civilian population. Meanwhile in Arcadia, Kian’s work with the rebellion begins in earnest.  There’s an undercurrent of larger conspiracies on both sides, with both Zoe and Kian needing to keep a low profile. Where Book 1 laid down the foundation and served as an (re)introduction to the Dreamfall universe, Book 2 starts to build on it and introduces new and returning characters into the mix. For the latter, a little blurb pops up with background on character and what they did in Dreamfall for choices that require that context. While that blurb does provide enough context that you’re not completely lost, much of the impact is lost if you haven’t experienced it firsthand in Dreamfall. The new characters help keep things interesting. Enu’s character type seems like one that could get grating, but here’s it’s endearing (same for Bip to a lesser extent), and she plays off of Likho well.

There’s a strong emphasis on choices and how they’ll have consequences. For instance, at one point I walked into a rather grim scene, and the words “Your actions have led you to this point” appeared to punctuate the moment (way to rub it in, game). However, there is one thing that seems to be an inconsistency. Before Kian sets off on his first mission with the rebellion, he drinks a potion that’s meant to render him invisible to everyone unless they know him well or he interacts with them. However, during a stealth section the patrolling guard has no problems seeing him. Given that at various points he passes close to guards (particularly while going from one area to another), it doesn’t seem to be a question of proximity making him more noticeable. This is never explained or addressed, which makes it feel like that was just thrown in to give that section more challenge. In addition, one goal tells you to talk to an “Abby”, but at that point the character had not been introduced by name so you don’t know who that is.

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. One thing I kept noticing was that the spoken dialogue doesn’t always match subtitles – while the same general meaning is kept, it’s still odd to read the subtitles and hear the characters say something different.

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).

This time around you can actually see more of Marcuria. The magic market is bustling with people, but otherwise most of the streets are dark and quieter. Given that you’re there at nighttime that’s somewhat understandable, but that also made running through the streets a bit more monotonous. The forced waking when going through some thresholds also hampers the pacing. The Magic Market is a bright bustling spot amid the dark streets, though. Propast was fun to run around in and explore in Book 1 because everything was new. However, by Book 2 you’ve seen everything, but with the blockades it now takes longer to get to some destinations. I could still remember where some locations were, but I still had to keep checking the interactive maps when I needed to find a different route. There’s more puzzles this time around, which require a fair amount of walking from one place to another and exploring the environment for items to pick up for use elsewhere. In addition, you need to go into your inventory to manipulate items more often, though figuring out which items go with what is generally not hard. There’s nothing nearly as bad as fishing with a clamp and an inflatable duck. The interaction spots for the blowing up the shipment sequence can be a bit hard to spot initially, which combined with having to watch for the patrolling guard made setting everything up more fiddly. Hunting for hotspots as Zoe can get a little confusing, as even when you’re getting a strong signal, finding the exact spot where you need to be to do anything with it can take some doing.

While I’m curious as to how different choices would affect things (OK, and I can be a bit of achievement hunter at times), I’m mostly leaving my decisions as is until all the episodes are complete. While the auto saves are decently placed enough to allow some backtracking if you wanted to redo a decision or unlock an achievement, the lack of manual saves or a chapter select makes jumping to a specific part a bit cumbersome. The pacing in this episode dragged a bit thanks to the puzzles that required lots of back-and-forth. Still, the plot did keep me interested and left me wanting more at the end (and not just because of the cliffhanger at the end).

Short Attention Span Summary:
Dreamfall Chapters – Book 2: Rebels built on the foundation Book 1 established, showing some of the effects choices in previous episode have had. Some new characters are introduced, and older characters appear as well. There’s also more puzzles this time around, though they’re hampered a bit from roadblocks (which do have story reasons for being there, but still) slowing down travel from one place to another. Some behind-the-scenes intrigue and larger impacts from choices have started to rear their heads, though with four more episodes to go it’ll be some time before they fully come into fruition. Book 2 succeeds in getting the ball rolling on those fronts, and I look forward to the next episode.