Back in late 2000, videogame developer Funcom, led by the gifted storyteller and game director with the greatest name imaginable Ragnar Tornquist, released The Longest Journey, a game revered by critics and gamers alike as one of the greatest adventure games ever thanks to it's engrossing storyline, memorable characters and witty, brilliantly performed dialogue. Now here we are 5 years later and the gang at Funcom are busy working on Dreamfall: The Longest Journey for the PC and Xbox, the sequel to the fantastic The Longest Journey. Good news is, it's looking every bit as promising as the original game. But is it too early to begin celebrating?
Dreamfall's story takes place in the year 2219, 10 years after the finale of The Longest Journey. The story begins by introducing us to the the lead protagonist of the story, ZoĆ« Castrillo, a twenty year old bioengineering student who has taken some time off study to decide what she want to do with her uneventful life. But before long, she'll find herself caught up in a conspiracy that spans not just her homeworld of Stark, but it's magical equivilant too. Details on the story are sparse, but with the story being penned by the man, Ragnar Tornquist himself, we can be assured that we are in for another memorable adventure.
Gamers new to the TLJ universe will find it easy to jump right into the story thanks to the plethora of new characters and the way that the story will be presented from an outsiders perspective. However veterans to the series will recieve plenty of knowing nods as more than one familiar face (and beak), as well as locales such as Venice will make welcome returns.
Luckily for us, Funcom haven't forgotten about April, the heroin of 'The Longest Journey'. Although April's role in the game is unknown at the moment, she has lost her innocent demeanor become more of a bitter character. After all, not getting so much as a 'Thank you' for saving the world, not to mention being stuck in Arcadia (the aforementioned magical world) for the last 10 years and away from all her loved ones will do that to a person.
Rounding out the list of playable characters is Kian, an Arcadian mercenary with a strong sense of loyalty, to all the wrong people. The addition of this character certainly has the potential to add an interesting dynamic to the game's progression as he is something of an antihero and will have to put his loyalties and beliefs into question as the game's story progresses. Again, we don't know how this multiple character twist will turn out, but time will tell.
Gamplay is where the most significant changes from the first game are prevelant. The most obvious being that you now have total control over the playable character by allowing you to move them around the game world using either the analog stick for the Xbox, and the mouse on the PC. Purists of the genre might be disappointed to hear that Dreamfall is taking more of an action adventure stance by incorporating minigames such as hacking and combat and stealth sequences, but Ragnar assures that the game is still very much an adventure game at heart. You will still be travelling to various locations, and converse with an even larger cast of unique characters all while overcoming obstacles along the way. Now you're simply given a choice in how you'll overcome those obstacles.
The point and click mechanic might work for the PC game when interacting with the game world, but that system can't translate over to the Xbox version. Enter the 'Focus Field', a nifty little gameplay feature that could make the adventure genre more accessible to the console platform. The Focus Feild is essentially a narrow cone of light which, when activated, eminates outwards from the character's feet to the surrounding envoirnment and highlights objects of interest. Through this feature, gamers can interact with objects and people from a distance making it incredibly simple to get things done.
Visually, the game looks fantastic. It may not utilize the latest shaders available but this is one game that doesn't need it. The style is somewhat similiar to Beyond Good & Evil in that the graphics have a simple cartoonish look to them, yet contains that careful attention to detail that prevents the enviornments from looking barren. There was no question that the art direction of The Longest Journey was stunning and with the same artists working on this title, we can be assured that the 85 unique locations in Dreamfall will all be given the artistic flair and detail that made the first game such a pleasure to look at.
The character models have also been given an overhaul and look pretty decent. Thankfully, no longer will we see them flail their arms in the air as they speak to symbolize speech, but will now be lip syched to every line of dialogue. And with about 130 fully voiced characters in the game, Funcom certainly have their work cut out for them. Given the superb quality of the voicework in the first game, chances are we can expect the sequel to receive the same treatment. As for the soundtrack, if judging by the samples available on the official Dreamfall website are anything to go by, the soundtrack for Dreamfall: The Longest Journey looks to match or even surpass the already captivating soundtrack of the first game.
Dreamfall: The Longest Journey certainly has a lot to live up to given the Godlike status of it's prequel. But based on what we seen (and heard) so far, it's well on it's way to living up to it's legacy. The current release is tentatively set for the second quarter of 2006. We can't wait.