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Dreamfall Chapters: Book One - Reborn  (PC) artwork

Dreamfall Chapters: Book One - Reborn (PC) review

"Or else I won't come back at all."

Dreamfall: Chapters is the least angry Iíve ever been with a sequel.

Thatís a pretty backhanded compliment now I see it taken physical form on a page rather than floating around the confines of my head, but the newest Dreamfall title could have gone so very wrong. Itís the direct follow-up to a game that ended on a cliff-hanger finale initially released over eight years ago, and thatís a long time to be waiting for a sense of conclusion. Creator, Ragnar TÝrnquist, once again heads the project, but does so at the helm of his own company with the series rights licensed from Funcom. This moves the project from an established developer to whatís effectively a well-backed indie group; to get off the ground, Chapters was not only kickstarted by fans, but received funding from the Norwegian film society. Perhaps due to the time gap, itís not been able to always source returning voice actors and its development has been an interesting thing to track. Originally planned as a series of episodes, this was scrapped in favour of a fully fleshed-out release before an episodic structure was reinstated once more. Break my heart though it might, I was not expecting this particular saga to end well. Iím delighted to (thus far) have been proven wrong.

Despite claiming to be easily accessible to new players, Chapters does away with easing in and jumps right back into the twinned worlds of cyperpunkish Stark and fantasy Arcadia. Previous protagonist, ZoŽ Castillo, is trapped between the two words in a limbo known as ĎStorytimeí where she whittles away her hours trying to save people from manufactured nightmares and watching a projection of her physical form rot away in a hospital bed. Itís purposefully vague in her role, bestowing upon her certain powers that you need to fiddle around with to discover the meaning of as she wades into other peopleís minds like an angelic Freddy Kruger. Iím at odds to delve much further into this Ė I guess the statute of limitations for spoilers has long been reasonably eclipsed on an eight year old game, but, I dunno, reasons, I guess. Itís a pre-established story of such worth Iíd rather walk on eggshells now then potentially taint it for any of you coming in new that might be tempted to revisit the earlier games. Sheís suck in limbo and she needs to get out. Thatís a good enough way to succinctly explain it while at the same time being exactly wrong.

So, letís talk about Kian instead, because Iíve no issue ruining his earlier role. Kian was an excuse to push a clumsy, almost-broken combat system in the last game and has rightly been imprisoned for it. Or it might have been less meta, and is for rebelling against his religious doctrine instead. His reintroduction takes place in the midst of an off-screen prison riot where he needs to make his way to the top of a tower while being very slowly chased by guardsmen. This highlights a lot of positives, the first being that, at no point, does he ever fight anyone letting me live in the heady hope that TÝrnquist has learnt from the biggest of his last titleís errors. Itís dotted by inventory puzzles that err or the side of overly easy and existing for the sake of having inventory puzzles. One dilemma exists purely in the realms of lateral adventure game logic where you will likely come to the solution purely because of the limited interactive items you have at your disposal, rather than because it makes sense. The other tasks you with constructing a rudimentary torch, ignoring the fact you need to traipse back and forth past an already lit candle on a desk to do so.

Comparisons to the Telltale formula rolled out with The Walking Dead are going to be impossible to avoid; there are moralistic choices to make that are openly concluded with ĒX Will Remember ThatÖ.Ē, but it would be unfair to suggest that Dreamfall: Chapters doesnít have its own take on the process. A seemingly mundane choice massively alters ZoŽís life outside of Storytime, providing two very different paths for her to follow. Making these choices is also given a lot more depth than you might be used to; immediately available to you is the percentage split of previous players and which decision they went with. The choices themselves are highlighted with inner monologues so you know exactly what the condensed verbal prompts youíre picking between mean. They feel impactful, like they matter. You donít have to wait long before you discover that they actually do.

Everything comes together once you find yourself exploring the expansive mass of Europolis; the huge sprawling megapolis that now covers most of Europe. Promises of what this might become as a hub are hinted at through guarded checkpoints barred with flickering blue laser. Itís all very dystopian, with artificial suns offered as perks to living in run-down apartment blocks to try and offset the permanently grey skies. Neon lights and holographic sculptures vie for attention along with talking maps fronted by cartoon cowboy crows (Crowboy, for those who recognise the reference) and spam-spewing ad bots floating around like pesky flies. Itís easy to get lost in the Chinese market of food stalls and have-a-go merchants, or wandering up through levels stacked on top of each other in the search for your next goal, or just for the sake of poking around. Stop to chat to one vender, and he waxes dreary philosophical about how he feels like a bit player in someone elseís story and that he doesnít even known what heís supposed to be selling itís so unimportant in his efforts to move you on.

If Dreamfall: Chapters did anything to belay my fears, itís moments like this. The gameís setting is fantastic, and the premise has potential, but itís genuinely funny and engaging. New voice actors reveal in the confused and the dramatic, but nail the stuttering uncertainty, the mounting hostility and the sheer ludicrous aimed at making players smile. Chapters is just as happy to poke fun at itself as it is to openly mock you, and does so with a sense of confidence that makes you want to hunt down the mumbling NPCs and interactive hotspots just to see what might happen next. Checking out a rubbish bin will lead ZoŽ to inner monologue about how she secretly thinks theyíre part of a shadowy conspiracy, while showing an interest in various vending machines will offer you such tempting morsels as crispy jellyfish bits. In these moments of light-heartedness, the series harkens back to the tight script in the The Longest Journey, while at the same time, offering a small slice of the exploration and fleshed out lore of Dreamfall. It has intoxicating moments where it realises the best of both worlds. I canít find it in me to be disappointed in that. I can only hold future episodes to that same expectation, and wait.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (October 28, 2014)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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zippdementia posted October 29, 2014:

I really want to play this. I was a huge Longest Journey fan (and lesser fan of Dreamfall) and I do believe I get some kind of free access for having helped fund this one.
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EmP posted October 30, 2014:

I still openly adore Dreamfall. It made some stupid choices to try and appeal to the fabled 'wider audience' by dropping in clumsy and stupid stealth and combat sections, but that it opened up TLJ's world to exploration and then had the nerve to beat it hands down in pure storytelling go a long way to righting those wrongs. The whole Faith hook -- especially the last third of it -- still stands as one of the brightest moments in gaming for me.
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disco1960 posted November 02, 2014:

Oh, man. I went and got the Special Edition, because I'm stupid.
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EmP posted November 04, 2014:

The Special edition of what? I am confused -- this is confusing.

(welcome back!)
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disco1960 posted November 04, 2014:

You didn't know? Steam was selling a Dreamfall Chapters "Special Edition" that includes the soundtrack, desktop wallpapers, and some other stuff.

And I was like, "Yeah! Take my money."

I feel like basically all they need to do is to avoid music puzzles or rubber ducky shenanigans and the game'll be awesome.

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EmP posted November 05, 2014:

Oh man, that music puzzle can rot in hell. I had managed to forget that existed, and now hate you a little for reminding me.

There's actually a hidden poster in the game's hub that teases the ducky.

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