Dreamfall, The Bitter End

By Shamus
on Oct 20, 2006
Filed under:
Game Reviews

I finished Dreamfall, and I’m obliged to retract some of the high praise I heaped on the game. The ending was quite unsatisfying. Alan De Smet warned of this in the comments of my original Dreamfall post. Even so, the ending was a real shocker. Not “shocker” as in “I can’t believe that happened” but as in “I can’t believe they ended the game there.”

One review I read likened the game to The Empire Strikes back: A dark second installment in a trillogy. I disagree, because I’m sure I would remember if in ESB the beloved Luke had become self-destructive and nihilistic, eventually alienated his friends, and finally allowed himself to be killed by a stormtrooper. I don’t recall the scene where the rebellion was crushed and it hinted that even their families were killed. Princess Leia didn’t fall into a coma and eventually die, and Han Solo wasn’t rounded up and sent to the imperial prison where he was left to rot. The Empire didn’t introduce their new & improved Death Star at the end, and people left the theater talking about wether or not Darth Vader was Luke’s father, not if they thought Chewbacca could maybe have somehow survived that final raid on the rebel base.

In Empire, the Rebels lost a battle. In Dreamfall, they lose the war, the good guys snuff it, and the bad guys get the last laugh.

I’m sure fans of the game will be quick to point out that this is the second act in a three-act play. Great. The first installment came out in 1999. Adventure games and budgets being what they are, there is no guarantee that the next game will even be made. And even if it is, I don’t really care to wait for it. In another seven years I’ll be 42, my oldest daughter will be getting ready to turn 16, and I will only have a vague memory of what happened in this game. Unlike a book or a movie, I probably won’t be able to go back and play this installment, either. Will I need to surf around, hunting for some Windows XP emulator? I had some trouble getting the game to run right on today’s equipment. I can only imagine the challenge of getting it to run on some machine built in 2013, just so I can go back and familiarize myself with all of the various characters and plotlines.

I care about the story now because I’ve been playing it. I won’t care about it then. Seven years is a long time.

Even when the game comes out – even if it came out tomorrow – I’m not sure I’d want to play. A lot of heroes were dispatched. Everyone I liked died. There were many, many bad guys in this game. Lots of people hurt the good guys, hurt the main character, and were a general pain in the butt. In the end, they all went free. Only one bad guy died, and he was dispatched off-camera by one of his own people after all of the good guys were already defeated. Make a story harsh enough, and the reader will be eager to see it all get put right in the end. Make it too harsh, and the reader is going to put the book down and not come back. This is supposed to be entertainment, after all.

The last several minutes of the game were an extended cutscene where the writer drove home his message of hopelessness and utter defeat. Note to Ragnar Tørnquist: Geeze man, mercy already! I liked your characters. Could you maybe leave like one or two alive*?

Of course, the fact that I reacted this way shows that the game was very successful on a lot of other levels. There are wonderful characters in this thing, and even after that brutal ending I have this urge to run around and re-visit earlier parts of the game. Despite the miserable ending, I still think this is one of the best non-comedy adventure games I’ve ever played. It’s generous with the visuals, dialog, and characters. There is a lot to love here, which is why the ending was so upsetting.

* Okay, I actually doubt all of the good guys are dead. It looks that way, but there were enough loopholes that they could show up again. Still.

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20828 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.

From the Archives:

  1. Evil Minion says:

    Dude! How about a spoiler cut tag?! Oh, right. Not LJ.

    Well, now that all that’s out of the bag, I can at least say that I know what you mean. Having read some similar stuff in very bad fiction where I cared not at all about the characters, I still found plots that end with utter failure, hopelessness, and doom to be pretty depressing. I can only imagine how much worse it must be if you actually cared about the characters involved.

  2. Rufus Polson says:

    By 2013 you’ll probably be running Linux and you’ll be able to make old Windows games work using Wine.

    • Gary U says:

      Wow Rufus, are you some kind of a seer?

      I started playing this game last year, in Linux under wine, and just finished it, as you had predicted 9 years ago. I just found this site looking for someone who had a similar feeling about the ending, and I see this post. Just wow.

  3. Acksiom says:

    “We can only hope for Shamus’s sake that the ‘resolution’ of Bore Me Harder: The Longest Bore-Me 2 fails to suck as dismally as the 1st in the series.” — Me

    Can I call ’em, or what?

