Developer: Red Thread Games
Publisher: Red Thread Games
More Info: Dreamfall: Chapters, Red Thread Games
Dreamfall Chapters is not like other episodic games, it seems. Other than the fact that I’m now two episodes in (or Books, or whatever) and yet I’ve played for 11 hours, there’s the fact that it’s got puzzles. Puzzles! Actual puzzles! Do you remember what those are like? Ye gods.
But yeah, 11 hours. I finished Dreamfall Chapters‘ first Book with five hours on my magical Steam clock, which would imply that the second book took me around six hours (but a bit less if we factor in time spent paused, alt-tabbed, or wandering back for screenshots). Anyone who’s played pretty much any episodic fare from anyone else over the past two years will likely be clapping their hands over their mouths in shock at this, because most of those tend to last three hours at the absolute maximum – and the length is a good thing! Mostly. Sort of. Um. We’ll get to that.
Spoilers for Book One staaaart… now.
Book Two picks up roughly where the first left off. In Arcadia, Kian’s out of prison and in the hands of the Marcurian rebels, while in Stark, Zoe is dabbling in politics and trying to remember her past.
At least, I think that’s the case, because a few decisions I made in Book One appear to have definitely changed things in Book Two. I can’t say for sure without going back and making different decisions, but I’m definitely getting the impression that my decisions are having some impact – more than I do with a lot of Telltale’s games, at least. If that doesn’t sound like what happened in your game at all, then hey, we’ve got our answer.
Anyway, I digress. Book Two is where, if this was a buddy cop movie, someone would be saying “Shit just got real.” More gameplay. More wandering. More characters. A lot more overarching plot, moral quandries, and general worries.
Pretty much the entirety of Kian’s story in the first Book came down to his prison escape – a very constrained and linear section which was basically Baby’s First Puzzle Solving Experience. Here, he’s very quickly recruited into the rebellion and given three tasks to complete in Marcuria, which you can deal with in pretty much whatever order you like. There’s a spot of sabotage, a meeting with a potential ally, and a mole hunt. All very exciting.
Once you’re done with his bits and pieces (some of which can actually be failed, and no, I have no idea what consequences will result from that) it’s back to Zoe, who’s still trying to do a task for boat-bound mastermind Queenie on the streets of the dystopian Europolis, which has somehow become even more dystopian between games. There’s a heavier police presence, fewer people on the streets, more checkpoints, and just more general unpleasantness. And then it’s back to Kian. Etc.
Both characters have more wandering to do and more puzzles to solve; at any given time you’ve usually got two or three tasks to accomplish, and – with a few exceptions – it’s up to you to choose which order you want to do them in. Sort of like… well, sort of like an actual adventure game. I’m sorry, I’m still surprised by that.
The actual quality of what you’re doing, though, varies wildly. There are no use-rollerskate-on-UFO puzzles here, but there are quite a few dull fetch quests that require you to walk from A to B and then back to A again. Making this a little more problematic is that both Marcuria and Europolis are huge; even if you know where you’re going, it’ll often take a couple of minutes to stroll across them.
This wasn’t such a big problem in Book One because that only factored into the Europolis section, and there were plenty of items to examine and lots of atmosphere to soak in. In Book Two, though… well, I did all that in Europolis a few months ago so now walking back and forth is just a bit tedious, and while it’s lovely to see Marcuria again, there isn’t a great deal to examine or toy around with. Hmm.
The puzzles themselves run the full gamut from “great” to “awful”. It’s hard to get stuck for long, even with the size of the areas – most of the time, what you need is near to where you have to use it, so a bit of logical thought will get you to the solution in time. One puzzle, involving distracting one of the futuristic super-soldiers that are Europolis’ police force, caused me to clap my hands with glee when I realised the remarkably elegant solution.
On the other hand, the puzzle right before that had me wander the entire city several times as part of its solution. And then there’s another puzzle which had me stumped for awhile due to interface issues – it turned out I had the right solution for the puzzle, but Dreamfall Chapters wasn’t accepting the way I was doing it. So… yeah, it’s a mixed bag, but it’s rare for them to be any worse than “generally inoffensive.”
So: proper adventuring. Areas to explore. Actual puzzles. I just haven’t talked about the things which are probably most important to Dreamfall Chapters: the story, the plot, and the characters.
I… really, really like the way all of this is shaping up. The characters are still utterly fantastic, which is in no small way because of the writing. My beloved Shitbot didn’t turn up much, but two characters that could so very easily have been horribly annoying turned out to be two of my favourites in the Book.
The first is Enu, who could be described as hyperactive catgirl with a serious problem of jamming her foot in her mouth whenever her mouth opens. What could’ve been an unbelievably annoying character is instead immensely likeable and sweet.
The second is Bip, a tiny street urchin. He actually is annoying (because he’s a tiny street urchin), but he’s annoying in a way that… well, it’s a character trait. When I see him, I’m not moaning to myself “oh no, it’s him again” outside of the game; I’m moaning that as someone invested in the game. Which is a tiny but very, very crucial difference. He’s a believable character. An irritating one, sure, but one I can actually see as a person. I have no idea if that made any sense. Sorry.
All of this extends to the primary characters, too, with my decisions shaping Kian and Zoe in ways I’m not entirely comfortable with. I don’t know how much of an impact these decisions will have on the way the story arcs out, but in terms of defining them and their relationships, it does feel like it’s having an effect. I’m deciding how “Azadi” Kian still is, or how repentant and apologetic; I’m deciding how desperately Zoe wants to remember and how her relationship is going. And then there’s the big overarching plot, which – in this episode – starts to come into focus a little bit more.
There are major decisions, too, some of which are starting to have an impact. This episode sucker-punched me when I walked into a horrible situation, and the text at the top of the screen coldly stated “Your actions have led you to this point.” Thanks, game. It’s good to know I’m to blame for that shit.
Dreamfall Chapters Book Two isn’t perfect, in any way, but it’s glorious in its imperfections. Some of the animations are a little rough. Some of the walking around and fetch-questing is a bit tedious. It’s all still infinitely better than Dreamfall, though, and I’m very happy to see the return of Actual Puzzles… and even if all of this stuff was rubbish, I’d still be enjoying pretty much every minute of it.
I wasn’t kidding when I said that the important things are the story, the plot, and the characters; this could be a completely linear game with marginal interaction and I would slate it for that, but I’d still be enjoying the hell out of it. That’s how much I like these characters and how much I’m loving being back in this world.
So for now, I’m still deliriously happy with Dreamfall Chapters because it’s Dreamfall Chapters and it’s perfect in pretty much every way that actually matters to me. You might be a lot more annoyed by some of the time-wasting or the minor frustrations, and I absolutely can’t blame you for that. There’s still a lot of time left for the plot to disappoint me, too – but for now, I’m really liking everything that matters to me.