7: Dreamfall

Publisher: Aspyr
Developer: Funcom
Year: 2006
Platform: Windows, Xbox, Xbox 360

Randal Graves: Which did you like better? Jedi or The Empire Strikes Back?

Dante Hicks: Empire.

Randal Graves: Blasphemy!

Dante Hicks: Empire had the better ending. I mean, Luke gets his hand cut off, finds out Vader’s his father, Han gets frozen and taken away by Boba Fett. It ends on such a down note. I mean, that’s what life is, a series of down endings. All Jedi had was a bunch of Muppets.

ReviewDreamfall, probably the most anticipated adventure game ever, is the sequel to The Longest Journey, a surprising gem that was released out of Scandinavia, circa 1999. Seven years between installments creates unbelievably high expectations (see: Star Wars, Terminator). Fans tend to judge sequels with extra scrutiny, demanding marked improvement in entertainment whilst remaining true to the original. The long wait multiplies the scrutiny exponentially. Essentially, producer Ragnar Tørnquist had virtually no room for error. Roberta Williams could release crap like King’s Quest II and get away with it, because the prequel was still on the shelves, and the sequel was coming right up. With production time longer than most any movie, and those critics pining for eternity, Dreamfall had the bases loaded with two outs, down by three runs. And it hit a bases-clearing triple (and then–according to a faithful reader–was so exhausted it blew chunks).

Dreamfall eschews the classic point’n’click 2-D environment that worked well in the prequel and instead tries on a 3-D environment for size, a medium that has come a long way since Mask Of Eternity. It works here. You guide a new cute but aimless lass, Zoë Castillo, much like April Ryan before her. Thankfully, she comes off as less whiny and sarcastic, and therefore even more appealing than the prior heroine. Of course, this is Longest Journey, so Zoë reluctantly becomes wrapped up in a plot to save the world, or worlds, as is the case in this fantasy.

As the plot thickens, you also have the opportunity to play as two other primary characters, April Ryan and Kian. April has become jaded over the years but is admirably helping the good guys fight a war. Kian is a mercenary on the other side of that war, who strongly believes his cause is the right one. Naturally, Zoë gets tangled in the middle, with little clue as to what’s going on.

Unlike TLJ, Dreamfall is not an inventory based adventure. All focus here went to the characters and the plot, mostly for the better. Puzzles almost always fit seamlessly into the story as real-world obstacles, and no rubber chickens come into play. Only one pointless fetching puzzle comes to mind, and while there are some locks with keys to be found, they are realistic and not all too difficult to solve. In fact, the puzzles do not exist for challenge, but rather for pacing, and Dreamfall is one of the better paced adventures I’ve ever played.

One of my criticisms of TLJ was that despite the existence of a suspenseful plot, there was no risk to be had in any decision. While Dreamfall is easy, there is plenty of risk. I probably kicked the bucket a good dozen times. There are several times where you must fight other characters, though this is very easy with just a little bit of practice. Slightly more difficult are stealth missions, where Zoë must crawl and sneak around enemies undetected, lest a difficult battle or instant death ensue. This simple addition kept me focused on survival, thus allowing myself to appreciate more fully the calmer moments the game has to offer. And lest you worry about play control, the game offers three different methods of playing: mouse, keyboard and mouse, and gamepad. I opted for the dual-analog controller, which provided more ease of movement.

The crowning achievement here, as intended, is the story. Caring about Zoë’s fate is incredibly easy, especially when you meet her uber-cute automaton pet, whose affection for Zoë is programmed but deserved. Conversation is handled beautifully, and while what you say unfortunately is of no consequence to the plot, the illusion of choice diffuses TLJ’s problem, that of endlessly droning chatter. Well detailed faces with satisfactory lip-syncing help emphasize the emotion of each character. And perhaps most important, the voice acting is out of this world. For starters, Ellie Conrad-Leigh, who plays Zoë, has one of the sexiest British accents I’ve heard. Many characters in addition to April Ryan reprise their previous roles, as do the most of the same actors who played them seven years ago. The best performance after Zoë is put in by Crow, who is so rip-roaringly funny (and suddenly PG-13) I doubled over on multiple occasions. His one-liners alone made the game worth the cost.

Sadly, as with all good things, they come to an end. And in this case, way too soon. Fifteen hours of gameplay seems to be the average, and while that is acceptable, the way the game ends is not. In comparison to The Empire Strikes Back, the game ends with many loose ends, not all of them optimistic. And while it is obvious that the intention is to have a final episode to complete the story, the end comes too abruptly and with little satisfaction. At least with Empire, there were some hints as to what might come next. Dreamfall is littered with confusion.

Fans have known a sequel was coming for several years, though had one not been finished, TLJ would have been able to stand on its own triumphantly. Dreamfall, on the other hand, is so obviously dependent on a sequel that if one isn’t completed, fans will feel especially cheated. The final game is scheduled to come out in November of 2014, so we’ll see what another eight years of development can do for the series.  For years it was stated that it would only be released on game consoles, but now it thankfully appears to be slated for the computer (with the possibility of porting it to consoles) because that’s where most of the series’ fans play their games.  Let’s just hope it doesn’t contain any Muppets.

Contemporary RatingHigh.

Cruelty Rating: Merciful.  When you die, you’ll be brought back to the beginning of any dangerous event to try it over.

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4 thoughts on “7: Dreamfall

  1. Meh, I would rank TLJ higher still. The gameplay was totally dumbed down. As a fan of the first more puzzle based game, I wasn’t looking to go on stealth sequences, engage in combat and go on pointless fetching expeditions just to advance the story.

    Then the mess of the story at the end… Maybe all can be forgiven after the third one comes out, but this one left me very unsatisfied.

    • As I said I only recall one pointless fetching expedition, and the original game had its own fetching puzzles as well. But it is story-driven and it’s obvious the designer didn’t want the player to ever get stuck. I just really liked the story and the characters a lot better. And I loved the stealth sequences. I do wish there had been more puzzles, though.

  2. I never got very far in Dreamfall, mostly I think because I sucked at the martial art stuff . . . I agree with Ryan, I don’t like the combat scenes. I haven’t played the game in ages, would like to go back to it some day, but I’d probably have to start from the beginning again. Another thing I don’t like about the game is that you have to have the initial disc in your CD drive to play, which slows down going from one scene to another, when accessing the drive. If I remember right, The Longest Journey was that way, too? Can’t say much else about it, since I didn’t get far enough in it to compare it to Longest Journey (which I totally loved).

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