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 Tà¸rnquist: 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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