Dreamscaper is a beautiful and poignant roguelite to compete with Hades
You can’t help but immediately identify with Dreamscaper, a game where the protagonist prefers to spend his days dreaming rather than facing life. Most of her time is spent in her bedroom, although she occasionally goes to a bar, park, or cafe to burn off the hours before her next dive into the dreamy landscape. This is how many people spent their time during the pandemic: waking up, working, dreaming (playing games, watching movies, choosing your dream poison), sleeping, rehearsing. This is how it went last year, and this is how life is for Cassidy.
From the moment the title screen appeared, backed by a beautiful orchestral soundtrack, I knew I had found something special with Dreamscaper. It is a gem of a game.
First Impressions is a new column on TheGamer where I play a game for 30 minutes and write down what I think. Unfortunately, I played Dreamscaper for almost two hours. Please forgive me.
Dreamscaper opens with our faceless protagonist standing in a flooded city near a misshapen house, his memory of the place distorted by recognition. You go through a portal and reappear near a warped church and cemetery. One of the tombstones shines with light – you approach and a clawed hand comes out of the mud. You wake up in your room.
Cassidy is young here. She is on her knees by her bed and she is looking at a family photo. Elsewhere in her bedroom, there is a boxed message that simply says, “Cancer sucks.” Time passes ten years later and you see the family car leaving the sleepy town of Blackhill, presumably in an attempt to escape bad memories, towards the big city. Cassidy still takes her memories with her.
After this short introductory sequence, a tutorial is offered. Cassidy plays a dungeon robot and the camera moves to the TV before zooming in on the game. The combat is relatively straightforward. There are no combos to remember – just a light attack, a heavy attack, ranged attacks, spells, dodges, guards, and parries. It’s a game of timing. Time your light attacks well to increase damage, time your blocks to parry and stun – or to knock back projectiles at enemies from a distance – and time your dodge to briefly slow down time. Your heavy attack can also hit enemies against walls to stun them, so you need to take positioning into account.
You start with a baseball bat, which hits with a satisfying noise. But this being a roguelite, each run is different. There are daggers, swords, magic fists, and guitars that tear enemies apart like chords of power. There are bows and water balloons, elemental spells and many more that I haven’t seen yet. There is real feedback for everyone.
When you are in the dream world, death is the end – you are sent back to the waking world, and the dream landscape will only remember the bosses you killed. When you return to a dream, you are free to ignore the bosses that you have beaten, but it means that you will also miss out on any resources that they are giving up, and that they are giving up a lot. You might run out of a weapon, piece of armor, or an item that will help you in the next area. You might also not have enough currency when you inevitably stumble upon a store. In addition to that, you can find items in the dream world that unlock options in the waking world. For example, I found a guitar in a dream, which allowed me to spend resources while awake to unlock it for future races.
While awake, you are free to explore the town of Red Haven – here you can sit at a booze to daydream and unlock buff rooms in the dream world. You can also meditate at the park to increase total health, mana, or boss damage, or you can draw in the cafe to remember the weapons. Each weapon you use also comes with a random modifier, such as will-o’-wisps that surround you and damage the enemy, gusts of wind that push enemies back, or lightning bolts of energy that shoot in a cone. This random element ensures that no two races are alike.
Dreamscaper might not have a million lines of dialogue like Hades, but its combat system is much more thoughtful. Cassidy faces trauma and goes through grief, and it’s important to keep your shield in place as you walk through these murky waters. It’s a game where feeling isolated in a city of clamor is harmoniously woven through history and mechanics. There is a melancholy quality in Dreamscaper, an underlying sadness, but there is also something else: hope. If you face your problems, things get easier. Eventually that brick wall will crack and one day you can walk across the moat as if it had always been there. Today you might be stuck in a cycle, but who knows what to expect – I’ll find out when I inevitably devote 100 more hours to this brilliant game.
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