Dreamscaper – Game review

“People think dreams aren’t real just because they aren’t made of matter, of particles. Dreams are real. But they are made of viewpoints, of images, of memories and puns and lost hopes.” – Neil Gaiman

From its opening moments, Dreamscaper invokes a feeling of a strikingly polished Early Access game with fantastic visuals, hauntingly beautiful music, satisfying and fluid combat, a heart-warming and engaging story and an addicting roguelite loop born from the dreams of Cassidy, the main character.

It’s an immensely satisfying mash up of a roguelite with randomized dungeons pulled from Cassidy’s subconscious, ARPG style combat and loot combined with waking world narrative and Persona influenced relationship building. Persona games are proof that it works and Afterburner Studios used the formula very creatively and successfully. You play as Cassidy, a young girl suffering from depression who’s moved to a quaint little town of Redhaven. She spends her nights in lucid dreams fighting figments and projections from her fears and insecurities and her days hanging around town trying to awkwardly establish some human connections. A story most of us have surely felt and experienced.

The visuals are incredibly well crafted. From the distorted amalgams of Cassidy’s dreams and nightmares that form the dungeons you traverse in your sleep to the waking world’s parks, libraries and shops you and your co-workers frequent, the amount of details and attention put into them flows from every scene. Even Cassidy’s journal, encyclopedia, in-game icons and loot drops are phenomenally well done and fit into the dreamlike state of the entire game sublimely.

The relationships you form during the day through conversations and gifts unlock items and grant new powers that you can find and use in Dreamscapes. As your relationship level increases, so does the strength of the powers or influences, as they’re called in-game. Just as in life, having strong human connections makes each of the individuals stronger. When you reach certain levels you also get a short conversation cutscene. They aren’t voiced, but they are well written and shine a spotlight on each individual’s likes, dislikes and quirks, including Cassidy’s. And they’re so human, so every one of us, it’s marvelously touching.

There are 7 characters since the Reflection update and there may be more to come in further updates. Every move to a new location and chit-chat advances time in the waking world. Depending how well you did in your last Dreamscape, the more time you have before Cassidy needs to go home, which is always 9PM. The gifts you can give are crafted from materials collected from nightmares that carry the words of emotions, like bliss and solace, representing the meaning, comfort and familiarity those objects bring to the people you give them to.

dreamscaper gameplay review

When Cassidy succumbs to sleep, it’s time to enter her lucid dreams conveyed into randomly generated dungeons full of her negative emotions personified as monsters, aberrations and traps. I absolutely love the transition and falling into sleep. Her dreams play out as a fast paced, beautifully fluid, isometric dungeon crawler with varying rooms. You’ll encounter enemies, puzzles, challenges, shops, upgrade rooms and occasionally Cassidy’s memories presented as will-o’-the-wisps. You can pick up the memories and get a small glimpse of her life. There’s even a fast travel system in dungeons where you can easily teleport to any room you’ve already visited.

A brilliant tutorial will introduce you to all the mechanics you need to know. Combat consists of normal, heavy and ranged attacks, dodges, blocks, parries and lucid attacks. And it works wonderfully. You can cancel your attacks with a dodge, which is an excellent thing. It also includes a slow time ability. If you chain your combos correctly, with Cassidy flashing when you need to attack, you’ll get bonus damage. Items, weapons, modifiers and abilities are plentiful and can be upgraded by using the game’s currency called Sand. A fitting name for a game about dreams. They are unlocked by forging the relationships in the waking world and can then be found in dungeons or bought from shops.

All items have stats, great comments and descriptions and you can also check all your stats on the character screen. Items you collect in a single run stay with you until you die and wake up. You lose everything upon death, but can set up your starting equipment by using the same materials you use to craft gifts. Or leave it random and hope for the best on your next run. One incredibly awesome thing is that you can skip bosses you’ve already defeated which makes repeated runs much faster. You get a random item even if you skip the boss.

dreamscaper game review

There’s something really worth mentioning in the game options. A checkbox next to something called Lucid Mode. I cannot express how happy I was when I saw that. If you turn it on, every time you die, your lucid resistance increases, making your subsequent runs easier. I really wish more roguelite, soulslike and similar games did something like this. I believe a larger audience would have a chance to enjoy them. I’m aware that many fans of those games will not agree with me because the challenge is the point. Kudos to the developers for implementing something like this. Another great thing is that the game includes color vision deficiency options, three of them, and a slider for severity.

I really like what Afterburner Studios has crafted. It’s still an Early Access, small bugs remain, nothing major and things will surely change as the game continues development. But it’s already a great indie gem. There’s a lot of very quality content and it works very smoothly. I’ve gushed enough, but not to make everything sound like sunshine and rainbows, there are a couple of things some may find questionable.

Relationship building and gift giving may seem a needless grind to pad out the game and acquire better abilities that could’ve been avoided or reduced. Free your mind and take it from a different perspective, besides purely mechanical. Consider a meditative, dreamlike loop of establishing strong connections with your fellow human beings that don’t happen in a heartbeat. That fits very well with the game’s overarching story. Even the conversations that may seem out of context or in the wrong order sometimes, depending how your relationships progress, follow the patterns of dreams which are anything but ordered.

Dreamscaper brings a lot of personality, heart and a very relatable story to the table, but further ups the ante with good mechanics and very solid combat. No small feat for a small studio and an indie publisher, but an unreachable height for any AAA soulless husks churning out $70 garbage cans. The love and time invested into the game are very obvious and that’s what good indie games are known for. Dreamscaper is one worthy of your time.

Technical specs used to make this review: i7, RTX2070, 32GB of RAM and an SSD.

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