Eleven years. It does take a little bit of time to get your head around that length of time, and especially when it comes to getting a sequel to a video game. But knowing and understanding how long it has taken to bring this gaming series to console will help once you hit that start button. Dreamfall Chapters is the sequel to The Longest Journey, first released on PC in 2006 with the sequel coming in 2014. Now in 2017 the sequel, which was an episodic series when it launched, has come to consoles in a GOTY style with all the episodes blended together for one complete experience. I had heard about this series but had never played it and as a fan of Telltale Games I was intrigued to see what another developer team would do using the same formula.
The story follows two characters in two very different worlds which are connected by similar events, with the mystery being resolved as you move through the chapters. We first meet Zoe who lives in a distant future world where a company has created a device which allows people to live inside their dreams and fantasies in a glorified VR experience. Staying in that experience too long can lead to some becoming lost and trapped in their dreams risking their lives. We find Zoe, who is in a coma, being able to interact with people suffering and aiding them in breaking the hold allowing them to return to the real world. Next we meet Zian, a fallen warrior currently in prison who after fighting to escape joins a resistance group. This world is one of magic and fantasy with different races a far distant one from that of Zoe.
At first I had the expectation that this would be like a Telltale Game in that it would simply be on the rails and making decisions along the way to progress the story and influencing events. I was surprised to find that it was more like the old school point and click games blended in with the player choice aspect of modern episodic games. Completing each chapter will give you the comparisons of decisions you made compared with those that other players have made. Those decisions do shape events in the game as well as relationships with some of the most detailed dialogue I have experienced in such a game. The contrast between the main characters Zoe and Zian are striking, and experience of controlling both is fun as you explore both their worlds with Zoe standing out as a more complex character in her dialogue exchanges.
As a sequel, Dreamfall Chapters features a lot of references and nods to the original game and sadly it does very little to try and bring newcomers to this game up to speed with previous events. That can mean the overall experience will feel far more rewarded for those who played and remember The Longest Journey and a little overwhelming for those new to it as they will miss some of the references. I do like that this game has very little hand holding and instead tries to immediately put the player into the worlds of Zoe and Zian so they can find their feet in them, but I did feel I lost out on not having played the first with no recapping of events within the game’s narrative.
The pacing can also be a hindrance at times, especially when playing as Zoe with some dialogue exchanges having a vast amount of options to explore which can be entertaining thanks to the writing but can also feel tedious with the impulse to just skip it in order to get back on point. The adventure game element comes into play here as well adding a new frustration as you move from location to location which for example Telltale would simply skip in order to get you to the action but here it is a case of walking to each location. The clumsiness of the controls on console as well can be a pain at times with some environmental interactions requiring some very annoying precision placement of the character instead of having a pointer to highlight the target and simply sending your character to go interact with it. When trying to uncover evidence or items to solve a puzzle, this clumsiness can easily result in mission a clue which is very frustrating. It would have been nice in the time since this came to PC before console, some time was put into refining the control system for use on a pad over a mouse and keyboard.
Dreamfall Chapters is an impressive example of dual path story telling that as the player you can see working very well as an episodic experience. By putting them all together it does lose that sense with some negative side effects, which at times can detract from the narrative and overall experience. The characters are so well designed however, with good writing for each and their respective worlds with the dialogue alone being the most natural and intelligent I have come across in this genre for some time. The slow pace definitely makes this a game to dip into and out of more than sitting down for long settings, coming back to the original episodic release of the chapters. If you did play the original Longest Journey than Chapters will offer a rewarding conclusion of Zoe’s and Zian’s stories but newcomers will still be able to enjoy it although you will be left feeling you missed out on the overall story depth.
It certainly offers a different gaming experience than recent Telltale Games with a level of intricate detail last seen in Life is Strange. It does offer a lot and thankfully the negatives do not overpower the positives this game has. It could have benefited from some refinement in the controls for console but it is certainly worth the attention for fans of player choice and old style point and click game styles.