  4. Shamus says:

    Can I call ‘em, or what?

    Shrug. I would have been really, really happy with this game if it had pulled off an ending comparable to the original. To me, the ending to TLJ didn’t suck at all, so I would have enjoyed something along those lines. You know:

    1) Protagonists not dead

    2) Evil thwarted

    3) Questions answered

    Cliche, I know. Heck, I would have been happy with 2 out of 3. I would have settled for 1 out of 3.

    You’ve made it pretty clear you don’t care for this series – that’s fine. Whatever. But for someone who enjoyed #1 this was a pretty bad turn.

  5. Acksiom says:

    I *did* call it, and I *was* right.

    And you *do* realize that your list of reasons why it suxored so very mightily, rather than defending your own POV, *really* only goes to *support*, *my* basic thesis. . .

    . . .*right*?

  6. Shamus says:

    I don’t care if you like it or not. You’re wrong, and I’m done with you. I don’t like how your trying to bend this lament for an excellent game into some sort of “I told you so” because you’ve got an axe to grind with the original.

    Your last set of comments were annoying as well. You dragged my wife and kids in a debate on videogames. I let it slide because other things came up, but you can’t seem to have a discussion without it turning into some puerile debate.

    Does this place look like FARK to you? Take your nitpickery elsewhere.

  7. ScottM says:

    The “no sympathetic characters are still alive” is what burned me out on GRR Martin’s Ice and Fire series. It was cool, and I appreciated the grit– but every character who looked halfway likeable died, usually early in the book.

  8. Andre says:

    [Full disclosure: I’m a big fan of the first game in the series, and liked the second as well, despite it’s many flaws]

    Shamus, I hear what you’re saying about the ending of Dreamfall, I really do. I was depressed and frustrated at the end of it as well, but might I persuade you to at least slightly shift your perspective? I’ve played countless games where the ending just plain sucked, and mostly because of either bad writers or last-minute budget problems (KotOR 2, Lionheart, et al). The ending of Dreamfall was frustrating and depressing and it sucked, true, but to its credit I think it should be noted that these things were done deliberately. Ragnar intended to leave the player feeling the way he or she does at the end of the game, and claims, on his blog, that the purpose for this will be revealed when the next installment is released. With that in mind, I’d say that for all intents and purposes (piss-poor and largely irrelevant combat system notwithstanding), the game was a resounding success, at least from the perspective of its author. I can’t recall the last time a video game (of all things!) had as much control over my emotions as this game did. Yes, they were unpleasant things I was feeling, but I was feeling them completely. For crying out loud, I’m an avid gamer who laughed when Aeris died, so I would suppose I’m some heartless bastard when it comes to video game stories, no matter how immersed in them I get, and yet here I was, at the end of Dreamfall, holding back tears and at the same time refraining from throttling my monitor.

    That says a whole lot, doesn’t it? I’m not sure what exactly it’s meant to say, but…

  9. Andre says:

    …that’s not to say that your opinion isn’t valid. You’re not happy about the ending, and that’s perfectly understandable. I just wonder if perhaps a little credit is given because that lack of satisfaction is at least partially intentional by the writer.

  10. Miral says:

    I’m *still* hanging out in the Dreamfall forums, talking about the game, and I’ve been there since just before it was released. That’s the longest I’ve ever been in any sort of forum, let alone a game forum (I tend to lose interest in forums fairly quickly). Perhaps that could tell you something about my opinion of the game :)

  11. Mr. Pseudo says:

    The Undreaming is Unchained…

  12. Lysander says:

    Aw, damn it. I knew I shouldn’t have clicked on this link. I’m stuck in a stealth mission and now after reading this I’m not sure if I have the urge to complete it. Well, at least it’ll keep me from re-loading when I’m near the end, in order to try to see if there’s multiple endings.

    I absolutely loved the first Longest Journey. The world was so realized, rich and dense. There were all these different cultures and creatures, myths and histories. And the ending was freaking awesome — well, not the epilogue. The epilogue was silly.

  13. Dave Klecha says:

    My big problem with Dreamfall–aside from the dismal ending–was that the last half of the game seemed to be nothing but cutscenes, save for the bit in the St. Petersburg factory.

    Supposedly now even the sequel itself is going to be released in installments, and not for a while yet, evidently. I don’t think I’ll be getting it.

