I just finished the second book of Dreamfall Chapters, yet I still feel like I am waiting for the story proper to get going.
Book One: Reborn focused mostly on Zoe -- her life inside the world of dreams and her life after waking up from her coma. Kian, the game's other protagonist, was relegated to a single playable section relating his escape from prison. This time we spend far more time with Kian and get a larger picture of what has been happening in the world of Arcadia since the end of Dreamfall.
Thematically, Book Two: Rebels centres around the consequences of expansion and colonization by concentrating on the personal stories of those most strongly affected by the occupation of Marcuria -- the Magicals. Inside the rebellion -- one short of morale and manpower since the death of April Ryan -- everyone has his or her story. Some talk of lands far away and horrible wrongs done to them personally, while others simply couldn't stomach seeing the persecution happening around them. Things look even worse as we meet victims of rape and attempted genocide at the hands of the Azadi.
However, thanks to Kian and his viewpoint, we are able to see that the Azadi, as a people, are not evil. Rather, prejudiced as they are, the common man -- and even the Azadi leaders -- know little about the atrocities happening in Marcuria and would be dismayed at the laws being broken. This in turn starts Kian on his path to redemption -- fighting against his own people to save them from the consequences of their prejudices and ignorance.
While in Book One we were introduced to the various members involved in Zoe's life, Book Two introduces those in Kian's. We meet the leader of the rebellion and see a few returning faces from Dreamfall. However, it is two new characters who steal the show: Enu, an adorkable cat-like girl and Anna, a mysterious woman who seems to know Kian on an intimate level. Together, they make the time playing as Kian enjoyable, even as the actual gameplay often feels like busywork.
Kian's puzzles in much of this second book feel like little more than time wasters -- like they are simply there to pad out the runtime. They have little foreseeable effect on the overall plot and do little to flesh out the setting.
This feeling is compounded since the puzzles in general suffer from poor explanation. As tutorials are presented completely in character, you are told your basic goal and little else. Sometimes, the materials you need to achieve your goal are close by. Other times, they are spread across the entire map. There is no way to be sure where you need to search.
This is even more of a problem given how slow both Zoe and Kian are allowed to move. While the addition of more roadblocks in Propast does serve as a plot point, in practice all the new roadblocks do is make getting from place to place all the more tedious as now you have to take the long way to get anywhere.
The puzzles could also benefit from the occasional basic hint as to the next step of a puzzle -- perhaps in the form of Zoe or Kian's thoughts. As it stands now, it often appears as if they are unaware of the actions you are making them perform rather than doing said actions themselves.
The other annoying puzzle problem is when the gameplay conflicts with the story. It is stated repeatedly -- and is even a major plot point -- that Kian is using a magical potion that makes him nearly invisible unless (a) a person knows him intimately or (b) he interacts with a person and draws attention to himself. Yet, the game contains two puzzles where Kian must restart if seen by guards. These guards have no trouble seeing Kian and no explanation of this is ever given.
In Book Two, the consequences of Zoe and Kain's actions in Book One start impacting the story dramatically. And as I was playing and making new choices that would affect the story to come, I noticed something odd about how I was playing the game.
From the viewpoint of the player, we are granted a vast amount of information that the individual characters in the game do not have. For example, from the end of Dreamfall, I know that something is wrong with Reza and he can't be trusted. I also know that the bad guys' plan in Marcuria will go better if the rebels put up a fight -- so allowing the massacre of Old Town may be the best option. With my god's-eye view of the situation, I could potentially make the "right" choices for the characters in the long run.
However, instead of playing to "win" I have found myself playing how I think the characters would act. Does Kian still have a black and white morality or is he willing to torture someone for "the greater good?" Also, while I know that something is off with Reza, Zoe in her current state of memory loss doesn't know that; so I have her play "dumb" and fight to save her relationship. It creates an odd, though enjoyable, disconnect between how I feel I should play the game and how I actually am.
All in all, Dreamfall Chapters: Book Two: Rebels feels like a second introductory chapter to the game -- this time focusing on setting up Kian's world and characters rather than Zoe's. While there is progression as choices made in Book One (and even more than a few made in Book Two) shift the narrative, the grander mysteries carried over from Dreamfall remain in a holding pattern.
At this point I feel like I am six hours into the game and am more than a little antsy for the greater Dreamfall narrative to get moving. Still, I find I am greatly invested in the story and look forward to seeing where it all goes now that both halves of the plot have a firm foundation in cast and setting.
Dreamfall Chapters: Book Two: Rebels was released on March 12, 2015, for the PC.