Eurogamer Retrospective: Dreamfall

By John Walker on April 26th, 2011 at 9:11 pm.

Pants!

Oh, so on Sunday, in the middle of our yacht-based hammocking, my retrospective of Dreamfall went up on Eurogamer. The conflict the game generates in me was interesting to explore, and once again its moving story of faith and Faith won out. For instance, I utter:

“This isn’t a game that’s worried about drawing in the kids. In fact, it’s imbued with a strong tone of melancholy that it absolutely does not let go of throughout. This is a downbeat game, and goodness knows that’s rare. But it’s not so one-dimensional as to be miserable. Within the trauma, the sadness, the directionless confusion of people’s lives, is a message of extraordinary optimism, a resounding cry of hope. Because there’s faith.”

You can read the rest of it here. And I really whole-heartedly recommend reading my interview with creator Ragnar Tørnquist. I think it’s one of the best things wot I’ve done.

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71 Comments »

  1. McDan says:

    I’ve been for years on the cusp of buying this game, seriously, at least 5 years. But never did, it is a point n’ click right? I think that’s what put me off. But now after reading these articles (I will in a minute), and seeing as Mr Walker thinks it’s one of the best things he’s done it’ll probably stir me into buying it. Most of the best articles on here have inspired me to go out and get the game.
    But still, point n’ click, hmmm.

    Edit: Ah poo, there’s spoilers. Guess I’ll just have to go buy it anyway.

    • Stardog says:

      Play the demo first. I’m an avid adventure gamer and I thought this was boring.

    • McDan says:

      Good idea… if I hadn’t already bought the collectors edition…

      I love collectors editions…

    • Lewis Denby says:

      Innocuous spoiler: it isn’t a point-and-click.

    • Arglebargle says:

      Not point and click, but the user interface is still horrible. Every attempt at movement was painful and awful. Reloaded it and remembered why I never got more than a half an hour into it. Sad, as apparantly it is an interesting experiance.

      A basic structural failure, imo.

    • Carra says:

      I loved The Longest Journey.

      And then I tried Dreamfall. The new keyboard-control system just didn’t work for me. I gave up after half an hour of playing.

      Maybe I should try it again… with a controller.

    • MrHairyLives says:

      It was released on the Xbox too, and as such the control system was optomised for the console. I recently played through it finally after 5 years and having bought it twice. (Damn you StarForce! And: Thank you Steam!) I used an Xbox 360 joypad and had no control issues whatsoever.

  2. Blackseraph says:

    It annoys me every now and then that funcom seems to do nothing but mmos anymore.

    Where is dreamfall: Chapters?

  3. Vinraith says:

    I’m still waiting for someone to release this game with an acceptable DRM scheme.

    Still.

    Get on it, GOG.

    • Kaira- says:

      First I thought that GOG had already done that, but it was only The Longest Journey. GOG, do it. I’ve already forked enough cash for you guys, you can do it.

    • arghstupid says:

      Do you know what sort of DRM is on the steam version, or is steam something you find unacceptable?
      I’m not trying to start an argument, I just know the original EU release had starforce which apparently doesn’t like win7 / vista, and I don’t want to buy it then find out it’s broken. According to forums the US patch removes it but what with steam’s built in patchamagoo you never know.

    • Vinraith says:

      @arghstupid

      I don’t know what the Steam version has, to be honest. I’m not crazy about Steam, but it’s Starforce that’s kept me away, and a large part of the reason I haven’t caved and bought it on Steam during a holiday sale is that I don’t know if that version has Starforce or not.

      For a sufficient discount I’d probably pick it up on Steam if I knew that version was “clean,” but if GOG ever releases it I’d just end up buying it again to get a real copy.

    • thegooseking says:

      I seem to remember not being able to run the Steam version of Dreamfall on Linux (at the time, my 7300 didn’t work in Windows for some reason, so it was either play it in Linux or play it on an old 5200). Now, I think that might have been because of the DRM, which might have been Starforce. Though I read reports of other people getting it (non-Steam-version) to work just fine.

      Though I never did figure out if the DRM really was the reason I couldn’t get it to work.