  14. Late Poster says:

    I would like to apologize beforehand for a rather verbose and probably inappropriate for the venue type of post…

    Although I more or less agree with your sentiments, I believe this actually follows the path taken in TLJ, albeit to a far more drastic degree. It makes more sense if viewed within the context of Jungian psychology. I mention this because TLJ in no uncertain terms quite directly addresses a wide array of archetypes–specifically, imagery concerning the archetype of the self and individuation, which is the act of becoming a more self-aware and balanced individual by learning to accept the aspects of the self which one hates or would rather disregard–a cleaving of the conscious and unconcious aspects of the self–the careful balance of Stark and Arcadia, if you will.

    In TLJ, the main character for almost the entire game is made out to be some sort of chosen one. One can imagine April’s huge disappointment when she realizes the self-identity she has formed through having toiled through life threatening challenges–an identity that has constantly been suggested and apparently confirmed through countless prophesies no less–is in fact utterly shattered at the end. This is the equivalent of psychological amputation, in which one’s image of oneself is irrevocably destroyed. Importantly, this deflationary ending underlines Tørnquist’s purpose (of course, guessing a designer’s “purpose” is a fairly idle activity, but bear with me for sake of argument). April is forced to seriously question her identity and place in the world. Its the quintessential step in the process of individuation–the loss of what one believes is their most important asset forces them to realize there is more to them than what they had previously come to depend on.

    I believe Mr. Tørnquist takes this even further in Dreamfall–and honestly, the name itself should give away the drastic ending. I can’t exactly say that it really works in terms of entertainment, but I am certain Mr. Tørnquist is attempting to do more than entertain–he’s trying to challenge the manner in which the player think about himself. Zoey’s condition at the end is quite similar to April’s at the end of TLJ, but in a rather unconventional manner which is only possible through the medium of games. Recall that dreamfall starts at the end–the main character’s fate is already decided and in fact everything she does to prevent it just clenches the matter. This last should sound familiar to students of Aristotelean tragedy; but instead of the character embodying hubris, what Tørnquist does is allow for hubris to build in the player himself through their assumption that through their actions the main character will be able to prevail. Therefore when in fact this absolutely does not occur, the player experiences something rather similar to what April must have experienced at the end of TLJ: utter deflation. At the same time, Tørnquist demonstrates through April’s fate (in Dreamfall) that artificially dwelling within a deflationary state is merely self- destructive. Finally, the questioning soldier’s path (i really don’t recall his name at this point) demonstrates that everything he fights against and hates is actually just a reflection of himself. It’s a three pronged attack on the player’s assumptions and attitudes. In terms of archetypal behavior, actually the final destination for all three characters is really the only possibile outcome.

    In other words, Tørnquist spent TLJ reveling in the beauty of archetypes (in the Jungian sense). He then spent Dreamfall demonstrating their destructive capacity. If you think of it this way, the ending rather has a beauty of its own in that its quite naturalistic and realistic for the circumstances which Tørnquist has laid down.

    I apologize if this was dense and possibly incomprehensible. TLJ and Dreamfall just make a lot more formalistic sense to me within the context of archetypes as explained Jung. If you are interested in further exploring archetypes and Jungian psychology, consider Ego and Archetype by Edward F. Edinger.

  15. Icecreamvamp says:

    Well a bit late but since the blog is still open, why not post a reply I guess :P

    Here’s a quote from Gamasutra.com..

    Gamasutra: Is it a planned three-part series definitely?

    Ragnar: No, this game ends, it has an ending. I can’t say too much but there are going to be story threads left open because I never like to close everything. I like to leave some mystery and some second guessing to the players, but yeah, I have a lot of paper with the story of Dreamfall 2 or Longest Journey 3, or whatever you want to call it, ready. So yeah, if this game is a huge success then I’m ready to go! After my next game of course.

    Im so seriously gonna kill the guy if he doesn’t at least ”finishes’ the story.. or at least a bit more..
    at dreamfall they just cut the story away right at the moment the action was about to happen..
    It kinda reminded me to the remake of war of the worlds where as soon as the humans were to strike back, ‘millions of tiny little creatures’ killed the aliens -_-..

    Why not immediately say : We’re bored and don’t want to finish this movie/game so we make a crappy end.

