Disclaimer: this Dreamscaper review is based on a free copy provided by the developers, around 11 hours of gameplay and having reached the 3rd floor while playing with mouse and keyboard.
Dreamscaper is an action roguelike with a deep and emotional story made by the people of Afterburner Studios and is their first published game. In it, we follow Cassidy, a marketing agent who is plagued by the traumas of her past and attempts to fight against them by both improving herself and confronting them in her dreams. During your playtime you’ll find yourself switching between the waking world (hereafter referred to as the city of Redhaven) and the titular Dreamscape; both have a meaningful role to play in your journey as you’ll need to go as deep as possible into the Dreamscape as well as help Cassidy make new friends in the city she has just moved to.
The game adopts an interesting art style that at first felt a little smudged, but as I continued to play I became more and more charmed by its visuals and the dreamy feel to everything. It felt appealing to the eye and easy to differentiate, with the exception of some of the pickups blending in with the floor or glare of the sun (or whatever light source exists in the Dreamscape).
The lack of faces in the characters doesn’t stop them from feeling unique and clearly different. Add to that their distinct personalities and you could easily see them as real people. The conversations with Dreamscaper’s characters feel natural and often relatable.
Animations are also amazingly fluid. While trying out a new weapon, you will always get a feel of how it works and when to hit the sweet spot just by looking at the attack. The same could be said for most enemies, although some have a bit more range than you’d expect and the similar-looking turret enemies can only be identified once they start attacking.
The soundtrack of this game was composed by Dale North and is nothing short of fantastic. Whether it was the calming, emotional, and sometimes even lonely, tunes in Redhaven or the reminiscing tunes while exploring the Dreamscape, they all helped add an extra layer of immersion. Additionally, with the music’s shift to a more upbeat and exciting version of the same song when combat starts, you’ll find yourself wanting to sit there and listen to the songs for hours on end. I cannot overstate how well-fitting and beautiful the soundtrack is.
As mentioned before, Dreamscaper has the player switching between the Dreamscape and Redhaven. While in the Dreamscape, Cassidy must explore a map of premade and randomly placed rooms and defeat the nightmares therein, while obtaining a number of different weapons, spells, and other equipment that allows her to survive for longer. The amount and variety of different equipment items and mementos in the game make every run feel different from the last, providing each player a completely unique experience each time.
After death, the player is returned to Redhaven, where Cassidy is given options on what to do, such as sketching new items, meditating and gaining new stats, daydreaming to unlock new rooms in the Dreamscape, talking to people and becoming friends with them, completing long term goals; the game always gives you something to work on. Before going to sleep you may also choose your starting loadout or be bold and leave it up to luck.
In terms of controls, while I can’t talk about the gamepad experience which is the recommended way to play, mouse and keyboard provided a decent enough experience with only a few hiccups. Aiming a weapon or shield often felt fine as long as I was already pointing in the correct direction, but I found myself many a time turned around due to the positioning of my mouse being a bit far off and having to quickly reposition and try again, resulting in my taking damage more often than not.
Dreamscaper is a roguelike game, which means that once you die you go back to the beginning. However, this only happens in the Dreamscape. All progress made in Redhaven is permanent and will affect your future runs. At first, going back to Redhaven feels like a nice downtime and rest from the action and chaos that just ensued, and while it is important that you go back to town to upgrade your stats and unlock new items, it also becomes a bit tedious to do so after every run. If you want to go back to the action immediately, you can ignore everything and go back to sleep. However, you might miss a new recipe, or a chance to talk with some of the inhabitants of the city, and have to wait for the next opportunity to find them. The game encourages you to immerse yourself in its world by rewarding you for digging into its more optional content.
Dreamscaper provides a decent challenge to both new players and veterans of the roguelike genre, especially with the customizability of the difficulty levels and the associated risk/reward factor. Enemies can often overwhelm you if you aren’t careful and bosses can be difficult at first (although they are also skippable after their first defeat), and every time you enter a new floor you’ll feel extremely underpowered until you’ve found some alternative way to damage your foes.
Despite all of this, the game at no point feels unfair, as you have the ability to quickly climb back up from a bad run and things always feel in your control. Even when it seems that you’re about to die, you always feel like there’s always a way out of the situation thanks to the tools given to you.
As I mentioned earlier in passing, if find the game too difficult, there is the option to turn on Lucid mode, which increases your defenses against nightmares and makes it easier for you to enjoy the game. This is great for those who just want to enjoy the story without being overly burdened by the combat aspects of the game.
With the amount of customization available, the replay factor is fairly high. You can choose a different loadout, influence, difficulty, and you can even turn off some items. And if you’re a completionist, you can also try to complete the many challenges given to you in your journal. In general, most players will find the game fun enough to come back to every day.
Dreamscaper is a fun and emotional journey that you’ll find pleasant, enjoyable, and challenging. If you’re looking for a new roguelike to play, or a compelling story to live through, I cannot recommend this game enough. The passion that was put into this project can be felt every step of the way, from the combat, to the story, to the dialog, the progression and the feeling of overcoming your own weaknesses to succeed all feels well thought out and exceptional.
While not perfect, it still has a massive amount of charm to unpack in this otherworldly experience. To all looking to purchase this title, and for those already playing, good luck and sweet dreams!