|Platform Win, Mac|
|Publisher Red Thread Games|
|Developer Red Thread Games|
|Release Date April 2014|
Dreamfall Chapters - Book 1: Reborn is the most interesting table-setter I've ever played.
To say that Chapters is long-awaited is something of an understatement. It’s been more than eight years since the release of its predecessor, Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, in which heroine Zoe Castillo’s story ended on a sharp cliffhanger. Split into two universes — a futuristic cyberpunk world called Stark and the fantasy world of Arcadia — Book 1 wants to provide both immediate closure on its past journey and enough intrigue to jumpstart a new one.
Despite having little in the way of substantial story content, Book 1 of Dreamfall Chapters makes even the mundane seem fun and adventurous. It couples a believable, superbly written lead character with complex decisions in a promising start to the next entry of The Longest Journey.
Dreamfall Chapters opens after the events of Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, in which Arcadian Kian Alvane was imprisoned for treason and Zoe forced into a coma. While her physical body sleeps, kept alive only by machines, her subconscious mind roams the strange, undefined place known as Storytime. Kian, who for now plays only a brief role in Chapters, awaits death for his crimes.
This initial imprisonment for both characters is temporary, and players are quickly swept back into Stark to reclaim some semblance of normalcy for Zoe. Book 1 of Dreamfall Chapters is a slice-of-life experience that, for the most part, follows a single day in Zoe’s life in the city of Propast. I spent time with my therapist, went to work and helped with a political campaign. Peppered in between these big-picture goals were smaller interactions and choices that promise to affect relationships in future episodes.
Book 1 is more about planting these seeds for future consequences than exploring them. During conversations, I was able to select my response through simple dialogue choices. Some outcomes seem more obviously telegraphed. Fighting with Zoe’s boyfriend, for example, appears more likely to cause a rift in the relationship than if I were to drop the issue. Others choices are more complicated, and some are downright silly, like deciding what kind of lunch to buy.
I lost count of the number of times I was told that characters would remember my actions, but I encountered only a few major differences based on those choices in this episode. The largest deviation, a response I gave early on, determined Zoe’s occupation and directly affected the characters I came in contact with.
Dreamfall Chapters makes these details interesting by portraying them as grounded snapshots that reflect Zoe’s character. For each option I hovered over, Zoe would discuss the response internally. It’s an elegant solution to adding weight to every choice and removing the black-and-white nature of decision-based narratives. A chatty afternoon with my therapist seemed harmless enough as I selected generic options for small talk, but it was Zoe herself who tipped me off to the flirty nature the conversation would take. I was able to make decisions that felt informed, and it was an effective way to shift Zoe’s character while still making her feel well-defined and believable.
It’s an elegant solution to adding weight to every choice
Zoe feels more like an old girlfriend from college than a character created with pen and paper. Her offhanded quips are sometimes sharp, sometimes goofy — the kind you’d expect while running errands with a friend. Having access to her thoughts via internal dialogue and a diary helps develop her as a layered, multifaceted character. Despite pushing on with her life, she’s frustrated and confused about her family and her past. She struggles to make new friends in a new city — an experience that I can relate to all too well. It’s these inner conflicts, these motivations that feel so very human, that establish her as one of the most charming characters I’ve ever encountered in a video game. I loved spending time with her, even when that time was built around simple, sometimes frustrating errands.
Figuring out which items to use when is satisfying and intuitive
During my first day as Zoe, I spent time bartering with merchants and cruising around town with a robot companion. While movement is controlled through simple keyboard options, Dreamfall Chapters uses a point-and-click system to interact with people and objects. Items are stashed away in an inventory menu that can be pulled up with a keyboard click; as you collect more, you can combine key items by dragging them on top of each other. Presenting items to a specific person, or using them correctly — like dragging a key into a lock — solved most of the puzzles I encountered.
Figuring out which items to use when is satisfying and intuitive, but using your mouse controls to, say, direct your robot to do something specific can be downright infuriating. In one particularly annoying segment, I had to deliver verbal, directional orders to navigate my robot around a grid. This amounted to me doling out click-by-click commands by selecting a direction and waiting for the robot to move. In a game as short as Chapters, it felt like a slow, clunky way to spend my time.
Dreamfall Chapters - Book 1 is a tantalizing taste of what's to come
Dreamfall Chapters - Book 1: Reborn revels in the details. As the first act in a longer story to come, it rewards you with effective writing in the moment for taking your time and deliberating over the smallest decisions. It’s still too early to tell how satisfying the payoff for these divergences will be, but Book 1 isn’t about consequences. It’s a series of small, deliberate steps that efficiently clears the way for longer, more exciting strides.
Dreamfall Chapters - Book 1: Reborn was reviewed using a download code for Mac and Windows PC. You can read more on Polygon's ethics policy here.About Polygon's Reviews