Well, after having seen how the "episodic" scheme ruined some small titles and ridiculed some big ones, I was never overly optimistic about Dreamfall Chapters. "Yeah, sure, make this new Dreamfall/TLJ game episodic because that worked out so well for most of the studios which tried that [line ending in an evil laugh which turns into sad mumbling]."
My all time favorit (sarcastically in this regard but literally in other term) is Half-Life 2 - Aftermath, an expansion which Valve (a well established, experienced, financially strong company) decided to break down into 3 episodes because they (like many others around 2005) though this is the future of single-player gaming. But it wasn't really successful. The two episodes were great but came with excessive delays and it felt like a traditional expansion would have provided a better experience overall, especially since Episode 3 never materialized, thus the story remained incomplete.
I thought (after 2008 or so) it became plain obvious how this concept is more likely a recipe for failure, especially since "normal sized" games with small additional DLCs seemed to be successful (and that was before it became a bad habit to cut some finished content and release it later as a paid DLC, the first paid DLCs back then were actual extensions, new content finished after the game's release).
After playing Book 1 shortly (but not right after) it's release, I considered it a "conceptional prototype demo" because it felt very short, somewhat "empty" (in a sense of lacking both "emotional substance" and real gameplay elements) and unpolished (performance issues, etc). But it was very promising still! So, I patiently waited for the last Book and then some patches to resolve any newfound bugs before playing. (I considered waiting for some "remaster" edition which re-bases all the books into a more integrated game but that didn't seem likely, so I decided I have waited enough and jumped for v5.3)
I was unpleasantly surprised they trimmed down the beginning of Book 1 so crudely but didn't make the rest of Book 1 more "fluid" in terms of gameplay.
Unity 5 is still slow (at least with AMD hardware and their notoriously weak OpenGL drivers) and the game itself doesn't seem like it tried to work around it's limitations (like omitting some effects and/or assets from the concept art, or shrinking the view distance by obstacles on the maps, etc --- I am not an expert on Unity or computer graphics in general but Unity seems to hate things like the Oular city, yet RTG didn't shy away from going with that design - I can relate to the developers and might have done the same myself but it was still painful to play with stuttering or in a window rather than fullscreen).
The whole gameplay is incredibly slow. There is a lot of dead pause between scenes and sentences, and then also a decent amount of loading screens. Also, some puzzles are very slow by design:
- the road to the underground warehouse (keep pushing the leavers Zöe!)
- the room where you have to click on certain items several times before something happens (Yeah, it's not "fun" to figure out how you need to keep smashing mouse1. I had to read a walkthrough for that. Did you know it's a definition of insanity when somebody keeps repeating the same experiment and continues to expect a different outcome after the first few runs resulted in the same? So, yeah, I guess I just wasn't insane enough to figure that one out on my own...)
- running back and forth several times on the same track on a very limited map (mostly happens in Marcuria with Kian)
This gave me the impression that developers tried to artificially extend the playtime. I mean, thinking back, TLJ and Dreamfall had a similar pace but this time it felt too artificial for me (happens too often on a large scale).
And I hate to say this but sometimes it felt too much of an interactive movie rather than a game. I know this comes with the game style and the way this particular game likes to tell it's story but I think it was a little unbalanced. It's like the developers didn't sweat to try and integrate as many story elements into the gameplay and puzzles as possible but rather went for the story cutscenes + somewhat related puzzles or exploration mix by design. This is perfectly normal for let's say an "AAA" shooter game but I had a feeling this game was supposed to be about interactions and gameplay actions ("choices" if you go by the buzzword) affecting the world. But I didn't really feel like it was extensive and organic enough. I didn't feel like I am building the story with my actions. I think all this concept was focused on the dialog choices, while I think actual gameplay should be more important than suspended dialog choices. And I didn't really have the illusion of my choices making a difference. Many games offer no real difference, yet they make me feel like they did (like modern Bioware RPGs, Mass Effect and Dragon Age: lots of choices, no real difference but you have a feeling of "ruling the world" around you).
