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February 2023

Dream Cycle

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Raw Fury
Developer: Cathuria Games


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PC Preview - 'Dream Cycle'

by Cody Medellin on Sept. 7, 2021 @ 8:00 a.m. PDT

Trapped in a cursed alternate dimension, arcane apprentice Morgan Carter faces an epic action/adventures quest to save both her soul and the shattered Dreamlands.

The first thing that you see in the trailer for Dream Cycle is that it was created by one of the people responsible for Lara Croft. That sentence immediately injects some expectations, such as some tricky puzzle platforming to encourage exploration and combat that works even if it isn't the game's standout feature. By all accounts, Dream Cycle does just that, but the game's level of ambition is unexpected.

Loosely based on the short stories of H.P. Lovecraft, Dream Cycle has players taking on the role of Morgan Carter, an apprentice in the arcane arts. You start by waking up in your office and wondering who knocked you out. As you follow some suspicious noises, you are seamlessly transported to the Dreamlands, where you discover that your ancestor, Randolph Carter, is alive — and the person who rendered you unconscious and took away your powers. Stuck here because of your status, you decide to find out everything you can and regain your powers so you can return to the land of the living.

The moments before you discover that you're in the Dreamlands and can't leave show off quite a bit of combat and movement. For the former, you're depending on melee weapons for the bulk of your combat; projectile weapons (e.g., bows and guns) are available when you want to fight from afar, and you can use a kick as a last-ditch maneuver. Players will like that switching to the secondary weapon involves holding down the aim button, which you'd naturally do with these weapons anyway. Slashes and lunges are the order of the day for melee, and while the game rewards you for being tactical and dodging to get brief moments of slow-motion before countering, you can button-mash away without worrying about stamina gating your actions.

You can also perform stealth techniques to kill enemies with one blow or generally sneak around without having to engage in fights. For the latter, you can use some spells to teleport to ledges well above your jumping reach, but the most notable mechanic comes from the automatic clambering. Press against low ledges, and you'll automatically go over them, a nice feature that becomes more useful as you discover that most levels have loads of spots for auto-clambering. Thanks to this, it is very easy to find yourself high in the level without too much effort.

Once the Deep Gate is open, Dream Cycle shows off its biggest hook: the large, procedurally generated world. It's done once, so dying and replaying a level doesn't mean that you get a completely different layout for the second go-round, but it does mean that your layout for that particular level is going to be different from everyone else's. Also, the game uses an interesting system where the map is split into tiny blocks, and each block is a completely different challenge, whether it's clearing all of the monsters from an area, luring and killing a major creature, or finding all of the artifacts. You can pay to explore some uncharted areas of the map, but you'll generally want to stick to levels that are directly adjacent to ones that you've beaten already, resulting in a gradual reveal of the world map without any loss of gold.

The stages are focused on exploration more than anything else. Except for the areas on the outskirts that block your progress via a fog and spikes on the ground, the game lets you explore some wide open spaces. The verticality helps greatly in this regard, so even if you end up in a place that seems small, it has a ton of places to look at. Use the astral projection ability as your radar, and you'll notice that the level isn't filled with too many monsters. Unless your task is to eliminate all monsters in the area, those stages are going to have very sparse fights that are easier if you perform stealth kills instead of taking every fight head-to-head.

At the moment, there's just the Enchanted Forest environment to play in and three objective types. That might not seem like much until you factor in the different environments and unexplained conditions that go with the numerous points in the map. The sparse variety seems to be on purpose, as completing each level creates an in-game survey to poll what people think of the level they just finished. The developers have been open in saying that future changes have the potential to reset the world and goals, so don't expect this in the final product, but it will be interesting to see how the user feedback will impact the game.

One of the things we would like to see is the ability to easily toggle the camera viewpoint. The game can be played exclusively from a first- or third-person perspective. The hybrid camera automatically switches perspectives for you, but that didn't seem to activate too often during our playtime. While you can switch this by going to the options before loading your current save, it would be nice to have an easier way to switch that's appropriate for fighting and traversal.

With over a year before Dream Cycle leaves Steam Early Access, there are plenty of questions that are left to answer. How many more environments are there going to be? Will they be equal in size to this one? How many levels need to be completed before you can access the next area? We can conceivably expect more goals, enemies and powers, but what's the timetable, especially if the game is actively soliciting feedback for its current content? We'll find out as time goes on, but what we have in this first preview build is pretty substantial. Based on that, it's worth keeping tabs on Dream Cycle if you aren't the type to jump into Early Access offerings.

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