    • Wulf says:

      I felt this paled in comparison with The Longest Journey, really, as it didn’t do all that much in the way of story progression for the world, and I’m bitter because I felt the name was a con. Dreamfall and only the barest of hints that the barrier between Stark and Arcadia may possibly fall? Bah!

      I might have been too hard on it, but StarForce has kept me from going back to see if I was. And with The Secret World, this is likely a story that will never see an end.

    • Jolly Teaparty says:

      @Wulf Totally with you there. The Longest Journey was incredible, I’ve replayed it a bunch of times. How many times have I replayed Dreamfall? I haven’t.

    • MrHairyLives says:

      There’s no DRM on the Steam version of Dreamfall, other than Steam itself. I wasn’t able to play it for 5 freaking years because of StarForce. Everytime I patched it to go around that bloody thing, it would reinstall itself. Gah!

      Finally played it though, and loved every minute of it. I had almost succumbed to playing through TLJ for the fourth time first, but I think I’ll go back to that before (if ever) Dreamfall Chapters is released. 79%, John, why?! :-P

  4. arghstupid says:

    Cheers McDan, I was about to ask if their are spoilers as it’s been on my should-probably-playlist for ages.

    Is this sequel pretty independent from the original? I’ve not played that in years and have more or less completely forgotten the plot – not sure if I should give it a run through first..

    • McDan says:

      Yeah, says at the beginning of the article. And I had no idea there was an original either until now, just thought it was a game on it’s own. I remember seeing it with other pc games in stores and always picking it up to look at it. It had beautiful box art. Makes me want a physical copy.

    • thenagus says:

      I played Dreafmall before knowing about TLJ with no problems. Don’t avoid playing it just because you dont remember TLJ!

    • somnolentsurfer says:

      I bought a physical collectors edition in Game, that came with a soundtrack, an art book, and a copy of TLJ. Then it came out on Steam, and I bought it there, so I could forget about stupid physical media. But The art book is lovely.

  5. Oneironaut says:

    I stopped reading as soon as you mentioned spoilers, but these games are in my Steam wishlist and they do look interesting.

  6. DarkeSword says:

    Great game. Crap battle system though (wholly unnecessary, TBH). Wish they’d get a move on with Chapters though. it’s been a few years now. :\

  7. MugiMugi says:

    One of the better story in western PC games I’ve ever read, but keep in mind that Dreamfall is still subpar to it’s older game The Longest Journey, one of the story in any PC game at any given time if you ask me, It really absorb you into the game and the world really fast and don’t let you go till you finish it.

    Sure it’s not an perfect game, the puzzles and so fort is not the best and stuff like that, but NOTHING beats it’s story and the world in terms of adventure games.

    Why it never became big, well the game itself came out just as the adventure genre died of, bit to late so it missed it’s fame but truly it’s one of the best one if not the best ( I haven’t played em all but i’ve played up to 100ds of them in this genre ^^ )

    And I’m for one one of those who wait for the third and last game in the series ( supposedly to be episodic ) that he promised ages ago >< but then he started to direct the new MMO from funcome ( the secret world ) who if you look at it, got a LOT of inspiration from this game series. Not to mention he also promised an MMO. But couldn't care less.

    if there is ANY PC game I want the most it's the sequel of this series :P enough said.

  8. Nameless1 says:

    I only know this game is no way near the quality of The Longest Journey.

  9. Flint says:

    The only game that’s ever reduced me to a long pout of melancholy after it’s ended. I probably would have shed a tear if I hadn’t felt so crushed that I couldn’t really emote in any way. Heartcrushing stuff.

    The gameplay is fairly terrible but good god, the characters and story are brilliant.

    • Soon says:

      Absolutely. It’s a horrible game. But it was utterly compelling. It’s one of the very few games that I felt I had to tell my none-game-playing friends about. It was more like going through a good book than a good game, and understandably divisive.

    • Bhazor says:

      I was sad at the ending too but only because it didn’t actually explain anything (the undreaming? The Storytime? Wow, what does this mean? What’s my part in it all? What’s Aprils real role? What… the fuck! Don’t just fade to black!) and dumped one of my favourite game characters into a “Dead Until The Sequel” pit. Then forgot to make the sequel.

