Dream Cycle: A Boring, Empty, Endless Nightmare – Early Access Preview
Dream Cycle initially grew in popularity thanks to its developer’s history with the Lara Croft series. When I first heard about it, I was just excited for the highly replayable procedurally generated souls-like action. I honestly couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. Unfortunately, Dream Cycle fell far too short of my expectations. It tries to be too ambitious in a multitude of gameplay genres and falls flat as a result.
“Unfortunately, Dream Cycle and I got off to a bad start.”
Dream Cycle is loosely based on a series of short stories of the same name by H.P. Lovecraft. In this version, you play as Morgan Carter an arcane apprentice. After your great-great-grandfather, Randolph Carter transports you to the Dreamlands, you must set out on an adventure to find him.
Unfortunately, Dream Cycle and I got off to a bad start. After encountering an infinite keyboard drift bug that forced me to save and restart the game, I discovered that the game’s save feature does not work until after the prologue. Although I only lost about 30 minutes of progress, this initial impression certainly did the game no favours. It only helped highlight the numerous problems still to come.
I’m not really sure what type of game Dream Cycle is after playing through the Early Access build of it. It tries to be a jack of all trades, but fails to shine in any particular one. Dream Cycle tries to be a platformer, action RPG, open-world adventure and a rogue-like. However, as a result, it feels shallow and half baked in all its gameplay mechanics. Aside from combat, you spend a lot of time trying to use your shadow wrap teleportation ability to manoeuvre around. However, the unpolished collision physics hinders this experience as it often makes you fall to your untimely demise. When you die during a mission, you get transported back to the main hub. This strips you of all your equipment and consumables. As you level up, you get access to perk slots, but these perks end up being rare to find and shallow in use.
“You mindlessly hack and slash your way through mobs, or deal with the fiddly stealth mechanics that don’t quite work.”
Much of the gameplay in Dream Cycle simply doesn’t work. It is split up into two sections: stealth and combat. For combat, you have access to a melee weapon and a little later on a ranged weapon and magic. When it comes to stealth, you are able to eliminate most common enemies with a single hit. You also have a dodge ability that will slow down time if timed correctly. Unfortunately, the combat here feels completely unpolished. There’s no sense of strategy or subtly to it. Rather, you mindlessly hack and slash your way through mobs, or deal with the fiddly stealth mechanics that don’t quite work.
Fortunately, there is a refreshing astral projection mechanic that allows you to scout out your surroundings first before heading in yourself. It’s not too dissimilar to Rogue Spirit which allowed you to scout ahead as a ghost. However, while it certainly heightens the overall experience and offers a unique stealth mechanic, it otherwise does very little to rectify the numerous issues at hand.
“Each procedurally generated map is unnecessarily huge and filled with far too many reused assets.”
Unfortunately, I had hoped that while the combat and stealth may have felt lacklustre, that at the very least the heavily advertised procedural generation and missions would be enjoyable. Alas, missions boiled down to repetitive variations on the same basic formulas. You will clear monsters from an area, summon and kill a boss, or find artifacts. It is boring and offers little innovation in an oversaturated market.
Additionally, each procedurally generated map is unnecessarily huge and filled with far too many reused assets. I felt it made the game feel more like a walking simulator more than anything else. I understand that the vastness of each stage is to promote exploration. However, your exploration is rarely rewarded or you’ll find items that you already own and thus provide no use to you. There is therefore little reason why each area should feel as gratuitously grandiose as they do.
The level design choice is also extremely questionable. I’d often find myself in situations with no way out, and only a full restart to save me from a perpetual nightmare. Due to the monolithically maze-like and daedalian design of each level, attempting to scour the vast map of emptiness to find the last remaining enemy becomes a veritable burden. Additionally, the cel-shaded visuals give Dream Cycle a murky and blurry picture quality. That combined with the headache-inducing vastness of each level makes exploration an arduous chore.
“Dream Cycle tries to encompass a lot of different genres, but as a result, it bites off far more than it can chew.”
Dream Cycle plans to stay in Early Access for at least another year, which gives it plenty of time to polish and add more quality of life updates to the game. However, the staggering lack of environments, goals, enemy types, and skills cripples Dream Cycle in its current pre-launch condition. The full release will also need to address the narrative, which is initially quite engaging, but quickly loses momentum after the prologue.
Dream Cycle tries to encompass a lot of different genres, but as a result, it bites off far more than it can chew. It has potential, but there needs to be much more than that for it to succeed. There is undoubtedly a barebones structure set up for Dream Cycle in the pre-release build that exuberates some amount of creativity. However, right now there are too many shortcomings to recommend checking it out in Early Access.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on PC, code was provided by the Publisher.
Dream Cycle Preview
The developer, Cathuria Games, has made a commendable attempt at bringing Lovecraft’s short novel to life. However, instead of elevating the subject matter in video game form, they have ultimately created an experience that is both unimaginative and unoriginal. Although it is true that the game utilizes procedural world generation to provide endless replay-ability, the vast world is void of anything interesting. The entirety of the game feels bloated and empty. Unfortunately, all of its shortcomings, wonky camera angles, incorrect collision detection, and ground-breaking bugs make Dream Cycle feel like a game that’s in early alpha at best.
Unique "Astral Projection" mechanic
Option to play in "3rd Person" or "1st Person"
Infinitely procedurally generated missions
Murky, foggy visuals
Clunky, unpolished collision physics
World is extremely empty
Lack of enemy variety
Missions are uninspired and repetitive
Game-breaking bugs & lack of save option until past a certain point