    No really, A lot of other gamers and I, I think we’re all mad and frustrated about Dreamfall. At first we had to run errands all the game long, then April died, suddenly about everybody died, and then we get stuck with one of the MOST CRAPPIEST GAME-ENDINGS EVER :@

    So Fuck Ragnar and his production team if he doesn’t make a 3th sequel.. I hope he’ll never make any game at all again then..

    Greetings,

    Icecreamvamp

  16. GeneAngel says:

    It looks like I’m in the definite minority here, but I was immensely satisfied with the ending as it was, though I can’t really articulate why. The main character’s quest was unfulfilled, the Evil Corporation was still alive and kicking, questions were raised and hints were dropped that were never explicitly resolved, all these things are true, and yet that doesn’t really matter to me for some reason.

    The joy for me was in the journey to get to that point. As you said, the world was rich and detailed, the characters interesting, and the story as it unfolded was top-notch.

    The problem is that you’re expecting a Chosen One story, and we were never promised that, at any point. Zoe is special, sure, but she was never destined to save/change the world, like April was in the first game, and I for one find it refreshing that they decided to write a story about one not touched by Fate.

    I think that the game ended where it did because they had done as much as they could with Zoe’s story. She’s not a Chosen One, she’s a (something-starting-with-a-D-that-I’m-omitting-for-spoiler-reasons), and it’s going to be up to whoever they pass the mantle to in the sequel to finish the tale.

  17. Damse says:

    (First of all.. im from Chile, South America, and my english is not as good as i wish to be.. so… sorry for the bad writing)

    I dunno if anyone here saw the entire credits when the game ends. I usually do this because in several games there are soprises after that. Well i have seen it and there was a little but not lesser-sorprise.

    There was a final cutscene with Brian Westhouse climbing a mountain in the Tibet (year 1933) -i dunno where exactly… its just a snowy mountain somewhere in Arcadia-, then he falls and some guy apears -i dunno (again) who is he, i didn’t played TLJ.. so i supose is from there- and he helps Brian and tell him some thing like “Time is a circle, it will not end here. You’r still needed”, and then both of them resume the climbing. And thats all.

    SO…. what the heck that’s supose to mean?? I mean… why apears in this post-end? Because thats short of important, doesn’t it? And, by who Brian Westhouse is needed?… Another protagonist of a future game? (i hope so)…

    The thing is that should mean something, because see all the credits is not part of the game, i think. And when in a serious game like this they do that, always mean that someting eventually gonna happen….
    Do you see my point?…

    Well… I didn`t like to much the end of Dreamfall, but…. was “interesting” play it. Was short like to see a movie… Yeah.. something like that.

  18. Nick Pitino says:

    Sorry to tack on a comment to a post so old, but I just wanted to say that if anything developers should be paying you for your awesome accidental advertising.

    I just picked up the two-pack for The Longest Journey and Dreamfall off of Steam for $25 a few minutes ago for the sole reason of your posts piquing my interest in them.

  19. Icecreamvamp says:

    Ok .. let me rephrase what I wrote about a year ago on this forum.
    I just want to make clear what my frustration is all about.
    When I first played the original TLJ game, a whole new world opened up for me.
    There was so much fantasy in it, and the voice-acting was great too! I enjoyed every single moment I was in that world.
    Now for Dreamfall.
    Basicly, what made it really worthy to keep on playing for me, were the soundtracks and the hope that something better would come my way.
    But let’s see dreamfall as an object, and not let our opinions mix up with it.

    – The Gameplay didn’t go very smooth, basicly the camera controls combined with the walking just didn’t work so well.
    – The animations were kinda crappy, tho the graphics were fine
    – Also to the gameplay ; every single mission, you had to keep running from spot A to spot B to keep on doing the same things. With the same unstable controlling of your current character.
    – The ending sequence: I respect the author’s idea’s and also his will to make some open ending, but at least it would have been nice to see it performed well.
    The points of view that are chosen are almost static. You have the front, the left , the right.
    There’s not much of a creative side to it.
    Now, for the first part of TLJ this worked great, but that’s mainly because it’s a point and click adventure and the animations did the rest.
    But even then there were other points of view, such as at the start when you can let April look out of her window , and you see the greasy, dirty, watery sewercanal with a rubber duck in it and you wonder why they are showing you this.
    I really really miss this solid thinking in Dreamfall.

