The rogue-lite genre has become pretty big in the indie video game scene. While it is not my favorite genre I have always thought the idea behind the genre was interesting. The one thing I have never really understood about this genre though is that games rarely have a good explanation for how you are regularly saved just before death so you can fight again. This is one thing that intrigued me about Dreamscaper as it had an interesting twist to this dilemma as all of the combat takes place in your dreams so when you “die” you simply wake up. This sounded like a really clever idea. I was intrigued to check out Dreamscaper as it combined this mechanic with an interesting theme and of all things a relationship management mechanic. Despite only being in Early Access Dreamscaper already shows a lot of promise with an interesting premise combined with satisfying gameplay.
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Afterburner Studios, Freedom! Games, and Maple Whispering Limited for the preview copy of Dreamscaper used for this preview. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to preview, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this preview. Receiving the preview copy for free had no impact on the content of this preview.
In Dreamscaper you play as Cassidy. During the day Cassidy is your typical young woman dealing with moving to a new area where she knows no one. By night Cassidy faces nightmares regarding the issues that she is dealing with in life including isolation, fear, negativity, and loss. As she fights the forces of evil in her dreams you learn more about her past which has lead to her current situation. Can you successfully help Cassidy fight her nightmares and save her from a dark fate?
Dreamscaper’s gameplay is basically broken down into day and night phases. Most of the gameplay comes during the night phase. In the night phase you drift off into your dreams which feature a world of creatures and past memories. In many ways this part of the game plays like your typical action RPG. To begin each night you will be given a random melee and ranged weapon (as you progress you can craft weapons to stop you from starting with a random weapon). These weapons include swords, hammers, your fists, staffs and many other types of weapons which have different speeds, ranges, and other special abilities. The melee attacks have both a normal attack and a special attack that takes longer to implement but deals more damage. The ranged attacks use ammo and rely on a dual stick shooting mechanic. You will also have access to two special abilities which use some of your magic power/mana in order to activate. The game also gives you access to a shield which blocks attacks or if timed properly can parry attacks. You also have access to a dodge ability which allows you to avoid enemy attacks. As you progress through the night you will encounter new weapons and other upgrades which you can use to upgrade your character.
The objective of the night periods is to mostly make progress through your dreams. Each night’s dream consists of a dungeon of sorts where you will travel between different sections of the level. Some of these sections include enemies that you have to defeat in order to open up the portals to other sections. Some sections include simple little puzzles that you have to solve in order to unlock a helpful item. One of the puzzle types that you will encounter takes heavy inspiration from Minesweeper where spaces on the grid tell you how many traps are nearby and you need to activate all of the spaces that don’t hold a trap. Another type of puzzle has you connecting a bunch of lines/pipes together in order to create a complete interconnected path. Other than these puzzles there are also sections of the map that include objects that you can pick up or memories of Cassidy’s past that you can explore.
Throughout the night periods you basically move from section to section gathering more powerful equipment and defeating enemies. As Dreamscaper is a rogue-lite you only have a limited amount of health for your entire run. You can pick up health potions which restore your health. If you run out of health though your run ends and you lose all of the equipment you received. You will acquire some objects during your run though which are kept to be used for the game’s crafting mechanic. How long you survive will determine how much time you will have during the day phase of the game. Your ultimate goal for each dream is to find the section that contains the level’s boss and try to defeat it. Each level of your dream features a different boss which relates to one of the issues that Cassidy is dealing with. If you defeat the boss you can choose to either wake up or continue your dream as you move onto a deeper level of dream. If you die in a dream you will be sent back to the lowest level of dream where your next run will begin. The ultimate objective of the game is to make it through all of the levels of dream.
In a lot of ways Dreamscaper should feel familiar to those that play a lot of games from the action RPG and rogue-lite genres as it shares many of the same mechanics. Despite this I was pretty impressed by the game’s combat. The game might only be in Early Access at this point, but if you didn’t know that beforehand you might be none the wiser. The combat is already really polished and satisfying. It is easy to grasp and yet challenging as well. I think the game does a good job finding a balance between being a hack and slash game and a more methodical combat/fighting game. If you just focus on mashing buttons you are unlikely to succeed in the game. Most enemy attacks deal quite a bit of damage where you want to limit them when possible. At the same time though you don’t need precise timing either in order to succeed. If you use your shield or dodge when an enemy is about to attack or even a decent amount before they attack you should be fine.
