Inside Pulse 12

Review: Dreamfall Chapters – Book 3: Realms (PC)

Dreamfall Chapters – Book Three: Realms
Developer: Red Thread Games
Publisher: Red Thread Games
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 06/25/2015

Here we are at the halfway point of this tale. The last book ended with a bang (literally) and a cliffhanger (kind of a given since there was still three more books to go). After that explosive conclusion (OK I’ll stop), things could only go up from there…right?

(While the plot will be different in each book, the gameplay, graphics, and sound are essentially the same. Sections from my review of Book 1 will be in italics.)

Book 3: Realms comes with less choices, but that’s due to the focus being on the culmination of the choices made in the first two books. That’s understandable, given this is the midway point of the story. The ramifications from previous decisions you’ve made affect certain relationships, which is especially evident in Kian’s parts. You can even see how both characters have been affected in their appearances, especially Zoe’s, whose change in haircut was a direct result from the concluding events of Book 2: Rebels. There is one major decision at the end, so you do still get a bit of input, but plot progression is more linear overall. There’s continuing parallels with underground movements against tyrannical governments in both worlds. There’s also a dream machine equivalent in Arcadia with the mysterious machines that can be seen around Marcuria meant to capture dreams and increase “efficiency” (what that means remains to be seen). You also get another look at Saga, the baby seen in the first book who’s now walking and talking (they grow so fast, don’t they?). It’s apparent she’ll come into play as an important part of the plot, but exactly what role she’ll play remains to be seen.

There’s less exploring than previous chapters. In the interlude portion you’re limited to a small house, which is understandable given you’re controlling a small child, but after a while it started to feel a bit confining. In Marcuria, Old Town is closed off completely due to an attack that destroyed it. Magicals have been blamed for the attack and as a result exiled from city and sent to camps. In Propast, the EYE has completely locked down the town, to the point that in order to go anywhere, a robot escort that ensure you only go to the “approved destination” and back to your own place must come along. However, this book provides the first opportunity to see Marcuria during the day and thus more people milling around talking. One huge positive: Crow returns. Seeing Zoe finally cross over into Arcadia and be on the cusp of crossing paths with Kian was exciting.

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 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).

Much of the locales are the same, but some little touches indicate that things are changing as a result of events that occurred in the first two books, helping them feel less static. Propast, which already began to seem a bit less lively in the last book, feels even more oppressive with the drone escort and complete lack of people and vendors on the street. In Marcuria, Reapmoon decorations and tables with food on them show that enough time has passed for a major holiday to come up. I did notice a couple little oddities. The catlike creatures wandering around in Marcuria seem to glide around instead of walk, whereas the rats actually walk. The lip syncing still seems a bit iffy, and the subtitles don’t always match the voiced lines i.e. Kian saying aloud “I envy those who can shut their doors at night and find peace inside. But that’s why we fight, so they can shut their doors and forget.” while the subtitles say “Sometimes I do envy those who can close their doors at night and find peace and joy in their homes. But that’s why we fight, so they don’t have to.” Granted, the overall meaning is the same, but it’s a bit odd to read one thing while simultaneously hearing another (though naturally this wouldn’t be noticeable if you have the subtitles off).

The picture sorting puzzle during Saga’s section can be a matter of trial and error, especially for those who did not play The Longest Journey (or who played it a long time ago and are a bit rusty). It’s made a bit easier with correctly placed pictures staying in place, but for some of them it was a bit difficult to discern exactly what event they were depicting and remember exactly where on the timeline it occurred. Finding the pictures in the first place was like pixel hunt wherein I hovered the cursor over and clicked on everything remotely likely to be the picture (then again I do that anyway just to see what the character has to say about the objects in question). The part wherein you have to figure out how to relieve an engineer of his tools and map without being caught involved a lot more footwork and not much in the way of hints to work with initially. It took me a bit and some wandering examining everything to figure out what I needed to do, but once I did I progressed more smoothly. There were also a couple of stealth portions, but I didn’t find them as bad as the one in Book 2. The quick-restart for the stealth portions make it easier to get through them, since there was no loss of progress from failure. I enjoyed the puzzle with Shitbot (or Kidbot depending on where you ended up working) and experimenting with the different personality cores the most. It was funny to sic a kung fu bot at the goon I was supposed to sneak past even if it blew my cover and I had to try again. Overall I enjoyed gong through this book and look forward to more payoff for the decisions I’ve made up until this point. Though I’m kind of dubious as to whether the choices the game claims will have no impact whatsoever will actually have no impact whatsoever or if they’ll come up in some other unexpected way.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Book 3: Realms picks up some of the plot threads woven by the first two books and begins to tie them into something cohesive, though there’s still enough loose ends that things can ramp up even more in the next two books. A highlight is the return of Crow, and I look forward to seeing more of him in the final two books. For plot reasons there’s less exploring, though you do at least get to see some new locations. The puzzles in this chapter were a bit of a mixed bag, though there was one in particular I did really enjoy (the ability to try again right from where you left off even if you mess up left plenty of room for experimenting).