      I thought the ending to Longest Journey was better where the same… lack of closure felt more justified and poignant. In the end April was just a secondary character in someone elses story. A case of mistaken identity from the gods. But the game was about a journey not an ending and April like the player is left disconnected with no idea about what her true fate will be. So she simply slips away to find some kind of life in the world. And then she apparently decides to live in the woods and go all emo.

  10. Lambchops says:

    I’ve already commented on the EG article (particularly on the ending) but there’s probably some vague spoilers in there so I’ll refrain from repeating them here.

    Suffice to say, the game is well worth playing despite its flaws. If there’s anyone who wasn’t enraged at the forced stealth bit with those big monsters then I’ll once again eat my non existent and endlessley replenishable hat. Not to mention the combat.

    But the story though, was very well done and a worthy return to to the excellently crafted world of the Longest Journey,

    i’d love to see more but I’m not holding my breath right now. It’s definitely up there with Beyond Good and Evil in sequels I’d like to see.

  11. choppp says:

    Both The Longest Journey and Dreamfall changed video games for me. When I played each game, I felt really connected the message of the games, and related to them on a pretty deep level. I’m glad to see you seemed to have that connection too.

  12. DaFishes says:

    I adored The Longest Journey. I stopped playing Dreamfall about 1/3 of the way through because they’d added horrid, horrid combat controls. Never finished it.

  13. sniter says:

    I’ve had this game for years but have not yet got round to plaing it. Lovely box art. Must dig that out.

    • Lambchops says:

      Yeah the box art is rather lovely. I seem to remember I pre ordered it and got some lovely postcards with concept artwork on them. Didn’t play the game till ages after though as it turned out to not work on my computer. Probably just as well as it allowed time for my high expectations to be tempered be reviews. The crap combat and stealth would have rankled a lot more if I’d been playing the game on a wave of high expectation.

  14. Jae Armstrong says:

    Where’s the sequel, Tornquist? Or Dreamfall Chapters, even. :’(

    Still having no luck getting TLJ to run on a modern computer. Anyone else had problems/know of solutions?

  15. Berzee says:

    I don’t understand why these are so beloved, but more than that, I don’t understand my own compulsion to *mention* my lack of understanding whenever the games are mentioned. I will let those of you who mysteriously love it go on discussing it with only this minimal intrusion. :P

    • Vinraith says:

      You feel like you’re missing something, and keep hoping someone will say something that will make it clear to you just what you’re missing and maybe cause you to be able to re-evaluate the game in a new light. I don’t have that problem with this particular game, but I certainly have it with some other much-beloved titles (Planescape being the big one).

    • Berzee says:

      I wish it was anything like so noble =P

    • stkaye says:

      I think it’s pretty important to experience the game before you’ve heard too much from the fanboys. Nothing, no matter how great it is, can live up to the hype of the biggest fanatics. I can totally see why Planescape would fail to impress if you came to it after all the gushing it has (quite rightly) generated. It’s just a good novel, really, instead of the bad novel that other text-heavy games have tended to be.

      Dreamfall, though I think it has its moments, will never quite be for us as it clearly was for Mr Walker…

  16. lokimotive says:

    I gave up on this game a few hours in. I was getting incredibly frustrated with the lack of interaction; it seemed to me that the majority of the game was spent watching endless cut scenes.

    But, frustratingly, since I gave up on it I’ve been haunted by scenes in it that stick in my mind just as strongly as scenes in The Longest Journey. For me, its existence is thoroughly frustrating: I really wanted to experience the game, but it just put up so damn many barriers that I couldn’t. One of these days, I’ll try to give it another try (if I can ever find my copy), but I’ll do it reluctantly.

    • Lukasz says:

      I agree with you completely and I loved that ‘game’

      There were few instances (few means a lot) when your whole job was to move a character for one place to another to trigger another cutscene.

      nevertheless the game was beautiful, story engaging (and I value story way more than gameplay) and characters interesting.

      shame that the game had no ending just like episode 2 of HL.

  17. Hunam says:

    I came very late to the Longest Journey part… so late in fact that by the time I bought the game I owned nothing but LCD screens and I’m really not going to sit an play a game in a tiny box in the middle of a black screen. Or stretch it out to look like pixel mess.

  18. jack4cc says:

    This, and BG&E. There are few games who are more than a game.

