I am a huge fan of The Longest Journey franchise, so you can bet the moment the Kickstarter for Dreamfall Chapters went online I threw my money at it. And now that the first chapter is out, let me say that it's not the most exciting opening, but it does do some serious world building.
Note: As this game is a direct sequel to Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, there will be major spoilers for that game within this article.
Dreamfall Chapters: Book One: Reborn spends a lot of its time introducing and then fleshing out each of its three distinct settings. The game opens with our hero, Zoë Castillo, still in a coma. But while her body may be close to death, her soul is living on in the Storytime -- a place between the two worlds that all people enter when they dream. In the time since Dreamfall, Zoë has become a master of this dream world environment and spends her time saving those stuck in nightmares with her various dream-altering powers.
As Zoë jumps from dream to dream, we learn not only about her powers but also the Storytime and dreaming in general. It also sets up a looming threat; however, it's one that she is better equipped to handle in the real world than in the Storytime -- if she can remember her mission when she wakes up, that is.
The narrative then jumps to Kian Alvane, and though in prison, we get some brief glimpses of how the world of Arcadia has changed since Dreamfall. Moreover, we learn that Kian has a new place in the world -- and not one he ever expected to have.
Although the Storytime and Arcadia are part of this new game, the vast majority of Reborn is set in Propast, a new location for the series. During the months after awakening from her coma, Zoë has attempted to build a new life for herself in this sprawling European metropolis. The city is far larger than any location in The Longest Journey or Dreamfall and its intricate development makes it feel like a living, breathing city.
As we follow Zoë through a normal day in her new life, we are exposed to not only her personal life as she visits her psychiatrist and brings lunch to her boyfriend at work but we learn about the complex political climate of Propast on both a local and national level as well. We also are introduced to a wide array of interesting supporting characters -- from Zoë's boss, a petite and incredibly foul-mouthed mechanic who goes so far as to name the robot she is working on "Shitbot," to Baruti, the campaign manager of one of the four main parties in the upcoming election.
But honestly, I spent as much time simply exploring Propast as I did working my way through the main story. Zoë has comments on nearly everything you can see, ranging from the poignant to the comical (seriously, click on the trash cans around the city). But what makes the city really interesting to explore are the random conversations you can listen in on. These conversations tend to be about the recent police lockdowns of the city and the upcoming election; but they all serve to flesh out the setting from a perspective other than Zoë's own. There is even a street performer with a guitar to listen to if you want to learn more about the social climate through song.
In other words, as with both The Longest Journey and Dreamfall, you'll spend the majority of your time in Reborn listening to dialogue -- and there is even a Walking Dead-style choice system that implies future consequences for your responses. The dialogue itself is well written and is peppered with futuristic slang taken from across many different languages that -- along with the vast amount of different accents you encounter -- really make Propast feel like the melting pot of Europe that it's supposed to be.
But despite the quality of the dialogue and how well it is delivered by the voice actors, there is still one major problem: The facial emotions don't match the emotional tone of the dialogue. Sure, the lips match what is being said; but all the characters look completely stoic and emotionless even if they are yelling hateful bile at the top of their lungs. There is such a discordance between what you see and hear that it constantly breaks your sense of immersion in the game.
The other large problem I had with Reborn comes in the form of several glitches. In conversations, lip syncing would suddenly stop -- leaving characters talking with their mouths closed -- only to re-sync at the start of the next sentence. I also had an odd interface error where the flashlight from the item menu was permanently locked on my screen until I quit the game and reloaded. While neither of these ruined the game for me, they did break the immersion once again -- forcing me to remember that I was just playing a game instead of truly experiencing a fictional world.
Aside from dialogue, the other prevalent aspect of the game comes in the form of its puzzles. In Reborn, the puzzles are really little more than a long-running tutorial to help you understand how the puzzles work in the waking worlds and the Storytime, respectively. Most are incredibly simple but a few can be somewhat challenging. This is largely due to the game not holding your hand and telling you what you can do; rather, it forces you to figure that out for yourself through trial and error. It's not a question of what to do, but rather how to do it within the game's system.
That said, the best puzzle (easy to solve as it might be) comes at the conclusion of Reborn where you briefly take control of a toddler. Solving puzzles as a toddler -- using toddler logic to get what you want -- is surprisingly inventive and fun. It is a creative way to end the game's opening episode.
In the end, Dreamfall Chapters: Book One: Reborn does little beyond setting the stage for the game's four future episodes. That said, it is damn good world-building and makes the city of Propast into a character all its own. And even with the game's annoying glitches, anyone who is invested in The Longest Journey games will likely have little problem ignoring them as they get to know the worlds as they stand in Dreamfall Chapters. So while not exactly an action-packed beginning, Reborn is a decent base for the rest of Dreamfall Chapters to build upon.
Dreamfall Chapters: Book One: Reborn was released for Windows and OS X on October 21, 2014.