After around a year in Early Access, Afterburner Studios is finally ready to launch its subconscious rougelike, Dreamscaper. Designed with two styles of gameplay, this action title follows Cassidy, a young girl who has to forge new relationships and brave the big bad world while awake, alongside facing nightmarish foes associated with negative emotions while asleep and dreaming.
The dual combination of game styles gives this roguelike a more touching, personal feel, while it still offers a version of the engaging action of the roguelike genre. During the instances when awake, Cassidy can explore a variety of locations in the real world. This section is not a roguelike, and simply allows you to use various resources gathered during the roguelike portion to unlock new upgrades and items to ease the load during the lucid sections. The world while awake is also used to chat with other characters, so that Cassidy can become increasingly close with them, and unlock further upgrades to aid in the roguelike portions. These conversations are also one of the primary methods Dreamscaper uses to push forward its narrative, and manages to paint a vivid portrayal of the cast, which is particularly impressive since character models are actually faceless.
But, since this game is a roguelike, the awake portions are only a subsection of what is on offer. The majority of Dreamscaper will see you diving into Cassidy's subconscious through lucid dreaming, where she battles various mystical entities all associated with negative emotions. This part of the game is a traditional roguelike through-and-through, and provides a randomly generated map, where players have to clear rooms of multiple kinds of enemies to acquire new gear and resources. There really isn't much that sets Dreamscaper apart from the pack in this aspect, aside from its environmental design, which is based on reflections of experiences in Cassidy's past. In fact, this is the main other way that the narrative is expressed, as there are certain interactable, randomly placed objects in the roguelike portion that delves into Cassiy's memories further.
When we think of roguelikes in this day and age, Hades is pretty much the gold standard for the time being. While Dreamscaper has its highlights, particularly in its world design, and how it conveys narrative, the action doesn't quite live up to Supergiant's title. Generally speaking, the combat in Dreamscaper is more strategic than it is fast-paced, and will see you rolling and parrying, as much as you are landing damaging blows. Unlike a slasher-heavy roguelike, Dreamscaper is also much slower in how it manages combat. There is some leniency here, depending on the type of weapon you are using, but for the most part, attacks are landed relatively slowly, and enemies don't tend to fight back very well, once you land a blow on them - they become stunned to some degree until they get a moment to recuperate.
This style of design is far from a poor one, but it does make the game play at a much slower rate and really takes a lot of the chaos out of the combat, which is almost a staple in the roguelike genre. In fact, a lot of the combat involves around 4-6 enemies per room, many of which are immobile turrets that will hurl projectiles at you from afar. If you once again compare this to the nature of Hades' wild action, you can get the gist of how much it lacks in intensity, even if the combat will require skill to succeed and survive in.
Dreamscaper does also bring a variety of boss encounters at the end of each floor of the roguelike section, and while these do feature unique mechanics, they never scream challenging as is the case with a lot of roguelikes. For the most part, the majority of the times I've personally died in Dreamscaper have been down to chip damage that I haven't been able to heal, a sort of slow burn if you will, which is something that becomes several times easier to manage as you acquire more upgrades in the conscious world.
Talking about these upgrades, acquiring them is as simple as spending a range of currencies, including Inspiration and Resolve, at places in the overworld. Upgrades can be as simple as increasing Cassidy's health or damage to bosses, by a percentage each rank, or rather could be down to unlocking new rooms in each of the various floors of the roguelike. New rooms can be as simple as puzzle encounters that reward gear, or healing fountains, and each must be unlocked for every respective floor - which makes it easier to survive a tad longer on every run.
As far as a package deal goes, Dreamscaper is a pretty competent roguelike. Despite the slow-paced combat, what Afterburner has delivered is an experience with plenty of options that won't fail to entertain, whether you're in the lucid or conscious world. I still firmly believe that Dreamscaper's biggest strength is in how it explores the relationships between Cassidy and the people she meets, and how this directly ties into the roguelike experience as a whole. But, there's still a lot of diversity in what is brought to the table, enough to serve up hours of fun, without it feeling stressful or unsatisfying, which is a problem that the often unrewarding nature of games in the roguelike genre find themselves displaying.