Before the full game of Dreamscaper is released for Early Access this August 14, I wanted to play the Prologue that was made available for PC players to give my initial impressions. It only contains the opening chapter to the mind-bending project by Afterburner Studios, and it’s enough to get a taste and comprehension as to what Dreamscaper will provide.
The game recommends using a gamepad for the “best experience” when playing through the dream levels. Taking the suggestion, I inserted my wireless USB to connect my controller to see why it was preferred. After this message, the game proceeds to the opening scene of a tutorial envisioned through a “Dungeons of the Immortal” fictional video game. You play as Cassidy through these steps, quickly becoming accustomed to its mechanics and controls of fighting, rolling, collecting particles of Sands, and utilizing lucid powers. The keyboard and mouse method didn’t suit the playstyle fairly since the twin-stick movements would be too swift with a mouse. It’s here when I got used to relying on the controller for a more fluid playthrough.
Descend Into A Different World in Dreamscaper
Cassidy’s game crashes, and she’s left alone in her quiet apartment. As she prepares to lie down for bed, she falls through the mattress and enters a strange plane of existence. The top-down shooting dungeon crawler infuses with action rogue-lite elements the moment you step foot through a portal to the next room, encountering a few different types of enemies. Some can throw spears or shoot out deadly orbs of light (both of which can be parried), a few can strike you up close and personal, and one small special kind that spins itself into a projectile toward your direction. With each defeated enemy, they drop Sand for you to gather up and use at the dream trade area where you buy (or recycle unwanted resources for) upgrades for Cassidy to prevail against her nightmares.
Dreamscaper‘s primary combat system is reminiscent of many well-known dungeon crawlers while remaining simplistic in its gameplay delivery. You’re equipped with both a melee and ranged weapon, two types of defenses (one for shield use, one for rolling), two lucid attacks, lucid awakening (the ability to slow down time), and an open slot for keepsakes you can find throughout each dreamscape dive. All of these can be swapped for upgraded items that you stumble upon in-between battles – except for lucid awakening, which appears to be a permanent ability you can use for whatever procedural-generated area.
Some rooms contain puzzles, pillar trades, and resource fountains that will aid in your journey through the nightmares. Puzzles can unlock special keepsakes or weapons, the pillars can trade one resource with Cassidy in favor for something of her own, and the fountains can replenish her health or magic bars in case one of the two depletes due to violence. Be mindful of popping challenges that randomly come about every other enemy encounter; there’s a big chance that a useful keepsake could be in store if you were to prevail whatever obstacle it tasks for you to accomplish.
A Peaceful Listen
As the dream went on, I found the music to be exceptionally relaxing, as if I was listening to bits of the Minecraft score all over again. I would run across from area to area, taking my time; I barely even utilized the fast-travel feature because of how calming the music was. You also get a nice dish of epic melodies served to you when you battle your enemies, especially when it came time for me to face the dream’s final boss. Even when I would die just to repeat the whole level, I always looked forward to listening to the background tunes whenever Cassidy landed back into the dreamworld.
Throughout the dreamscape, not only can you collect Sands for resource trading, you can absorb fragments of Solace, Insight, and Bliss to craft gifts in the real world. With these gifts (accessible through your dream journal), you can present them to your neighborhood mates that you meet in the town of Redhaven. There are four close friends that you continually become acquainted with, each with their personality, interests, and connection to Cassidy. As your bonds grow through conversation and gift-giving, Cassidy will eventually be rewarded with dream toys and skills she can use to battle her inner demons.
However, there is no spoken dialogue in Dreamscaper, leaving it up to the player to mentally voice their side characters as the narrative goes on. For some, this might be a slight issue if you’re intrigued in hearing how they speak; for the rest, I believe it gives us a chance to relate Cassidy’s friends to our real-life companions. As aforementioned, each friend of Cassidy’s are charming in their unique way, and none of the characters have a face in the game. Perhaps it’s up to us to picture what they would sound and look like, to feel a connection with the art and themes of Dreamscaper. Perhaps, it’s a magical side-effect of Cassidy’s depressive manifestations of fear and anxiety, which is why she battles her nightmares so that she could – one day – see the real picture to everything around her. I think it’s a nice touch to the game’s art style, and it works very well with the colliding worlds of a breathing life with a fearful one.
Before You Dreamscape
The only upsetting factor to Dreamscaper would have to be the punishing combat when you enter Part 2 of the Hometown dreamscape. At first, it was fair fighting. The beginning enemies and the oceanic leviathan were worthy trials of hit-and-shoot, but the enemy strikes and lives are practically doubled when you continue after the first boss fight. A few attacks from two enemies on your side can lead to a low health bar, increasing the anxious gameplay when you constantly remind yourself of the permadeath feature you will inevitably face. I played through Part 2 several times because of an unfair strike or two while I was trying to dodge out of the fighting piles, no matter what keepsakes or powers I had. I can only hope for a tune-up on the combat system because everything else in Dreamscaper is simply wonderful to experience and learn from.
Verdict: Truly, I’m very much looking forward to what Dreamscaper turns out to be when it comes out for Early Access on the 14th. Even though this was the opening chapter to the full game, I got an incredible sense of what to anticipate from Dreamscaper. The story is off to a great start with Cassidy’s connections to her friends and her on-going battle with depression in the form of bizarre dreamscapes. Many of the controls feel familiar, and the overall gameplay is quite smooth and responsive. Its art and animation make it one of a kind, and the music is a nice little treat to listen to when playing through the real world and Cassidy’s troubles with her negative demons and emotions. The combat can be fun and engaging at times, but its brutal approach with enemies in Part 2 might be frustrating to those who have played similar rogue-lite titles.