In my review of Dreamfall Chapters Book One, I praised the fact that the developers had removed the stealth mechanics from Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. Come Book 2: Rebels, the first mission you’re sent on involves stealth! Kind of. Red Thread Games are acutely aware of how stealth in the preceding game was received, and therefore the stealth aspect barely impacts gameplay at all. You’ll occasionally be reminded that you had a glamour cast on you when you pass a guard and they cry, “If you’re a ghost leave me be!” or words to that effect. There are story reasons to justify the use of stealth, and there’s only one sequence where you actually have to keep out of view of a guard. The way the glamour worked seemed rather inconsistent, but the developers really seemed to prioritize player experience over anything else, which is lovely of them.
And yet, there’s still no automap. I keep pressing the ‘m’ button unthinkingly in the vain hope that one would appear. You must consult maps that appear as physical objects in the game in order to find your way around. Considering that this episode involved more navigation, this became a trifle irritating. The first segment with Kian was tolerable because the objectives were nice and localized. You would select a place, go to a map, and head in the direction of the place you were trying to get to, then interact with everything possible in order to progress. In the segment with Zoë that immediately followed, there’s a chance I didn’t tackle the problems I faced in the most systematic manner, because the puzzle involved the whole map and I ran around like a headless chicken for about an hour.
Once again, I am unsure of my feelings towards the map system. On one hand, it was incredibly annoying, and on the other, I do find myself taking in more of my surroundings than I would be otherwise. There are quite a few beautiful places to explore. By the middle of the third episode, I’m sure I’ll know the Marcuria and Propast maps like the back of my hand. At which point they’ll probably introduce other maps, won’t they? Overall, the second book felt a lot more like a typical adventure game than the first book did. Do you like combining items in your inventory like in Grim Fandango or Broken Age? Then you should find the gameplay in this fine.
As for the story, a lot happened in Rebels and dialogue trees make up a sizable portion of the game. If you are the kind of person who has the tendency of skipping them, this likely isn’t the game for you. The episode starts with Kian in the fantasy setting of Marcuria. He used to be an Azadi soldier and therefore worked to suppress magicals. He is placed in an interesting position as he has now joined the rebels and is helping those who once thought him the enemy. Themes of vengeance and loss are explored with little subtlety, yet effectively.
In Zoë’s chapters, the EYE officers have cordoned off sections of the streets, making the map even harder to navigate. Given how relatively open the map was in the first book and how the blockades shift over the course of the book, you really get an impression of how restrictive life is in Propast and how the average citizen is at the mercy of the EYE. There’s announcements in the streets that encourage you every minute to remain indoors, not to partake in protests, and remind you that the EYE are licensed to use lethal force. Zoë’s lack of a reaction was really unsettling. It makes for a good example of how to tie setting to narrative as the story that Zoë lives through involves this theme of powerlessness in relation to the state.
In addition to this, the unrelenting promotion of Dreamtime, a device by WATICorp that allows individuals to experience custom and premade dreams, makes for a strangely chilling atmosphere as Dreamtime addicts appear crippled and lifeless on the sides of streets. You wonder why these people are subjecting themselves to Dreamtime even when they can’t help but be aware of the possible side effects, and why society doesn’t appear to care overly much, before you realize that there are plenty of things that people do every day that have the potential to be harmful to them, particularly in excess. There’s a lot of uncomfortable parallels that can be drawn between Dreamtime addiction and video games, television, alcohol, or drug addiction.
Given that this is an episodic series, there are some parts of the story that have yet to be fully explained, and as such, it is difficult to analyze some of the things that happened because, well, I don’t know exactly what happened. Actually, the achievement for completing this book is called, “Wait, what?” Honestly, I am still confused. If I have any doubts about where the story is going, I’m unsure whether their antagonists’ motives will be nearly as compelling or relevant as their portrayal of the difficulties of living under a restrictive government.
As for the aspects of choice: for the most part, they won’t change the course of the game, but they will change character relationships and character fates, and they do feel like they have a significance beyond the confines of what you see on stage. The episode offers you the option to decline various quests. Kian, for instance, is given the opportunity to pass up the chance of joining the rebels. If he does this, the episode will conclude within the space of 15 minutes and you’ll have let the world burn.
The level of sign-posting continues to be absurd. When you get dialogue that’s different because of a choice you’ve made, large text will appear on screen telling you that, “Your choice had consequences.” I mean, it’s entirely possible that this game doesn’t actually feature important choices and I’ve simply been slowly conditioned into believing it does. Thankfully, Red Thread should be patching in a toggle for important dialogue/consequence notifications.
Rebels managed to convince me that Red Thread really cares about its players. If part of that caring involves making them improve their orienteering skills, who am I to question it?
A more exciting offering in comparison to the last episode, Dreamfall Chapters Book Two: Rebels is a serviceable adventure game with cool choices and consequences (probably) and a worthwhile story (probably). The episode runs a good 6-8 hours—an important thing for me to mention, I feel, in this post-The Order 1886 world.