Dreamfall: Nitpicks

By Shamus
on Oct 19, 2006
Filed under:
Game Reviews

After all of the praise I’ve heaped onto Dreamfall recently, I think it’s only fair to mention some of the flaws.

The most tedious and stupid is that whenever you put the disc in it launches the installer, even if the game is already installed. Couple this with the fact that the game won’t run unless the disc is in the drive and you have a nice recipe for annoying the user every time they play the game.

Dreamfall, shape-matching puzzle
QUICK! Find the shape with the curvy top and the line with the pointy… oops! Time ran out! Now you have to start all over!
There are these annoying pattern-matching puzzles, where you must hunt around a grid for random shapes. The shapes on the grid change positions as you play. The shapes are all fairly simillar. They are all the same color. The puzzle is timed. You must find several shapes in a row, but the timer is working against you. Every few seconds, once of the shapes you’ve already found will vanish or move and you’ll have to match it again.

Perhaps I just hate this game because I’m terrible at it, but this is exactly the sort of thing I’m talking about when I refer to DIAS gameplay.

The game was designed with a console controller in mind. This is a third-person game, and just as mouse & keyboard is ideal for first-person, the Playstation-style “Dual Shock” controller is just perfect for the third-person experience. The game supports the use of mouse & keyboard, but it feels clumsy to me. Once I plugged in my USB controller (which is a near identical copy of the Dual Shock) my enjoyment of the game went way up.

The controller issue wouldn’t be as much of a problem if not for the combat, which is another problem I have with the game. Yes, an adventure game with combat. I’m not a purist, and I enjoy this blending of genres. I like when first-person shooters offer a little adventure game style puzzling. I like when action games spice things up with a little RPG-style stats building. (You know, do X for a while and your attributes will go up, allowing you to do more and better X.) So, combat in an adventure game is not anathema to me. My issue with it is that the combat in this game feels… it feels exactly like a combat system designed by an adventure game designer.

Dreamfall, the combat system.
You can tell my trainer is a martial arts master because when she attacks she takes a step back, cocks her arm, then marches two steps forward and takes a heavy swing at my shoulder.
The problem here is that once you hit a button to take a swing, your character is going to wind up and take that swing and you can’t stop them. The move might take a second or two, and during that time you may want to change what you’re doing. Perhaps your foe is doing the same thing, except you realize his blow is going to land first. You’re going to want to get out of the way instead of following through. You’re going to mash on your keypad (and maybe shout) but your avatar is going to keep going no matter what. This is really frustrating for the player, and leads people to use words like “unresponsive” and “stiff” when describing the controls, even though that isn’t really the problem. To fix this, you would need to do one of two things:

  1. Speed up the fighting system so that it works like classic fighting games (Mortal Kombat) where movements happen so fast that the user will never get a chance to second-guess themselves. This would be very bad, because it will alienate a lot of adventure gamers. They often like adventure games because of the slow pace and the fact that you don’t need the reflexes of the thirteen year old boy to play them. Your fighting system will either bore the kids or be so fast that your core audience will be unable or unwilling to play it.
  2. Allow the user to alter their chosen action mid-move. So, if I’m about to deliver a strike I can suddenly change to a block. This will mitigate the problem, but is very, very difficult to implement. It would be a pain to animate, not to mention code. I wouldn’t want to try this.

My dueling system might be an interesting alternative to use in a game like this, although it would probably be too expensive in terms of development time.

At first the combat in Dreamfall semmed impossible and arbitrary. Then I locked on to a few tricks that made the whole thing easy enough that I was able to bully my way through the game. The big trick is:

  1. Get in close
  2. Wait until the foe begins to attack
  3. Step back and let them miss
  4. Hit them ONCE (don’t get greedy!)
  5. Repeat

The only time I get hit is whenever the #$@& camera swings around on me and I end up stepping into my foe when I’m trying to step back. In any case, this isn’t exactly a chessmatch.

I have other nitpicks with the plot and such, but I’ll leave that for when I get to the end of the game.

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8Eight comments? Nobody's THAT hungry.

From the Archives:

  1. LafinJack says:

    That’s Funcom for you.

  2. Foo Bar says:

    camera angle and movement is pure trash. fighting system is underdeveloped…a few nice touches and it would’ve been a perfect game. But…those little annoyances, when annoying a lot, drag the playability and fun factor of the game into the dirt.

    Love the game though, just underdeveloped. Reason could be time budget on the development team?

  3. Andrew says:

    I absolutely hated the movement system. They should have made it something like GTA: San Andreas for PC, where you can move with keyboard and aim with mouse. And you can’t even turn off inverted mouse! Bah.

  4. Carra says:

    Heh, googling for DreamFall movement gives this as first hit.

    Just spent fifteen minutes with it and boy, is it frustrating.

    -> Can’t remap the bloody keys to the numpad. Major letdown :(
    -> And the mouse works in reverse from a regular fps game. With no way to turn the mouse ><

    Enough to get me already frustrated.

    Now where did i put my controller?

  5. shadowrunner says:

    “The longest journey” – it sure felt like that when had to walk from the prison to the inn just to pick up a sammich.

  6. shadowrunner says:

    ….and back again.

    I feel this game is an improvement on “The Longest Journey”. I mean, the storyline/plot is ridiculous and badly constructed but Dreamfall has made it flow better. But the thing is, in both games, I found it hard to give a crap about the story (on the larger scale). I didn’t want to try and figure out what was going on as it felt like it would never make sense anyway. I think I prefer my VG fantasy to be more FF7 or Chrono Trigger. You don’t need it to be so complicated.

    Then there are the obvious gripes like the terrible camera and the pointless combat. They could have done so many things with the combat and if actual fighting was too difficult to implement, how about a battle of wits? Winning a turn allows you to land a blow? It doesn’t excite me but it would have been a whole lot better than just pushing forward and going crazy on the mouse buttons.

    Next, the ‘puzzles’. After playing something like Grim Fandago, any puzzler is going to seem a tad simple but this one just took the biscuit. I’m almost near the end and so far nothing has taxed me, even for a few minutes. It’s just a matter of looking around and making sure you don’t miss anything. I don’t even think there have been that many instances of combining items to get yourself out of fixes. Or an item you picked up earlier in the game coming in handy later on. In fact, the only frustrating parts have been when the camera goes mental in the middle of me trying to sneak around.

    Lastly, the script and Zoe’s voice acting. Just, *sigh*

    I really thought this game was going to be a lot better. It got 7/10 from Edge Magazine. I reckon they didn’t even play past an hour. It’s just completely average, maybe below average.

    If you want a proper action/adventure with a little bit of puzzler thrown in, Beyond Good and Evil is a great game.
    Otherwise, the Broken Sword series is everything Dreamfall is trying to be, still not perfect but definitely enjoyable gaming.

    It’s a shame that gaming has gone the way it has. It’s Dec 2009 and this decade has killed many good genres. I doubt we will get many dev studios attempting puzzlers that no one will buy, when they can just make games where you shoot people in the face.

  7. shadowrunner says:

    Actually, the only way it is an improvement is the flow of the story. In terms of gameplay, TLJ was far superior.

  8. Andrew says:

    I’m not sure if it’s worth answering to a 4 year old post, but whatever.
    Here’s how I beat every single enemy in the game (except the unbeatable trolls of course):

    1. Use light attack
    2. If the enemy isn’t blocking goto 1
    3. Use heavy attack
    4. goto 1

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