Saga is great example of how you can't write yourself out of plotholes or corners by introducing yet another.
She was a lovely, magical character in a perfect setup, but she is practically an impossible pawn of an unknown entity. She is a physical manifestation of "deus ex machina". A magical tool which openly puts everything into an impossible place, so that a story can play out as planned (although: planned by who...?). It's not a simple "fourth wall break". She is visible and sort of interactive to both the audience and the characters at the same time as a "supernatural alien" (thus, should be breaking their respective fourth wall, even inside the game's world) while she artificially re-arranges the stage/world (a stage for the audience, reality for the characters) according to some divine plot (what plot though?). She is like a ragdoll of some kind of God who wishes to be seen by the "mortals", indirectly but at plain sight (though not directly).
She is like a joke from The Color of Magic (Terry Pratchett): You don't actually explain anything by revealing that the huge elephants which hold the Diskworld on their backs are standing on a gigantic turtle.
Saga explains nothing. Her story is interesting and nicely written but completely redundant.
If anything, she introduces more plotholes: I thought human-like creatures (even those with strong magic) are constrained by linear tracks in terms of riding though time. Some entities might be able to glimpse into the future/past by seeing through the recurring cycles rather than experiencing it as a straight line but they are still physically constrained to flow with time like a train runs on it's tracks and not on open fields or thin air. Saga and April were supposed be able to travel between worlds but not through time (not willingly, at least). Yet, a young April somehow met an old Saga who was born around the time April died and Saga inherited a piece of April. Come again...? I think this is simple textbook paradox, an unresolved problem of a time traveler sci-fi story which was not an integral part of the games (or I missed that). May be I missed or forgot something which should allow me to make sense of this but it seems like a simple plothole patched by "ex machina". It feels like all of this had to be way too convenient, with Saga being the only "loose end" (who is controlled directly and exclusively by some "God" or "Faith" which the game simply does not wish to explain or reveal in full detail).
I couldn't fully understand how the Undreaming and Westhouse "corrupted" each-other in such a destructive way. He decided, out of desperation while being drunk and potentially having a mental breakdown, that the only logical solution for the problem is to become the evil master of the universe and reshape the whole existence, in order to get back home and live a normal human life in Stark. Yeah... I mean... even a drunk fool could see how that's far from a viable plan. You don't just become a God, alter the universe and then simply go home, have a drink and think about getting married. This could make due for a mad diabolical plot of an insane "villan" (let's say Joker from Batman) but this was for all the wrong reasons and he seemed intelligent and sane enough to realize that.
And it seems like his refined goal was to become God and rule rather than to go home but it wasn't really discussed or revealed how he developed and where he really stands at the end.
A side note: I am not sure we were supposed to know Brian is the prophet (masks and all that) but it was sort of obvious for me (even when we followed him in Dreamfall: TLJ).
And how could I forget blabbing about that suicide bombing scene... I was so mad, I thought about rage-quitting and un-installing the whole game!
I immediately realized what's about to happen, so I turned back and ran THE OTHER WAY.
Yet, the next cutscene showed me running straight into the explosion. -> WHAT? Who the hell would run into an explosion? How does that make any sense?
And despite what Zöe might have supposed to think there (probably: "let's save her" -> but how exactly?), it felt like the game gave me a choice (I could seemingly turn back) but then took it back (showed me running to the opposing direction) and laughed at my face (I got blown up anyway)!
Even this v5.3 version felt like a decent Beta version of a game and I wondered how good it could be if they polished it for completion. It's like it needs a heavily re-cut but at least a good polish (which will probably never happen and doesn't even matter now).
To say some good things, the music was pretty good and the Engine Room in Marcuria is a stunningly nice design (I took a screenshot and will probably use it as a desktop wallpaper for some time).
(Although, reflecting back to the first paragraph, it reminded me too much to the Citadel from HL2.
Even though I focused on the bad parts here, I still enjoyed the game overall (and I can't remember the exact number [it was so long ago] but I barely paid something like 10 USD on Humble when it was discounted, so it was definitely worth every cents...).