By Jason Quinn / September 23rd, 2020
Dreamscaper is a rogue-lite with some light social sim elements. This game is in early access, however according to the game’s Steam page, it is fairly feature complete. This fact will become more relevant in a little bit. You play as Cassidy, a woman simply going about her life, and while she sleeps, she dives through her subconscious fighting all manner of weird creatures. During the day, she works a 9 to 5 job and hangs out with her friends. Might not sound terribly exciting in terms of premise, but the mundane premise belies a pretty solid game.
The core gameplay of Dreamscaper is an action game with a top-down perspective, not unlike many rogue-lites you’ve seen before like Enter the Gungeon. This game is focused on melee combat, with a whole host of abilities. You have your melee weapon, a shield with which to block and parry attacks, a dodge roll to avoid attacks, bombs to clear obstacles and do big damage, and projectiles to attack from a distance. In addition, you have up to two big magic abilities, often doing a significant amount of damage and require a cool down after using them. You also have a meter that fills up as you kill enemies that allows you to slow down time, and you can toggle it on and off to use at your leisure.
The feel of the combat is great. Attacks feel meaty, but responsive and quick too. You have two types of attacks with your melee weapon. A light attack that can be pressed repeatedly for a combo, and a heavy attack that will knock most enemies down, and depending on the weapon, can send them flying back too. With the light attack, you’ll also notice your character will flash white at certain points, and if you hit the attack button again right at that moment, the next attack will come out faster and will be stronger. A really cool idea, and mastering the timing during intense combat can take a little while.
The most unique aspect of Dreamscaper is what goes on outside of combat. You’re playing as, presumably, a rather ordinary woman who gets whisked away to some weird dream world when she sleeps. When she’s not sleeping or working, you can travel around the city she lives in, meet people, and chat with them. Developing stronger relationships with characters is how you unlock new things. You can also craft gifts to give to the people you talk to that increases your relationship more than just chatting. Of course, you’ll need to deduce what sort of things each person likes. The items required to craft gifts are obtained by defeating enemies, so the two sides of the game feed into each other quite nicely.
The good aspect of this system is that you can clearly see what advancing a relationship with a character will unlock. This allows you to aim for specific upgrades. The bad part is that this is the primary way of upgrading. Progressing through the actual rogue-lite part of the game doesn’t actually unlock anything for you. Fortunately, it seems like the game is balanced well enough where you never really need any of the upgrades to actually get to the end. This does mean that getting upgrades is always done at a fixed paced. You can never have a really good run where you managed to unlock a whole bunch of stuff.
The actual characters you build relationships with don’t seem to have a whole lot going on. Interacting with them gives you just a generic “You spent time with ____” message and that’s it. When you level up the relationship, you sometimes get a conversation. It doesn’t start out with much, but hopefully when you level them up a lot you get something more substantial.
Going back to the rogue-lite parts of Dreamscaper, the level design is a bit less than impressive. Each area is comprised of a series of really small square rooms. I’m just not a fan of this sort of thing in rogue-lites. Having closed off combat rooms just always slows the game down, and it feels like you spend just as much time walking through doors as you do fighting things. Some rooms are also puzzle rooms where you solve a relatively simple puzzle to get a treasure chest. These also just feel like they don’t really fit and only serve to slow the game down.
I’m also not the biggest fan of the enemy design. Most of the enemies don’t have particularly striking visual design. It’s enough to be able to tell what an enemy is at a glance, but none of the enemies really feel like they’re a part of the world they apparently inhabit. Also, a lot of enemies are just stationary turrets. True to their name, they don’t move, and the only thing they do is occasionally shoot at you. These don’t make for engaging enemies and are just boring to fight, yet they take up such a large percentage of the enemy roster. I said at the beginning that the game is apparently near feature complete, so unfortunately I don’t expect much of my bigger issues to change. I can’t see the level design changing dramatically with the game close to being finished.
Visually, the Dreamscaper looks quite nice, particularly during the rogue-lite dream segments. I was worried initially about the game being hard to parse with environments being as detailed as they are. The good thing about the enemy design is that they’re made to stand out with bright blue flashing bits on most of them. The use of high contrast in the enemy design is very effective in terms of following the action, I just wish they looked more interesting. The soundtrack is also pleasant, with more subdued music when exploring that kicks into high gear during action.
The combat in Dreamscaper is certainly good, and there’s fun to be had, but I just didn’t find myself pulled in. In great rogue-lites, I have no problem jumping right back in after a death. With this game, the glacially slow pacing means repeated playthroughs are going to really drag. The game even seems somewhat aware of this, as when you defeat a boss, you can simply skip it in later runs. It’s not a bad game either though. It’s fairly middle of the road with some genuinely good QoL ideas like being transparent about how to unlock certain things. If you’re looking for a new rogue-lite, you can do a lot worse than this. For me, I had probably about 15-20 hours of fun, and for $20, that’s certainly not a bad deal.
Afterburner StudiosDreamscaperFreedom! GamesMaple Whispering Limitedrogue-lite