Zoe Castillo is back and ready to continue her adventure after awakening from a long coma. Now that all of the chapters of her new journey have been bundled together for console, grab your fuzzy Wonkers and let's jump right in.
It's been many years since I last played a Dreamfall game but I have completed each one in their entirety so I can safely say that Dreamfall Chapters brings the series much closer to the current generation of console gaming. After recently finishing Syberia 3, Dreamfall Chapters shines in comparison and makes it clear which of the two is the best recent adventure game.
Dreamfall Chapters is broken up into five books, each with multiple chapters. Every book took me around ten hours to complete making this the lengthiest adventure game that I have ever played. What's great about Chapters is that the story starts out intriguing and never once drops that momentum while unraveling parts of each character's story piece by piece and going deeper and deeper into the plot, tackling more intense subject matter as it continues. You not only follow Zoe's journey set in the futuristic city of Europolis but also Kian's, an Azadi warrior travelling around the medieval-inspired Arcadia. Interludes between the books will introduce you to a third character that ages as time goes on, making it one of the few games out there where you get to play as a baby.
At the beginning of the adventure, Zoe's goals are two-fold: regain her memories that she lost after being put into a coma at the end of the previous game and continue her political activist duties as she fights to keep stability in both her own life and other Europolians. Meanwhile, Kian is trapped in a prison tower where a riot has broken out by someone wanting a favour from him for their help in letting him escape. He soon finds himself on the other side of a war, working for the resistance (a group focused on helping those with magical abilities stand up against the magic-hating Azadis).
There are many similarities in the worlds that Zoe and Kian are native to which adds another layer to the interesting storytelling. For example, the world of Europolis is locked down with soldiers in the streets and there's a constant tension between those who agree with the Marxist way of life and those who want the opposite. Comparatively, Marcuria in Arcadia struggles with the constant fight between the old-school Azadis and the more progressive magical people, again with guards constantly checking citizens' credentials and the magical resistance persistently threatening to take the city back. The atmosphere of both worlds can be compared to that of the World War II era, a time in real life history with no lack of interesting stories to dive in to.
Dreamfall takes the idea of a player changing the course of a game to a whole new level. There are countless times when you'll be forced to make a decision no matter how hard it may be and then see the consequences unfold on multiple occasions later into the plot. When you're making a decision, an icon will display that makes it abundantly clear that what you decide to do at this point may cause a shift in the course of time and dramatically alter the rest of your gaming experience.
This mechanism means that you could play this extremely lengthy adventure game once and not even have experienced half of what it has to offer. When you're forced to explain your actions to another character, you can't help but feel guilty when trying to clarify a difficult choice you had to make that altered their timeline for the worse. This is simply the best implementation of a choice-driven narrative that I've ever seen. It really makes your choices matter and permeates them deep into the story.
Dreamfall Chapters' presentation can be compared to a solid PS3 title. It's not truly next-gen but it still looks pretty great. The towns that you spend most of your time in are very large for an adventure game, making it easy to get lost and have to constantly check your map. There's a painstaking level of detail to keep you occupied as you wonder the streets looking for your next waypoint. Europolis is covered in digital commercials for dream machines and political ads, really driving home what's on the minds of its inhabitants (although for those hooked on the dream machines, unfortunately it isn't much). The city of Marcuria has many back alleys with winding staircases and wonky stone buildings with blue-skinned magicals walking the streets trying to stay out of the way of guards and ill-intentioned Azadis.
However, one thing that will pull you out of the atmosphere is the NPC chatter. Phrases they say repeat all the time, making it obvious that you're in a video game and not the magical worlds you're supposed to be ensconced in. The first scene for Kian has guards and prisoners repeating the same phrases over and over again and it didn't make a good first impression for me. Speaking of dialog, there are quite a few lines that are unnecessarily crude as if they're trying to appeal to the humour of young boys. If these lines were removed, you wouldn't miss anything in the story and hearing them pulls you out of the otherwise immersive world.
Dreamfall Chapters keeps the gameplay quite light as it has you spend most of your time walking around and finding people to talk to then making a decision of some kind. To remind yourself of your next goal, you press a button to bring up a simple prompt. Sometimes, this prompt can be too abstract, making you hug every wall while looking for an indicator to tell you what to interact with or who to talk to next. If you pay attention to the dialog closely and don't take a long break between playing sessions, you'll do fine but otherwise, you'll occasionally need to use a guide. The map system is very basic and you won't have many chances to see a waypoint actually display on it so it's up to you to follow some general verbal directions to find the next place to go.
When you're not walking around and talking to people, you'll be searching for objects to accomplish a task such as pieces of a firework to distract a guard or keys to open manholes. Combining items is also part of the gameplay but it's used sparingly and usually quite obvious what objects you need to combine. Other elements of gameplay are mixed in on a one-off basis to mix it up a little. For example, when playing as Kian, you'll find yourself closely observing and sniffing individuals at a rally to find a traitor based on some dubious and vague instructions. Having said this, I would still welcome some actual puzzles that require thought. This is something that Syberia 3 actually did better than Dreamfall Chapters and if it was similarly implemented here, it would knock this adventure out of the park.
Dreamfall Chapters is a lengthy and entertaining game with an enthralling narrative. The minor annoyances won't stop me from recommending it to any fan of adventure games or even someone who simply wants to enjoy a solid story.
- + Captivating story that follows the journey of multiple protagonists
- + Deeply illustrated and immersive worlds
- + Best-in-class decision-driven story-line
- - Repetitive and sometimes crude dialog
- - Vague direction makes it difficult to pick up between gaming sessions
- - Basic gameplay without any real challenge