What happens when you take a touching story tackling themes such as loss and depression and slap on some nightmare-busting gameplay reminiscent of Hades? You get Afterburner Studios’ Dreamscaper, which is a roguelike hack-and-slash game full of thrilling action and mystery.

COPING WITH LOSS

The game starts off within the dream world, where we are introduced to the main character, Cassidy. There, she stares at an ominously glowing gravestone until a monster pops out and reaches out to her. Upon waking up, we get a ten-year time skip and a short cutscene showing her moving out of home and into the city of Redhaven, where most of the “real world” content takes place.

With what we’ve been shown so far, Cassidy seems to have lost somebody important to her, and she’s struggling to cope with it. The story behind her life and how she ended up in Redhaven is slowly unraveled as you progress in the game. Memories of her past, as well as other hints, are scattered throughout the many levels, item descriptions, and even interactions with others in the real world.

DREAM BIG

In her dreams, Cassidy gains access to an extensive arsenal of weapons, spells, and all sorts of other keepsakes as a result of her wild imagination. From magical swords and earthbending powers to slingshots and laser eyes, there is a huge amount of diversity when it comes to your choices for both melee and ranged combat.

Some weapons and spells (referred to as “Lucid Attacks”) come with elemental damage modifiers, which not only adds an extra kick to your attacks, but also triggers what is called a “Critical Extinguish”. These criticals occur when you combine two different status effects together, and this results in you dealing a ton of damage.

Unlike most other games in the genre, Dreamscaper heavily rewards the memorization of attack timings for each weapon, as perfectly timed strikes deal bonus damage. With that in mind, maximizing your DPS isn’t exactly a requirement, though it makes runs slightly easier once you start to get the hang of it.

The game also features a block and parry system, though I’ve found that dodging is usually better anyway. On that note, there are multiple types of shoes that you can find and equip, which drastically changes how you dodge. Although you can opt to simply roll or weave, you can also choose to zip around the battlefield and leave behind a shockwave of electricity at the end of your dodge.

There is a lot of potential to create overpowered builds, as mastering weapons unlocks bonus stats, and you can upgrade and reforge items to have modifiers such as increased critical chance and damage. Though this also means that there’s a bit of grinding involved, especially if you find yourself dying a lot in the early stages.

TAILORED EXPERIENCE

In Redhaven, you’ll meet a handful of quirky NPCs who unlock influences that provide you with passive bonuses throughout your runs. You can equip one influence per run, and the boons they provide can be upgraded by building up your relationship with their respective NPCs. This can be done by crafting gifts using resources that you occasionally gain through progression or in dreams.

By default, every time you enter the dream world, you get a completely random loadout of varying rarities. For those who want a more tailored experience, however, you can use the dream journal in Cassidy’s room to change your starting set of equipment, and this is great for when you want to focus on gaining mastery for certain items.

Personally, I prefer to begin most of my runs with the boxing gloves and weave shoes, as they both provide extra critical chance and just feel really easy to use due to how fast their animations are. For ranged weapons, I like starting off with the finger guns or slingshot, as they deal a lot of burst damage with a really quick wind-up.

After your first few attempts, you’ll unlock the option to change the difficulty before you go to sleep. Rather than providing you with a flat “Easy, Normal, or Hard” setting, you can instead choose to change specific aspects of any given run. For instance, you can opt to receive 50% more damage and have bosses use new attack patterns while still having the standard set and quantity of enemies throughout each room. These modifiers not only make the game harder, but they also provide you with additional resource rewards if you crank up the difficulty.

The resources you gain from each of your attempts, win or lose, can be used on the various meta-progression systems scattered throughout Redhaven.

“Glass” can be used for daydreaming, which unlocks new challenge rooms, merchants, and puzzles, which are easy to solve and can potentially give you powerful weapons and lucid abilities upon completion. You can also spend these resources to ensure that you start off each attempt with a spare key or bomb, which can come in handy early on if you ever find yourself locked out of a room with no way to open it.

Meditating in the park allows you to spend “Resolve” in order to give Cassidy a wide range of bonuses, including extra HP or damage to bosses. You can even double the amount of resources that you gain until you take damage for the first time in every run.

Finally, sketching lets you use “Sparks” to unlock new equipment and spells that you can both find within the dream world or equip via the journal. What I particularly like about this system is that you can choose to toggle whether or not you want specific items to spawn, which lets you further customize how your runs will go.

CONCLUSION

Dreamscaper is a wonderfully crafted roguelike with a lot of supplementary content outside of the actual combat itself. You’re not exactly meant to win in your first few attempts, so expect to get beaten down a lot, especially while you’re still getting used to the wildly varying attacks and dodge types.

Those looking for a prolonged challenge won’t be disappointed by this game, as it heavily incentivizes “getting good” and will likely take the average person quite a bit of time to 100% complete it.


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