Disney Dreamlight Valley

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Gameloft
Release Date: 2023


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Switch/PS5/PS4/XSX/XOne/PC Preview - 'Disney Dreamlight Valley'

by Cody Medellin on Feb. 7, 2023 @ 1:29 a.m. PST

Disney Dreamlight Valley is a free-to-play life-simulation adventure game where you can create your personalized avatar and embark on an enchanting journey alongside some of Disney and Pixar’s most beloved characters.

After the success of the first few Animal Crossing games across various Nintendo platforms, Disney sought to jump on the life simulation bandwagon with its own games, full of characters from its stable of movies and shorts. Disney Magical World and its sequel were 3DS-only titles that gave players the ability to visit other worlds and interact with the Disney cast, but the presence of combat and a lack of exciting activities quickly had people forgetting about it. After an enhanced version of the sequel hit in late 2021, Disney decided to switch things up by switching to Gameloft, a publisher and developer that's mostly known in the mobile free-to-play market. Many figured that mobile free-to-play tactics don't usually translate well to the console and PC spaces. Even in its Early Access state, Disney Dreamlight Valley is defying expectations by proving itself to be on equal footing with Nintendo's popular life simulator.

Disney Dreamlight Valley has a more compelling story than what was introduced in the Magical World duo of games. Tired of the busy city life, you take a trip back to your childhood home in a more rural area to relax and decompress. Everything reminds you of a simpler time, and you doze off in relaxation. You wake up to find yourself in a place called Dreamlight Valley, and it is anything but dreamy. The place looks abandoned, dark, and full of black thorny vines. You meet up with Merlin, who explains that a phenomenon called The Forgetting has plagued the area, causing all of the people to disappear. You aren't a magical being, but you somehow possess the magic to banish a thorny bush, so you agree to help Merlin and return everything to the way it was.

You don't expect something that is trying to capture the spirit of Animal Crossing to also take a page out of Harvest Moon and Stardew Valley by having a compelling story. There are notes strewn about with information about how the former ruler lost hope and left, thereby causing this calamity. The surprise twist is easily predictable, but it is nice to see that the developers chose to go with a resolution instead of dragging out the reveal until future updates.

You start by creating a character, and the number of options easily dwarfs the company's efforts in Magical World. There's a wide variety of things to change out, from body shape to hairstyle to facial structure, and while it doesn't display a ridiculous amount of depth, there's more than enough to create a character that fits in with the rest of the cast. Later on, you'll find that the game has a variety of clothing options, including a mix of normal clothes and Disney- and Pixar-themed attire. You can mix and match. For example, you can wear a Magic Kingdom t-shirt with a Cars jacket, and they're both treated like different clothing items, even though they're both for the upper body. That's even before you can customize the clothes with premade stencils and color gradients.

If you know Animal Crossing, especially New Horizons, then you know what to expect from the core gameplay mechanics. You can get rid of the black thorny bushes in a way that's similar to pulling weeds in Nintendo's game. You can do some gardening by digging up places to plant crops and watering them to help them grow. You can break apart rocks and dig the sides of rocky outcroppings to find materials. The various items you find along the way will help you craft even more things, such as furniture or more refined ingredients. Fishing is also something you can partake in, along with cooking, shopping, redecorating and upgrading your house and the valley, and helping to get new neighbors to move in. There are even tasks to complete that help you get points to unlock new things as you progress. The day and night system is governed by your real-world location and time of day.

Tools don't suffer from fragility problems, so you don't have to worry about keeping extras in case your fishing rod shatters. Instead, you have a stamina meter that governs how many activities you can do before getting exhausted. More strenuous stuff, like breaking rocks, takes more stamina while gathering crops and flowers takes very little. You'll eventually run out of stamina even if leveling up comes with slight increases in the meter. You can refill the meter by eating food; cooked food gives you much more stamina than the raw stuff, but simply entering your house instantly refills the meter.

Initially, Disney Dreamlight Valley seems focused on life simulation, and that is what you'll do most of the time. However, a good portion focuses on adventure elements, minus combat. You'll have daily quests to get precious dreamlight, and characters often send quests, like crafting something, grabbing items for them, or completing simple tasks in exchange for dreamlight and prizes. Some quests affect story progression, since they lead to meeting new characters and opening up new lands, including the beach, swamp and thick forest. Aside from the valley and its mysteries, you'll also be able to visit lands that are smaller in nature but obviously themed for a specific movie: an island for Moana, a bedroom for Toy Story, and the trashed-out Earth of Wall-E.

The decision to go with Gameloft appears to have paid off thus far; the company has shown that it's capable of providing new content on a steady basis. There have been a few limited-time events to celebrate Pixar and Christmas, and a public roadmap shows the company's big 100-year celebration is hitting soon, along with elements from "Encanto" and "The Lion King." Most people are looking forward to multiplayer later in the year, but the content has been coming out at a measured pace thus far.

Early Access titles are expected to have some bugs, and the intended audience at this stage is tolerant of them. For example, we encountered a bug where scrolling through the crafting menu shows nothing in the flooring category if you scroll from left to right. You can't scroll back until you exit the crafting menu. That issue is alleviated if you go backward by scrolling right to left. Some characters that you need to get quests from may look like they're in a building on the map, but they'll only appear when you enter a building and exit quickly, as they're now outside.

Dreamlight Valley's presentation is leaps and bounds better than Magical World. As mentioned earlier, the design for your character is modeled in a way that it is in line with the rest of the Disney and Pixar cast, which aims for the modern CG look. It fits perfectly with the Pixar characters and recent Disney movies, while the characters from older Disney movies adapt well to this style. The environments have loads of detail, and the animations for the characters are butter-smooth. The frame rate is all over the place, as the game occasionally runs into some performance bugs. If this gets ironed out, this will be a gorgeous-looking game.

The audio is well done. The music is a combination of familiar Disney pieces and original tunes to provide variety and appropriate ambiance when exploring the world. This is especially true when you enter a world or character's house, and the instrumental version of the movie's popular song plays. Every character has a varied bank of voice samples.

If you're planning to play this on the Steam Deck, the performance is surprisingly good out of the gate. The game defaults to a mix of high and low settings on 1280x720 to look nice on the small screen. The performance indoors easily hits 60fps, but go outdoors and you'll fluctuate between 40-60fps, depending on where you are and the effects. With a battery life of roughly two hours with these settings, it rivals Animal Crossing on the Switch. Between the game options and the system options, there's enough to squeeze three hours out of a full battery charge.

Disney Dreamlight Valley is still in Early Access, but it finally fulfills the company's desire to get in on Animal Crossing's turf with a very compelling title of its own. The story is surprisingly compelling, the nice quality of life improvements make the same tasks much less tedious, and the combination of life simulator with adventure game makes the necessary grinding not feel so bad. Disney and Pixar characters are a good hook, and the gameplay will keep you playing for a long time. If you can deal with the Early Access bugs for now, this is well worth grabbing on the PC if you're tired of Animal Crossing or want the same gameplay in a new locale. Otherwise, keep an eye peeled for Disney Dreamlight Valley to hit the Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S in Fall 2023.

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