Whether you’re an active lucid dreamer, or you are trying to be, or even if you don’t know what lucid dreaming is, Dreamscaper is a brilliant game to experience the contrasts and connections of dreams and reality. Dreamscaper is a roguelike ARPG with hack’n’slash combat currently in early access. Developed by Afterburner Studios and published by Freedom! Games, Dreamscaper is a beautiful indie game even in its current form, and hopefully it will only get better as development continues.
In Dreamscaper, you alternate between the dreams and daily life of Cassidy, a young woman who have recently moved to the big city of Redhaven. In her waking hours, after her work, she goes around the town, meeting new people and socializing with them, and when she sleeps, she has to fight the demons in her dreams and try to escape these nightmares. We learn a lot about Cassidy’s backstory in both states. As she gets closer to the people around town, she tells them stories of her past, her experiences, and her traumas. In her dreams, we discover memory fragments that tells stories of her childhood and younger ages. Between these two methods of storytelling, Dreamscaper tells a rich and relatable story.
One of the greatest aspects of Dreamscaper, is the connection between the real world and the dream world of Cassidy. As she gets to know the people in her neighborhood and become friends with them, she discovers new powers and weapons to use in her dreams. In other words, each person’s knowledge and insights help her deal with demons inside of her. The characters in the game are realistic and relatable. From listening to Bruce’s boring history lectures, to becoming friends with Fernando after a very awkward first meeting, talking to each one seems like a real and heartfelt relationship in the making.
In addition to a great story, Dreamscaper offers challenging and replayable gameplay. There are different stages in Cassidy’s dreams, and once she finishes a stage, she wakes up. She can socialize and go around town between 6 pm and 9 pm to get to know people and get closer to them, and then goes back to sleep to continue to the next stage of her dreams. If she is defeated in any stage of her dreams, she will get up restless, and has less time to socialize the next day. She will also lose all her progress in her dreams and have to start over from the first stage. You get to play multiple runs from the first stage, try to get as powerful as possible as you move forward, and try to go as far as possible. And if you fail, you should try again. In her waking hours, she can get closer to people to improve her chances in her dreams. Each relationship offers unique buffs and unlocks new weapons and powers as they progress, so she becomes more powerful in her dreams as time goes by.
The game can be hard at first, but it gets easier as you play it more. There is also the option to turn on Lucid mode, which gradually makes you more resistant to enemies each time you lose to a nightmare. Dreamscaper is designed to be played for multiple runs, and thanks to its features, it never gets boring.
Each dream stage is generated randomly, so each run is unique and different. After killing a boss at the end of a stage, you can choose to skip that boss in the following runs. You get different weapons and powers each run from treasures and shops, and you get to try different styles each time you play based on what is offered to you. You can also customize your loadout in the first stage as you progress through the game to maximize your efficiency and power for your later runs. Although the loadouts seem limited and ineffective in the game’s current form, we can expect more polished and influential choices once the game is complete.
Each dream stage is made out of multiple arenas. There is a few different types of arenas and they are randomly generated and connected to each other with portals. The main arenas usually have multiple enemies and destructible obstacles. You should defeat all the enemies in an arena to unlock the portals. Some of these arenas comes with challenges, that if you complete them, you get a reward at the end. These challenges can vary from defeating all enemies before time runs out, not taking any damage, or killing all enemies without using a specific power or attack. Other arenas offer treasures or upgrades for Cassidy. These can be new weapons, shoes, special powers, of passive buffs. There are also puzzle arenas with a treasure chest if you can solve the puzzles. These puzzles are either a minesweeper-like mini game or connect the pipes puzzle.
In each dream stage, there is one shopping arena where you get to spend your collected sand and buy upgrades and weapons, and there is a final arena, where you face off against that stage’s boss or a group of powerful enemies. The combat in Dreamscape is really challenging and fun. You gain access to different kinds of melee and ranged weapons as you play the game. You also have three special powers. Two of them, called lucid attacks, are powerful abilities with cooldown that you get to chose and replace as you make progress through each run. The third ability, is a time slowing mechanic that let you get out of harder situation and deal with stronger enemies. This ability uses a resource called lucid that you can collect from killing enemies. You have access to two defensive abilities as well. One is your shield, that increases your armor and lets you block or parry incoming attacks. The other is your boots. Boots let you roll and dodge out of the way and gives you more movement speed. There are different types of shields and boots with different powers and effects that you can find during you run. Overall, every aspect of Dreamscaper’s combat and gameplay is customizable, which makes it highly replayable and fun to play for multiple times. It’s almost like Cassidy can use anything she can dream of!
Dreamscaper’s art style is simple and beautiful. Environment is well designed, easy to follow and navigate, and each stage has a unique theme. Characters have flat faces and are simple figures, but it can also be a subtle reference to how we dream. Our mind doesn’t generate faces and if we try to focus on a stranger’s looks in a dream, they might not have a face. The UI is very theme appropriate as well. The in-game menus look like a hand written dream journal, an object that every lucid dreamer is familiar with. Animations and interactions look clean and smooth and apart from a few rare glitches, Dreamscaper delivers an aesthetically pleasing experience.
The music of Dreamscaper is a very soothing lo-fi track, with smooth transitions between combat and exploration and boss fights. Sound effects are generally well designed, but there isn't any audio cues for combo and parry timings. While there are visual signs to help get the timings right, they can be hard to see especially in larger scale combats. There is no voice acting for the dialogues, and all conversations and memories are told solely through text. This can make reading longer conversations a bit tedious, and some voice over would make the game feel more alive.
Dreams are a mysterious concept, and not many games have managed to depict this phenomenal well. But Dreamscaper seems like the perfect adaptation. From the story, gameplay mechanics, and graphics and music, Dreamscaper successfully delivers a game about dreams in every aspect. The game is still in development, and developers are active in community through steam and discord channel to take feedback and make the game better. We can expect more customization options for weapons, equipment and powers, and improvements and balances to combat and puzzles as the development continues.
This preview is based off a code provided by the publisher.