Disney is getting ready to challenge the wildly popular Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Stardew Valley with its latest giant bet.
If you've read some of my texts during my 20 years at Gamereactor, it should come as no surprise that I love Animal Crossing. So when I heard that Disney had its own challenger in the works, in the same vein as Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley, the interest flag was immediately raised.
Before you get to do anything at all in the game, you need to create your main character in the adventure. The tools are reasonably detailed and soon I have a character, ready to take on various Disney challenges. The basic premise of Disney Dreamlight Valley is that this magical place suffered from something a bit vaguely called The Forgetting, which caused all the inhabitants to forget everything and the world is thus just a tragic remnant of its former self. Of course, this is where you come in, as it will be your job to clear the Night Thorns that contribute to the continuation of the amnesia. In fact, it's The Sword in the Stone sorcerer Merlin who introduces you to the world and its fate before you're thrown into the game.
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The set-up may feel a little rough around the edges, and while it's not the world's deepest or most complicated game (far from it, actually), a smoother flow of clearer instructions would have been appreciated. At its core, though, Disney Dreamlight Valley is about taking care of Dreamlight Valley and, in particular, clearing out the Night Thorns that are causing world amnesia - but above all, it's about just taking care of yourself and being kind to people.
For those who have played the aforementioned Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley, much will feel familiar as you talk to people, take care of your plants, fix up the house, fish and destroy rocks. Although Disney has chosen to frame the world in terms of Disney amnesia, there's no doubt whatsoever where the inspiration comes from. That doesn't mean that original ideas are lacking, quite the opposite.
Most notably, there are regular missions in Disney's Dreamlight Valley. In Animal Crossing it rarely gets more exciting than returning a book to a villager who lost it or giving someone a long-awaited butterfly, but in Stardew Valley of course we had the slightly Zelda-inspired parts of the mine, even if they weren't tied to specific quests. Here, the inhabitants often have a task for you that's more interactive and challenging than in the other two titles. Basically, it's still mostly so-called "fetch quests", but the variety and presentation still makes me think it offers something a little more meaty.
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It should be said, however, that this is an Early Access/Game Preview title, and thus not a finished game. In many ways, though, this feels more like a beta in that it's unfortunately quite buggy at this point. I've rarely appreciated a generous auto-save as much as in this game. Not only does it hang itself almost daily, it also has other annoying elements like character bugs and the likes. The latter rarely becomes game-breaking and the former is "only" annoying thanks to good auto-saves, but it's obviously still a point worth mentioning.
Otherwise, it's a delight to stroll around the serene Disney Dreamlight Valley and its many smaller areas. They are exquisitely designed in such a way that fans will quickly recognise when visiting Frozen or Moana.
I especially love how Disney's wonderful characters walk around and sort of be themselves. Early on in the adventure, you'll meet Mickey Mouse and Goofy, among others, and can interact with them freely. They are themselves and, for example, Wall-E (who you also meet as one of the first) will look for Eve and have his plant with him. All the characters react to what you do (hanging out with Moana lets you hear her theme song, just to take an example), have dialogues between each other and sort of live where they are in a natural way that makes it feel like a real world, inhabited by characters I already consider old acquaintances beforehand. And the better friend you become with the Disney characters, the better objects you get from them.
Clearing Night Thorns and completing quests gives you access to more and more areas, which in turn opens up more opportunities for you to grab various materials, items, and other things that serve as incentives to keep playing. You'll also get the Dreamlight currency (think Nook Miles in Animal Crossing: New Horizons), which allows you to buy things you need to move forward. You also have a regular currency that you can spend in Uncle Scrooge's shop, where, of course, new items are added on a daily basis.
In many ways, Disney Dreamlight Valley is a typical so-called non-game. I loiter around, do monotonous things and am expected to return to redo the proceedings frequently. It's nothing that ever feels negative, though, as the developers have perfectly nailed what makes this type of game so good. It's soothing and rewarding at the same time, and I don't mind going digging up items, taking photos of stuff and placing furniture - although in all honesty there's not much to the gameplay. The game is also far more user-friendly than Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and the huge menu tutorial is completely absent here, as are artificial limitations, and your tools don't break either.
Disney Dreamlight Valley will be free-to-play, but during the Early Access/Game Preview phase it actually costs money to play this. I assume this is why the energy meter you have is so generously set. It's there, but serves no real purpose and should my character get tired, I can always rest or eat something to remedy it. I'm guessing that this will be far worse when the game is actually out there trying to get us to spend real money, and maybe that means that Disney Dreamlight Valley will never be as enjoyable to play as it is right now?
Be that as it may, it's a little short on content. More will be added continuously, of course, but in the end I'm still very happy with what I'm getting here. It's got a hook that makes it enjoyable to do the same stuff over and over again, and it's got so much Disney magic baked in that I'm smiling like a fool while I play. It doesn't matter that it crashes every now and then, the auto-save protects me and it is a testament to how much fun I had that I will continue with this game even after the review is now written and finished.
8 / 10
Wonderfully charming. Lots of Disney magic. Soothing setting. Lots to discover. All characters have been given real personality. Nice graphics. Lovely music.