DREAM. DIE. WAKE. REPEAT. That’s the concept behind Dreamscaper in a nutshell. It’s yet another action roguelike making its way to Steam, this time in Early Access. I’ve been reviewing a ton of these games, so I thought’d I give this one a look as well.
So if the DREAM. DIE. WAKE. REPEAT. tagline didn’t already make it obvious, this is a roguelike where the playing field is within the subconscious. It has a very clear structure. You enter a dream, explore a bunch of interconnected rooms, take down a boss, and then exit the dream back into reality before falling asleep again and repeating the cycle.
The vast majority of your time will be spent in the dreaming state, where you get all the usuals found in a roguelike video game. You’ve got the random level layouts, the numerous different enemies with all of their unique attacks, a bunch of loot to find, and a few special rooms to add in a bit of variety. The game’s got the fundamentals on lock here, the real question is how do they each feel.
Well first you got the combat, which has both a bit of good and a bit of bad. It’s good in that the combat has a nice sense of weight to it. Hits have proper impact and it generally flows pretty well. Then you got the responsive dodging, the block and parry mechanics, and the ability to mix up your gameplay with different melee and ranged weapons.
At the same time though, the combat can also feel a bit generic. I don’t want to say amateurish, but its obvious that this is not a big budget game and the combat kinda reflects that. There’s not a lot of variety with the animations, the hitboxes can be a bit weird, and you pretty much deal with most enemies in the same way, regardless of the weapon you have equipped.
The game also makes a few frustrating design decisions here. For example, the different shoes you can equip have different dodge lengths. The default pair has the perfect (and most realistic) roll, just slightly away from where you are standing. Then you got the special pairs that send you maybe 50% farther or so, dependent on their type. It was annoying to have to readapt my gameplay to adjust for this change, and I instead opted to stick with the default type even if I came across a special pair with better stats.
The balancing is also a bit of an issue, the main problem being that most enemies simply have too much HP. It’s not that they are difficult to kill, but rather that they feel like damage sponges. You’re able to infinitely knockup and stun most enemies, so having to spend the time dealing 15 or so attacks to kill them does become a bit of a chore. Granted, you’re able to take advantage of abilities and a ranged weapon to remedy this to an extent, but I feel like it would have been better off if each room had more enemies, but with less overall HP on each.
Then you got the levels (or rooms) and how they are laid out. As for the latter, well, it’s pretty much just a giant grid with rooms separated by portals, which is to be expected given the genre. The actual design of each room is where the game really shines. It’s not just some flat color with random obstacles here and there, but actual locations that the protagonist has visited, or has otherwise dreamed up. This can be something like a camp site or a city street. It’s really cool to see a roguelike diversify itself like this, especially when the game already looks as good as it does here.
However, it doesn’t come without a major downside. The levels and their design may be cool, but there is not a whole lot of them to go around. It doesn’t take long before you start seeing repeats and every new run kinda loses its charm because you’ve already seen all of these rooms and know what to expect. This is bound to happen with any game that doesn’t have randomized levels, but when I see the exact same room twice on the same floor, it kinda makes that lack of variety clear.
Now onto the topic of variety, as that is something crucial to any good roguelike. As with the combat, the game does some good here, but still has some issues. For every shield upgrade that does something cool like removing your ability to block in favor of providing regenerating armor you got something a bit more boring like a sword that simply has higher dps and maybe an elemental trait to it. The elemental traits really didn’t stand out to me that much and I hardly noticed the difference between them when in combat. This is something that will likely be fixed with time once the devs focus on just adding more items and abilities though.
Special rooms, on the other hand, are something that the devs really need to work on. They already got a couple by way of a shop and the different puzzle rooms, but as I mentioned before, you see the same ones on practically every floor. Maybe they could add mid-bosses, challenge rooms, or some other gimicky rooms to shake things up.
I haven’t even touched on the social sim element to the game though. Yes, when you’re not dreaming, you engage in a very light social sim of sorts. You travel to different locations, chat with strangers, and give them gifts to boost your relationship with them. This in turn unlocks a little bit of story and some upgrades that can then be taken into your next run. It’s a great concept for sure, but it feels a bit shallow in its current state. It kinda reminds me of the relationship system from Danganronpa, where it’s just kinda an extra thing to unlock more stuff and there’s no real depth to it. It’s nice to get an upgrade or two, but there really has to be something more than just “chit chat” and “give gift” to give this side of the game the weight that the devs obviously want it to have.
So overall, I wouldn’t say that this is a bad game, but it’s also not a game I can honestly recommend, at least in its current state. There’s obviously a good base here, but a lot of the core game elements just don’t have the depth that they really need to warrant playing the game while its in Early Access. It might be worth a look now for diehard fans of the genre, but I would honestly recommend waiting this one out until it’s at least out of Early Access. I’m interested in seeing what the game will look like at that point.
You can buy Dreamscaper on Steam here.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.