  19. edit says:

    Loved the original back in the day, but I had managed to miss this one until.. last year? The year before? Can’t remember. Anyway, I bought it on steam and was really starting to get into it, when I became frustrated with an arcadey stealth section which seemed quite out of place and pretty unforgiving. I fully intend on completing it when some time opens up though.

  20. Chris D says:

    That interview is excellent. Fascinating reading, especially the part about playing/writing women in games, and the part about narrative, difficulty and pacing, and the part about the nature of faith. More like this please John.

  21. symuun says:

    I love Dreamfall deeply. I did try to play The Longest Journey first, knowing they were both plot-heavy games, but I think I was too late- the game just wouldn’t run on my XP machine for more than five minutes at a time without crashing or suffering serious graphical glitches. So I dived into Dreamfall, and it’s quite the game. Haunting and beautiful and captivating. I wonder if I’d have loved it as much if I’d managed to get through TLJ?

  22. thenagus says:

    Im really glad to see a retrospective of this. I’m pretty sure it might be my favorite game. I played this a long time ago, before I knew about the original TLJ, and I totally wasn’t prepared for what it turned out to be.
    All of the `game` bits of this game are pretty atrocious. Combat, stealth, puzzles. Even the movement control I really disliked.

    As a method of telling a story, however, this game touches me like nothing else, and it’s enough to shine through the shitness of the actual gameplay
    I don’t think I’ve yet played anything else with the same level of storytelling. The characters feel more real to me than those in any other game. I relate to them on a more personal level than I do to any of their peers. [ I think this is both down to the writing, and the voice acting. The effort that was obviously put into voicing the main characters ( eg having dedicated voice directors ) really pays off. ] And despite the amount of time consuming fetch-quests, it feels like an extraordinary amount of plot is stuffed into a fairly short amount of time. More so than the original Longest Journey.

    I’m pretty sure this is the only game that’s ever made me cry. I cry rarely, even at films. But i think the whole scene [SPOILER: in the research lab, under the Russian factory] is a perfect example of something emotional and profound that you just couldn’t have done the same way in a film, or a novel. It’s boldly written as a game, not trying to be a movie as so many games do. And its the only game where I felt that the gameplay (shit though it was) was servant to the story, rather than the other way round.

    At the risk of sounding like a tool, Dreamfall strikes me as a hint of games as something much greater than they are now. More than any other game, this makes me think “games can be art”. And I think it’s the only game I would really describe as beautiful.

    Its really a shame the gameplay was so broken, because it could have been something so incredible. I think it makes other hesitant to follow in it’s footsteps.

    [ As a side-note, I think it irked a lot of people that this game had such easier puzzles, and was so much shorter than TLJ. I think its in the RPS interview that Ragnar says this was deliberate, because so many people didn’t get to the end of TLJ. As somebody who *doesn’t* have a great deal of time for games anymore, I’m actually ok with this! I can sit down for just an hour or two with Dreamfall and make meaningful progress in the story, rather than spending a whole session stuck on a puzzle, or progressing the puzzle without progressing the story. And it doesn’t go on so long that by the time I reach the end, I’ve forgotten half of the beginning. If anything, I think perhaps Ragnar didn’t go far enough with taking the game play out of the game, If you will. All the stuff that seems to have been added just for the sake of providing game play (combat, fetch quests) drags the game down. I wonder if our attachment to having gameplay in a game, maybe even our attachment to a game being `fun`, holds us back. Mad as that may sound. ]

    • Lambchops says:

      I think on the puzzles the series needs to find a happy medium. TLJ was fine for most of it but had a couple of really annoying, tedious, long puzzles which were downright horrible and had you cursing the designers (though I guess that was almost inevitable in a game of that length) whereas Dreamfall was pitched with not quite enough challenge making the puzzle solving that little bit less satisfying.

  23. JonathanStrange says:

    Please keep talking about this series, please. Any little bit of attention helps towards getting the series a continuation, and I desperately want to find out how my personal favourite cast of characters from *any* game turn out in the end.

    I think the thing which, for me, made The Longest Journey and Dreamfall as well so intriguing and memorable was the characters. April Ryan for example is probably the most believable and ‘human’ protagonist I’ve encountered in a game. She talks, feels, and reacts exactly as one believes a person like her might. That’s damned rare in gaming, too rare! It also helps that she’s a genuinely nice character I enjoy learning more about and spending time with.

