Alright, I’ll get this out of the way. I fully accept I am not Dreamlight Valley‘s target audience. My usual bag is big fantasy adventures and kooky indie games. I am partial to a life simulator, though, so an opportunity to set down roots in a community filled with Disney favourites wasn’t that unappealing.
So here’s the rundown if you’re not too up on what Dreamlight Valley is. It’s a free-to-play life sim from Gameloft in which you create your very own Pixar looking character and get to work renovating a town consumed by dark magic in the Disney universe. There’s fishing, farming, crafting and a horde of themed clothing and furniture items to collect. Completing activities ticks off a sort of Nook Miles-esque checklist, rewarding you with points you can use to expand the town or venture off on magical quests to retrieve lost villagers.
It is weirdly addictive, at least in the beginning. Much like starting Stardew Valley, there’s a ton of weeds to pull up and seeds to forage before your little slice of paradise starts to shape up. The game rewards you at every corner, trickling coins and crafting materials, introducing new features and systems at a rapid clip. In Dreamlight Valley, Scrooge McDuck takes the place of Tom Nook, and he is far more money hungry than everyone’s favourite mafia raccoon.
Want Goofy to sell two more seeds than usual? Better pay up. Want Remy the rat to be able to seat more customers? Dig deep in those pockets. If you want Scrooge himself to expand his store so that you can give him more money – best get selling those valuables. Frankly I think if Remy wants a bigger restaurant he can use some of his own profits, but I guess that’s not in the ‘spirit of friendship’. By the end of the first chunk of hours I spent with Dreamlight Valley, I was missing Tom Nook sorely. Scrooge McDuck even has the audacity to get angry if you don’t want to dump more cash into the local economy.
Dreamlight Valley will likely hold a lot of appeal for people who just want to hang out with their favourite Disney characters on a casual basis. You can bring Mickey Mouse a sandwich and then go fishing with him – there are some people who will really love unwinding with the characters like this. That is, unfortunately, the game’s biggest possible strength at the minute. It’s banking on the love of those characters and environments covering up the serious lack of depth it has.
It projects this illusion of depth and complexity through the sheer amount of stuff to do. Talk to characters, bring them gifts, complete their quests. Mine for gems, forage for materials, craft some furniture. Plant a never-ending parade of seeds to cook meals for Remy’s customers. It’s always dangling the carrot of ‘more’ in front of the player, only to reward them with more busy work. Dreamlight Valley tries to do absolutely everything, at the cost of doing nothing particularly well.
Even retrieving the lost villagers – something the game implies will involve magical quests in other lands – is just a rote series of boxes to tick. After doing some busy work for Moana you go out on high-seas adventure which just involves visiting static locations until you find the item you need right next to the boat. From there it’s sailing out to catch a single fish which is apparently going to sort her tribe out, and Moana’s on Team Dreamlight.
Obviously this is all early days, and my little Disney dream town has only just begun. But there just needs to be more to all this stuff to live up to the experience the game is promising. There are no rich stories here. There’s just giving money to someone who’s already obscenely wealthy whilst completing fetch-quests for an anthropomorphic mouse with strange, dead eyes.
It does offer a fair amount of customisation when it comes to clothes. You can customise a healthy chunk of stuff already, with collectable motifs discovered as you play and a variety of colour schemes. This system in itself will keep avid sim players happy, even if the rest of the game doesn’t offer quite as much as it should.
How can I play Disney Dreamlight Valley?
Although the game will be ultimately free-to-play next year, you’ll have to buy your way into Early Access. Gameloft have made this a little more tempting with the three tiers of Founders Packs available. These give out varying amounts of rewards, and obviously the higher tiers include everything shown in the lower ones.
Whether or not these packs are worth it is entirely down to you – but you’re not getting into Dreamlight Valley yet without one!
Dreamlight Valley Early Access – is it worth it?
Let’s be totally honest here – if you want to play this game, chances are you’re probably not going to let this article make up your mind for you. You just want to hang out with Mickey and Moana, and you’re not going to let any cynical old games critic get in the way. And that’s totally fair enough. But if you’re already on the fence about grabbing one of the Founders Packs, just bear this in mind. So far, Dreamlight Valley is an empty, slightly wonky experience that’s banking on beloved characters to cover up a severe lack of actual content.
Yes, you can spend hours cooking, mining, or fishing. But this is really just to fill out a checklist of tasks. If there really are ‘rich stories’ anywhere in this game world, I haven’t found them in 9-10 hours of play. It’s cute seeing all the little themed houses and buildings pop up. It’s not so cute having to spend hours making money to upgrade them. It’s especially not cool when Mickey Mouse randomly stares straight past your character and into your soul. It’s downright alarming when you see the ghost of Minnie Mouse strolling around the meadow. I wish I was joking. That actually happens.