    So to put it out clearly. It’s not that I don’t like the Idea of it all. I just think it’s much suckier then TLJ and they should have thought it over better : )

    Greetz,

  20. shadowrunner says:

    Icecreamvamp – I think you have summed my feelings up really well.

  21. Oblivion says:

    I will not discuss the ending of dream fall because there was NO ENDING.I mean even the story of April ends in a literal CLIFFHANGER for crying out loud!So mr Tornquost, cut all these nonsense abou spiritual ending, and the end of hope etc etc.We know that you wanted to continiue the game in episodes so you can get the most of it (hint: most of our money), and you duped all of us.But you dint even do that.Your accountant had an idea, you liked it and you cut the game in half, but then you said “oh what the hell, who remembers dreamfall anyway?”.So here I am, four years after the game is published, to banging my head to the wall after “completing”Dreamfall.And by the way, by saying that you like all this controversy and how it lit all the forums like christmas trees, well i have an update for you:
    This is called Trolling
    And trolling is NOT FOR GAME DESIGNERS!
    Thanks for ruining my week after the end of Dreamfall.
    I hate you.
    p.s.
    I post this open letter to Mr troll here because finally I found a thread that doesnt tries to make any artistic sense from the end of the game.THERE IS NO SENSE!P E R I O D

  22. Steve says:

    Sounds like Fable stories where they heap so much crap on the character that it leaves plotholes the size of bottomless pits oh and when you sidestep ’em you fall off a bridge into a river of lava and spikes. D: hate Fable story arcs…But the sidequests are fun and hilarious.

  23. Oblivion says:

    I OFFICIALY PRONOUNCE DREAMFALL AS THE PLAN 9 OF OUTER SPACE OF GAMING.IT IS SO BAD THAT SOME PEOPLE THINK IT IS ACTUALLY GOOD.

  24. Disappointed says:

    Dreamfall was a huge letdown for me both visually and story-wise. Just take a look at how beautiful TLJ was with its 2D. You could truly immerse yourself in its beauty. For some reason the developers thought it was a good idea to “get with the times” and introduce 3D, which is bland compared to its predecessor. Everything just looks so uninspired with only a few exceptions in Dreamfall.

    Then there are the one-dimensional characters without any depth: “Oh, I’m SO unhappy, I have everything in my life, but it just isn’t enough for my vain self – I WANT to go on an adventure, daddy!” or the hacker friend that decides to help sabotage the most powerful corporation known to man with almost no qualms. April in TLJ had some actual depth and you really felt for her, there was a connection, and it was really moving to see her innocence being shattered throughout the story. Zoe is just an empty vessel in comparison, not only is the voice acting bad, but her motives also seem too convenient to be believable.

    The most disappointing of it all is, of course, the plot, which leaves almost every question unanswered. I simply refuse to believe that this was the intention all along – to frustrate the player. It’s obvious to me that there was a sequel planned, but it’s been years now since the game was released so there’s no denying to the fact that the creator has played a gigantic joke on all of us, players. It hurts, because I fell in love with TLJ and Dreamfall is like a honeymoon on Hawaii, only it rained the whole time and both lovers were sick.

  25. NyNy says:

    I myself watched the entire walkthrough and was disgusted. There are so many questions to ask: What happened to Damien, Reza (if that’s not the real one), White Dragon, Crow, Brian and Kian? Did the whole village have to die? Did April really die? Are Zoe and Faith really sisters and how?

  26. Rob says:

    I just finished playing the Steam TLJ and Dreamfall package and I was extremely disappointing with the ending of Dreamfall. I thought they did a great job and had a great story, but I wanted a happy ending (or at least a hopeful one).

    Also, who needs character development when YOU are the character. I know how I feel about things and what my motivations would be and Zoe a great surrogate – albeit a hot female… But I’d rather look at her rear than some dudes. Anyway, as such (surrogate) I was immensely satisfied with her decision making and motives.

    And now I’m extremely depressed that she (me) and all of her (my) friends appear to be dead. Especially seeing as it takes way too much creative effort for me to resurrect them short of sending her on a trip with Spock through a black hole time tunnel alternate universe where she is able to save everybody from their various dooms. If that is the solution they were going to go with then they really needed to get to it a bit more before the credits.

    The fighting could have been a lot better. The only fight I thought was close to satisfying was the soldier by the scaffolding, and that only because there was a bit of a time crunch.

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