    And that’s what always keeps me playing these games, be they TLJ or Dreamfall. Beyond the shitty puzzles, the stilted gameplay, the sometimes overwrought narrative, mediocre visuals (If imaginative and well directed, no complaints there) lies the urge to just find out what happens to these likeable characters. It’s what, for me at least, kept me playing and makes them such memorable experience.

    And that first TLJ and later Dreamfall both end on low notes… well, it’s a little heartbreaking. C’mon Ragnar, continue the series. This cast deserves a happy ending!

    • phlebas says:

      A happy ending? I’d settle for an ending. TLJ was a good self-contained story; Dreamfall, appearing after a few years’ wait, ended on a cliffhanger and no assurance the story would ever get finished.

  24. hocevar says:

    Still waiting for the sequel to the series, it’s hands down one of the best point and click games of all time, mainly the 1st one ofc, Dreamfall was ok but they brute-forced the action part down our throats, there was no need of that.

  25. Mario Figueiredo says:

    I must confess I’m a dissident on the matter of The Longest Journey. For many years (heck, since the ZX Spectrum days), P&C adventures and adventure games in general, good or bad, were always avidly played by me. But by the time The Longest Journey arrived I was totally burned out, after well over a decade holding this genre close to my heart.

    I actually ended playing a copy from a friend, not very long after it was released, and… didn’t like it. It sure was pleasant to find another one of those rare mature point & click adventures, being the case these games have always been traditionally either tongue-in-cheek, or simply infantile. But a little into the game revealed it didn’t offer anything fundamentally interesting beyond the story. I knew I was bound to play yet another point & click adventure (yawn!), this time disguised behind a good story. But when you are just tired of the genre and the only thing being offered is the story, you can get a better experience if you just go buy a good book instead.

    I think 2 or 3 hours was my play time with The Longest Journey. Never touched it again; and surely never even tried Dreamfall.

  26. colinmarc says:

    I don’t understand the ‘wot’ thing. What’s the appropriate way to use it?

    • Urael says:

      Merely a slang version of the word “what”, m’boy, RPS poking fun at itself for being a bit dumb when they’re really not.

    • Rii says:

      *crosses his Australian fingers that this isn’t too far off the mark*

      ‘Wot’ is how certain Britishers (chavs?) pronounce ‘what’. As opposed to ‘watt’.

      Personally, I luv it.

    • McDan says:

      Sadly this is true, they do speak like that.

      And I think the use of “wot” is sort of an in-joke? But an easy to get one for people who hadn’t seen it before. Unlike quinns lack of iron, which should be mentioned more.

    • MD says:

      Someone’s going to have to spell this out phonetically for me, because I read both ‘wot’ and ‘watt’ (and also ‘what’) as rhyming with ‘hot’. I always thought the ‘wot’ thing just represented the way an uneducated person might write ‘what’, and also perhaps distinguished the pronunciation from that used by fancy people who pronounce ‘wh’ sounds differently to ‘w’ sounds.

      edit: I now suspect that as I made this comment I may have felt the gentle breeze of a joke sailing over my head.

  27. Reapy says:

    This was one of the few games that my wife sat and watched me play since it had an interesting story and was almost like an interactive movie at parts. I was always upset the story was basically left hanging as it was and would have definitely played through a sequel. I think its a great game, though a lot of people seem to not like it.

  28. Demiath says:

    I don’t doubt there were some lovely thoughts in the brains of Ragnar Tornqvist and John Walker during that particular interview, but I maintain that those philosophical musings didn’t translate well into the astonishingly directionless and blandly written plot of the game.

  29. gritz says:

    I’m really pretty bitter towards Tornquist for making such a flawed and depressing but nonetheless compelling game with a brutal number of cliffhangers without full confirmation that the sequel will ever be made.

    I don’t want a fucking comic book, Ragnar. And I sure as hell don’t want an MMO. I want an adventure game that wraps things up, and if you weren’t going to make one then you shouldn’t have been so sadistic in the first place.

    At this point, even if a followup shows up in an episodic format I doubt I would buy it until I was sure that we weren’t going to be left hanging for several years again.

