Dreamscaper Review: Sleep is for the strong

by Chris Camilleri
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Many video games use sleep as a mechanic to have the main character rest, regaining HP, stamina or saving progress to have a continue point later on. Dreamscaper however flips the script, and instead of using sleep as a time to relax, places all the action when the main character of the game, Cassidy, drifts off after a long day.

Living up to its name, Dreamscaper plays out in Cassidy’s dreams, as some sort of manifestation of her inner emotions. All the people and items she interacts with in the waking world will have a correlation of sorts in her dreams, and being able to control Cassidy even in the waking world adds an element of depth to the already very well structured gameplay in Dreamscaper.

The game is a procedurally generated rogue-lite, very similar to other world-renowned titles like Hades and The Binding of Isaac, yet so different to feel like its own, unique take on the genre. You play as Cassidy herself, or a reflection of how she feels about herself, wandering about locations of her own life in the different levels, or floors, which her dreams are constituted of.

dreamscaper

The main aim of the game is pretty much clearing the floor and gearing up in the process, finding drops from enemies and destructible objects alike, in order to become as strong as possible to be able to tackle stronger foes the deeper you delve into the dream. Your arsenal is composed of a melee weapon, a ranged weapon and two lucid attacks, which are spell-like abilities. Every bit of your arsenal is completely randomised at first, but as you go along you get the ability to tinker with your starting loadout.

Any item which you have used in a previous run becomes available in the journal, where then you will be actually able to select it to start with it in your next runs. You can still not select any weapons to leave your starting option in the category randomized, which can help you unlock new items in your next runs, which could result in you discovering your favourite weapon in the process. Selecting a weapon still does not mean that your run is any less randomized since your modifiers will still be chosen by the game itself. Starting off at a basic power level also means that there is a high chance of you discarding the starting weapon in favour of something which has better modifiers or better damage overall.

You can obviously upgrade your weapons and items in specific areas in the map, but these are randomly generated so one cannot be 100% sure whether it will actually appear on the map or not. Speaking of the map, Dreamscaper employs a very neat and accessible teleporting system where you can bring up the map with L3 on a controller and select any area you have already explored in the current floor and warp there. It may not mean much earlier on, but as you slowly unlock bigger floors, this tool becomes especially handy to teleport back to market places, or areas where you left HP regen items lying for future use.

What I also love about the map is that it gives so much information compared to other roguelites that it could be considered a key aspect of the game. Apart from letting players teleport to their hearts’ content in areas they visited before, the map also shows items of interest like markets, crystals still not destroyed or even if players failed to pick up sand, the main currency inside dreams, or any of the three waking world currencies, meaning Resolve, Glass or Inspiration.

These waking world currencies are essential for Cassidy to build and refine her loadout for nighttime. These currencies are used to craft items which can then be given out to acquaintances in order for Cassidy to become more social and gain powers in the process. The people you encounter become influences in dreams, and these provide bonuses to your adventures depending on how close Cassidy is with these people. Getting to explore different locations in the waking world, such as the bar or the record shop, will enable her to meet and come to know new people, who will possess unique buffs to your runs during the night.

There are also goals in your journal which details some tasks for Cassidy to do. Completing these will yield rewards such as any of the currencies listed above or even a special type of currency that can be used to craft ideas. Ideas are found when roaming the dreams or killing enemies, and they can only be used in the dreams by unlocking them with this special currency, at the library. The library will provide a selection of skills and powers that you can learn to use in the dreams, and upon purchasing them you will be able to find these. At random or at reward spots, and before you at least use them once in a dream you will not be able to load with them at the start of the dream itself.

Dreamscaper also has a ton of replayability, and players don’t even have to “finish” the game once for the option to unlock. Very similarly to Hades before it, the game lets players choose a combination of options which makes the game more difficult on certain aspects, such as number of enemies or size of the floor. This is obviously optional and not suggested for players struggling with the opening floors, but once you settle into a groove it is quite rewarding to ramp up the difficulty just a little while still keeping the experience engaging.

A very interesting element which Dreamscaper includes in the floors is puzzles, and while they might sound like a bad fit for a roguelite, these areas actually a great way to make players take a breather while getting them to use their brains to solve these. While not as complicated as outright puzzle games, the variations of minesweeper and connect the lines featured in the game are quite relaxing to complete, and they also feature a reward for completion as well.

Dreamscaper is a beautiful game to watch, and its animations are very pretty as well. Some lucid attacks with elements like water, thunder or fire are gorgeously animated, as well as even some weapon attacks suck as the reaper scythe. In the sound department, the title does not disappoint either, with an excellent assortment of tracks following Cassidy throughout her daily life and also in the dream world as well.

All in all, Dreamscaper adds another title to the growing list of rogue-lite titles to take note of. It wears the inspiration from The Binding of Isaac, Hades and Dead Cells among others on its sleeve, but it adds enough and even more to help the game define itself with its own identity and not merely another clone on the market. Including tons of combinations to try out and a lot of replayability, Dreamscaper could really be 2021’s rogue-lite of the year.

Be sure to grab the game on Steam right now through here.

And for more gaming reviews, check our our section HERE.

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