Dreamscaper – Review
Follow Genre: Action, Roguelike, Hack-and-slash
Developer: Afterburner Studios
Publishers: Freedom Games, Maple Whispering
Platform: PC, Switch
Tested On: PC

Dreamscaper – Review

Site Score
7.5
Good: Great atmosphere
Bad: Sluggish combat
User Score
6.0
(1 votes)
Click to vote
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Rating: 6.0/10 (1 vote cast)

Back in 2020, Dreamscaper was released onto Steam as an Early Access title. Throughout the following year, it has evolved and improved in different ways, adding new content and polishing the foundation. But, has Dreamscaper truly reached new heights?

Story

Dreamscaper’s story follows a girl named Cassidy after she moves from her quiet town into the big city for her new job. Alone and confused, Cassidy will slowly learn to embrace her new life as she battles her inner demons at night and forms new relationships by day. As usual for roguelikes, the game doesn’t have much of a focus on story, but what is there is quite alright.

Besides the story itself, a more important part of Dreamscaper comes with its characters, who Cassidy will meet throughout the town. As she grows closer to each of them, their bond will grow, leading to conversations about their lives, hopes, and dreams. Every single one of the characters is well written and unique, making it a shame that the conversations tend to be short.

Graphics

The game’s graphics consist of 3D models presenting dreamlike features thanks to the filters and lighting choices applied. Although the faceless, mannequin-like designs of the characters subtract from their characterization, each of them remains unique, with said design contributing to the overall atmosphere.

In contrast, most of the enemies are rather bland in design, with only bosses standing out. Generic goons are more often than not reduced to a glowing body part on a dark body, different from each other but forgettable overall. This also applies to most pickups across the game, which come in the shape of featureless glowing balls automatically absorbed by Cassidy.

Sound

Similarly to the game’s graphics, Dreamscaper’s sound design greatly contributes to the ambiance. Composed of mainly tranquil songs, the OST as a whole is rather relaxing, although it ramps up to match the action whenever necessary. The SFX are also rather good, although perhaps increasing their volume for enemy attacks would be an improvement.

Gameplay

Dreamscaper belongs to the roguelike genre, more specifically to the hack-and-slash and roguelite subsets of it. What differentiates roguelites from “normal” roguelikes is the permanent progression between runs, which are achieved by upgrading Cassidy’s stats and changing the dungeons’ characteristics in Dreamscaper’s case.

During each run, players will have to clear a series of floors, each divided into a series of rooms. The rooms themselves feature a slew of preset layouts randomly distributed and featuring a handful of enemies. Aside from combat rooms, players may also encounter ones containing items, shops, or puzzles.

Each of the floors also has its own unique boss, which must be cleared at least one time before progressing. After the first clear, the bosses become optional, although the rewards for defeating them are in turn severely decreased. The bosses themselves are rather limited in their difficulty, only having shallow move-sets, which can be easily cheesed.

In order to defeat their enemies, players will have several tools at their disposal, including melee and ranged attacks, a parry, a dodge, two “Lucid Attacks” and an ultimate “Lucid Awakening”. Out of these, the parry, dodge, and melee attacks, have a short window of “perfect timing” to improve their effectiveness, such as reflecting projectiles upon parrying. The so-called Lucid Attacks are two special abilities Cassidy may use on a cooldown with strong effects. One of the two can be equipped before beginning a run, the other needing to be found along the way. Lastly, Lucid Awakening consists of a powerful ability to slow time down to a crawl, requiring several rooms to charge before use. Besides the long cooldown, Lucid Awakening also shares ”Lucid” with ranged attacks, the game’s equivalent of mana, which slowly recharges when not in use.

Alongside finding a second Lucid Attack, players may also change their other equipment with pieces found throughout the run. These may simply have better stats or even additional effects, where unique types of equipment may change the playstyle. Other than the equipment itself, items can also appear, providing passive effects and bonuses to Cassidy.

During each run, players will also collect a heap of different currencies, most of which can be utilized in the waking world for permanent upgrades. The only currency with an actual use during runs is Sand, which is necessary to purchase items at the shops that spawn on each floor. Besides these currencies, keys and bombs can also be found, the first being required to open certain rooms and the latter capable of breaking special blocks and damaging enemies.

Once the run finishes, Cassidy will awaken from her slumber, allowing players to visit several locations in town. In these, she may interact with other characters, chatting with them and even gifting them handmade baubles. After repeating these actions a few times, the relationship level between Cassidy and the character will grow, unlocking or upgrading their “Influence”, a passive bonus that can be equipped for future runs.

In a few of these locations, players will also be able to spend the previously mentioned currencies for permanent upgrades. These range from permanent stats for Cassidy to new rooms in the dungeons or items for the shops. Besides these upgrades, the aforementioned gifts also require a certain currency to be crafted, becoming more expensive the more they increase the bond.

One of Dreamscaper’s main issues comes with the pacing of its combat. Due to slow attack animations, Cassidy’s controls seem rather sluggish, especially with larger weapons. This, combined with other factors such as the Lucid Attack cooldowns and how many hits enemies take to kill, turns combat into a slog. However, this doesn’t mean most encounters are particularly challenging, since almost all enemies can be stun-locked by chaining attacks. The only harder fights players may face will be those with large amounts of enemies dogpiling them.

Besides the standard difficulty, the game also features two harder modes, increasing the challenge during runs. The difficulty may be customized by altering several factors, such as damage that is taken or enemy health. On the opposite end, the possibility to make the game easier is also available, by enabling an option that will make Cassidy more resilient with each defeat.

Conclusion

Overall, Dreamscaper is an alright roguelike with a great presentation and ambience, but with a combat system that needs improvement. Those looking for a fast-paced experience a la Dead Cells or similar games will most likely not find it here, but those looking for an entry point to the genre may be interested. Priced at £19.49/$24.99/€20,99, Dreamscaper is fairly priced for the content offered, although waiting for a sale to try it out might be recommendable.

Personal Opinion

“I honestly don’t dislike Dreamscaper, but it definitely hasn’t managed to grab me. I play a LOT of roguelikes, they’re probably my favorite genre, and this one didn’t stand out for me. Besides how pretty it may look and how interesting the relationship-building aspect might be, the feel of the combat just doesn’t sit right with me. Cassidy hits like a wet noodle, attacking with no impact and she’s just wailing on enemies as long as she isn’t surrounded. Bosses aren’t much better either. While they might catch you off guard on a first run, Lucid Awakening and a few bombs absolutely demolish them. There’s also the downtime between runs, padded out by unnecessarily long animations and a score screen after each floor. Once I die, I want to be able to restart immediately, or at least be able to purchase upgrades quickly and continue. Upgrading Cassidy is honestly a nuisance, due to her snail-paced walking speed in the waking world and needing to change locations at least twice. Dreamscaper is not a bad game by any means, but it definitely could be streamlined.”

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Rating: 6.0/10 (1 vote cast)
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Dreamscaper - Review, 6.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating

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