  30. unacomn says:

    When I first played Dreamfall, I didn’t like it very much. Zoey’s accent was annoying, but not as annoying as her not being April. Then the gameplay changes, with the superficial stealth and the superficial combat that didn’t really fit.

    But at the end, at the very end, I loved the game and I still do.

  31. brulleks says:

    Bizarre – I started playing through this again last Friday, although got distracted by other things after getting to the market in Arcadia.

    Will be interesting to read the WIT when I have a bit more time, but for now my initial feelings were that for a ‘game’ that is mostly a ‘story’ the beginning is sorely lacking in either interactivity, character or location. BUT it should be noted that I cannot help comparing it to The Longest Journey, which is unfair even if understandable, as Dreamfall should be judged on its on merits and downfalls. I’m also hindered by hindsight after my previous playthrough, which tells me that I had some major emotional reactions to the later parts of the story, although I cannot remember the details of the plot, so I want to press on out of curiosity.

    One thing I can say with certainty – there is way, way, way too much running from one place to another and back again without anything of interest either happening or to look at, and that is a major mistake if you are designing an interactive story, as it leaves the tension of the narrative flapping in the wind.

  32. Revisor says:

    Let me just say that Dreamfall is probably one of the best games I’ve ever played (and there were plenty) and I found the gameplay absolutely OK. Combat was a nice distraction and I can’t remember the stealth section, so it must have not been that frustrating.

    The great story and well-written characters are absolutely worth it.

  33. phlebas says:

    Some very good points there (even if you do let it off a bit lightly for the ghastly combat and sneaking sections). But saying that direct control allows more interesting interactions? I’d have said one of the great strengths of adventure games is the more abstract interface. Walking, climbing and jumping are banal, trivial actions and unless there’s some reason not to I’d rather just be able to say ‘that’s where I want you to go’ and have the character go there. I should be able to direct a wide and interesting range of actions effortlessly, leaving the effort for working out what those actions should be. Doing the steering directly doesn’t make the game more interesting any more than following the text with my finger makes reading a book more interesting.

  34. JohnnyMaverik says:

    I think I almost want the sequel to Dreamfall as much as I want Episode 3, the thing that makes Funcom’s failure to deliver far more painful than Valve’s is that I’m sure Valve are working on it and will eventually deliver it, where as I know Funcom aren’t and quite probably never will.

  35. origo says:

    No.
    I wouldn’t recommend dreamfall to anyone.
    I did finish it, but i felt numb and disappointed afterwards and it had nothing to do with a melancholic story or sad state of main characters at the game’s end. I didn’t mind controls, or fighting, easy enough to adapt.
    BUT story John glorifies so much in that retrospective was a mess.
    Citing John,
    ‘ “The Undreaming is unchained,” we’re told as the credits roll. Brrrrrr. I’ve no idea what that means, but I’m quite certain it’s terrifying.’

    That’s just it, there were a few too many ‘i dont know what it means’ … and i dont really care. Story was boring. The most difficult part of the game to me was that japan part, so many one-dimensional cliched characters there, was real hard to avoid that ‘quit’ option. And the closer to end, the less control over character you had. No interactivity, no choice. Felt like watching a boring movie.
    Dont make games like this.

  36. The Dark One says:

    Only the strongest myrshnik survive.

  37. Chemix says:

    From what I’ve read, the dreamtime is both the creation story of the Aborigines and a means of living history. Each person has a story, a dream, whatever you want to call it, and that story is important and holds value. This story can be handed down through oral folklore, or transcribed into images, but it is rarely written, because the writing of the story is ongoing, it’s living the story of our lives. The Undreaming, I suppose, would be the end of stories and possibly life. It could mean the destruction of existence, past, present and parallel.

    Man’s scientific incursion into the dreaming, corrupted by the powers behind it, represented a threat to the free will, the ability to write our stories as we see fit, and in that the dreaming itself was threatened. I original interpreted this as the undreaming, but the cliffhanger leaves it as something more sinister.

    In other regards, as a game, DreamFall was an utter failure, but as a means of telling a story, it was a brilliant, though tainted, success. I feel like it would work better if it were to forgo the crappy gameplay, cut down some of the nonsense, and act as an interactive, though linear, story, I wouldn’t call it an interactive movie, but I can’t think of a better term.