One thing that I was quite surprised by was the number of different types of weapons included in the game. I honestly thought that there were only going to be a couple different types and that they would mostly play the same. That is not the case though as the game already includes a lot of different weapons. These weapons handle quite differently as well. There are weapon that have short ranges but are quick and then there are weapons that are much longer that have a windup period. Overall the game has quite a few different combat styles where you likely will find one that works for you. At this point the weapons could probably use some balancing though as some seem considerably more powerful than others. The game has so many different types of weapons that you will likely play quite a few dreams before you will have to repeat a style. I am not a huge fan of randomly being given a weapon to start a dream, but I see this as more of an introduction to the different types so when you have the ability to craft one you know which fits your playstyle best.
When you wake up either from dying or leaving after a successful boss fight you will then enter the day phase. The day phase is mostly used to upgrade your character for when you enter your next dream. How well you did in your dream determines how much time you get to spend during the day. Most of your time during the day will be spent traveling to locations around town to meet with acquaintances from your life. Once you reach a location you can talk with people to learn more about them and grow your relationship. Talking with people gives you an idea of their interests which allows you to craft items for them that they will enjoy progressing your relationship even further. Progressing your relationship with people is important as it unlocks abilities and other stat boosts which will help you while you dream. When you run out of time during the day you are forced to go home and sleep.
In a lot of ways the day phase kind of feels like a relationship/dating simulator mixed with a time management mechanic. Now I want to preface this by saying at least to the point that I have made it in the game there is no actual dating in the game as you seem to mostly be building platonic relationships. I made this comparison mostly because the gameplay in many ways reminds me of these type of games (even though I don’t really play games from the genre). The mechanic mostly comes down to talking with people and giving them gifts that they like in order to improve your relationship. You only have a limited amount of time each day though, and almost every action you take costs you time. This mechanic is more supplementary as it is mostly used in order upgrade your character for the night period. I wouldn’t say that the relationship building element is particularly deep as it is pretty straightforward how to progress your relationship with the other people. I hope this element of the game is developed further as it is a little too simple at this point. I thought it was an interesting change of pace though and does a good job implementing the overall story.
At this point I haven’t gotten too deep into the story, but I think the game is off to a good start. As I mentioned at the beginning of this review I thought the idea of adding a dreaming theme to a rogue-lite was a really clever idea as it does a good job explaining why you are repeating the same things over and over each time you fail. The game does a really good job of utilizing this theme as the dream world combines elements of the real world with fantastical things that you can only imagine in your dreams. I really liked the game’s graphical style as it works well with the game’s overall feel. The game’s main storyline seems to focus a lot on overcoming your own inner demons and insecurities as you meet new people and try to move forward in your life.
I would say that the biggest issue that I have with Dreamscaper at this point has to deal with the fact that the game is a rogue-lite. The basic premise behind the rogue-lite genre is that you have to keep playing the same levels over and over again until you are finally able to beat the boss/obstacle that blocks your way. This means that whenever you die you have to restart again from the beginning with the only benefit being the experience/items you acquired before dying. This is a big part of the game as you will die quite a bit and be sent back to the first level of your dreams which you will have to beat time after time. While the levels are randomly generated each time you play them, the levels generally use the same elements so this gets a little repetitive after a while. The good news is that you only have to beat the end boss once as you can choose to skip the fight afterwards if you want. The game also has a fast travel system where you can immediately teleport to any section of a level that you have already visited. This can be really helpful if you end up going down a long path that ends in a dead end. I found the gameplay satisfying, but I hope a little more variety gets added as the game moves through the Early Access process.
What initially intrigued me about Dreamscaper was that I thought it was a clever idea combining a rogue-lite with a dreaming mechanic. The idea of having each run be a different dream was a great way of merging the rogue-lite mechanics with the dreaming theme. As a whole the game does a great job utilizing the theme as the story seems intriguing and the overall atmosphere is quite good. I have to say that I was kind of surprised by the gameplay as it is considerably more polished than I expected with the game expected to spend quite a bit of time in Early Access. The gameplay is similar to many action RPGs and rogue-lites. The controls are responsive and the combat is fun. I was really impressed with the number of different types of weapons already in the game. The biggest problem with the gameplay right now is that it can be a little repetitive as the levels tend to reuse the same section designs a lot. In addition to the combat the game has a relationship building element. I thought this was a nice change of pace even though it could be a little deeper.
Dreamscaper is expected to remain in Early Access for at least six months to a year. Despite this fact I am already enjoying the game quite a bit. If you enjoy action RPGs/rogue-lite games and think the premise behind the game sounds interesting you should consider picking up Dreamscaper as you likely will really enjoy the game.
Buy Dreamscaper online: Steam