Vulgar Knight

Out now on Steam Early Access, here’s a Dreamscaper review for this third-person rogue-lite adventure from Afterburner Studios and Freedom Games that flirts with the dream world and the real one.

Dreamscaper is exactly like the concept: dreamlike. Immediately I took to the graphics, which have an Absolver quality about them, and throughout, the world that the protagonist occupies is almost enchanting. 

Let’s get into the review of this Early Access title, a.k.a. it may or may not change in its final form. Sounds like a Dragonball Z character.

Dreamscaper Review

You play Cassidy in the game, a woman currently struggling with a bout of depression, but has the uncanny ability to face her demons through lucid dreaming, leading a double life as a rogue-lite adventurer.

Cassidy enters her dream world each night, but during the day, she can interact with NPCs and nurture friendships. She is limited to how long you can spend in the real world, with time passing by as it would in, well, the real world. It’s a shame as I could happily waste actual hours in Cassidy’s world – the scenery is beautiful, and the character models are lovely. 

Dreamscaper - The Woods
Into the Woods. Source: Screen capture

Cassidy enters her dream world each night, but during the day, she can interact with NPCs and nurture friendships. She is limited to how long you can spend in the real world, with time passing by as it would in, well, the real world. It’s a shame as I could happily waste actual hours in Cassidy’s world – the scenery is beautiful, and the character models are lovely. 

They kinda reminded me of a less bleak version of Mosaic. Go read the review.

You need to manage your time before the inevitable dive back into the dream world, so you go about town to meet and befriend the locals at the local bookstore, bar and even a park. By doing this, these people develop from strangers into authentic friends and can help you in your adventure, pending you build up your relationship with them.

You Got A Friend In Me

Compliment them on their hairdo or ask whether that’s the latest Patrick Ewing boots they’re wearing during a chit-chat, and you’ll increase that bond. Alternatively, you can craft various objects to gift them and receive a boost in your not-fickle-at-all friendship.

How does this friendship help in your endeavours? Aside from having a friend you can call to help you move house or invite over to watch Netflix and chill, they’ll give you an ability that will improve your stats. The stronger the bond, the stronger the influence. They bear abilities and weapons too.

Cassidy is a big girl, but she does have a curfew. Her social life in Dreamscaper is a strict three hours a day from 6 pm to 9 pm, so you have to make sure you make the most out of travel. Conversations can take 15-30 minutes, so once it gets to 9 pm, Cinderella needs to return home.

A Girl Can Dream

Cassidy boasts a range of melee attacks – heavy-hitting and combo-based, ranged and powerful spells and can also dodge attacks and parry/defend with a shield. With the spells, they have cooldowns, and the ranged attacks have limited ammo, but it’s a good balance when it comes to combat.

Bear in mind that this is Early Access, so with user feedback, this could change, but the combat does feel a little sleepy. Enemies can take quite the pounding, but when you hit them, they almost float for a while. Their demise awards health drops, bombs or a key for loot. The currency in the game is sand (representing time), and with this, you can buy new buffs or gear from the store found in the dream world.

I have to say, some of the weapons that Cassidy can conjure up are marvellous. I revelled in the floating blades she summons and fires onto enemies like a heat-seeking missile, or the equally impressive melee weapons from katanas to war hammers or death yo-yos (unofficial name).

Dreamscaper - Minescaper
Minescaper. Source: Screen capture

Ranged attacks weren’t as good. Though they cause a fair amount of damage and have advantages, the aiming system took a while to get used to as it didn’t offer 360º manoeuvrability. I seldom used ranged though and opted for melee and the special powers, which you can carry two of, lucid energy.

It Was Just A Dream

You can refill your lucid power by killing enemies, and for the other gauge on-screen is your health. Once it’s all gone, you wake up and return to everyday life. There aren’t lives or continues, and instead, you lose all your gear, but keep materials for crafting.

As you befriend the NPCs, you’ll also be able to unlock new gear which you can also craft with the materials from the dream world and create load-outs before sleeping. Then you return to the start.

Every other stage has a guardian to defeat, and they’re reasonable enough to face. They’re nothing like Dark Souls (thankfully), and when Cassidy defeats them, they disappear in a dreamlike manner, but if you die, they respawn. 

I didn’t realise until a third attempt, but once you beat a guardian, you can skip it and get a bonus item. Perfect if you don’t want to keep repeating, but you still have to plod through areas fighting lesser enemies.

You’ll find a variety of floor puzzles too which don’t slow the pace of the game to a halt, and instead give you a moment to recover a little. Not that Dreamscaper is a hectic game, but sometimes it’s good to break it up and use the old grey matter, don’t you think?

Taking Back Control

Due to the rogue-lite element and randomness of starting with a different weapon/load-out both through inexperience, then later, customisation, Dreamscaper has a lot of replay value and is a bit of a grind if you want to wield enough power to conquer Cassidy’s demons.

No doubt there will be those who can speedrun through the game without the need to improve their stats, but there shouldn’t be the need to rush. Like some of the best dreams, you should revel in the environments, and while it doesn’t offer up much in exploration, it makes up for it in atmosphere and gameplay.

Dreamscaper - Bar fly
Bar fly. Source: Screen capture

Probably the wrong thing to say at this point, but I have to say that Cassidy’s ‘normal life’ was excellent, and it would have been great to have a bit more time to explore as these sections were a highlight. The interaction with the NPCs and dialogue is well written, and the characters ooze charm, but there isn’t much scope to get to know them enough as you’re drawn back into the action every night.

Other than the limited time to interact with the townsfolk, the rest of the game doesn’t feel rushed, and despite this being an action title, there weren’t any moments I experienced that were stress-inducing or a sense of unease. However, I do wish Cassidy’s imagination wasn’t so limited that there were so many invisible walls in the game restricting movement. I get that it’s a dream, but at least block my path or something.

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