For the past few weeks I’ve been immersed in the world of Dreamlords, which launched in the middle of last month. If you haven’t heard of the game before now, Dreamlords is an independently developed online game from Swedish developer Lockpick Entertainment, but it’s not you typical MMO. Lockpick has been looking to expand the MMO beyond the RPG and into the game space of real time strategy, with Dreamlords being the final product of this endeavor. Although I haven’t played the game quite enough to make a full review, today I’d like to provide a basic first look at the game’s systems and features.
Dreamlords is set in a shattered world where people live on chunks, or islands, of reality floating in a foggy mist. Your dreamlord, your avatar in the world, is a giant glowing being who towers over regular humans and has recently awakened to be the savior of the people of your Patria, you territory. The game has three factions, the Thul, the Nihilim, and the Covenant. The Thul are a beast like warrior race, and are designed to be the most straight forward if combat is what you live for. The Nihilim are a group of magic users and weaker in combat bet better at building a Patria. The Covenant, of which the Nihilim are an offshoot, strike a balance between the two other races with no stand out exceptionalities nor deficiencies. They’re also the faction I chose.
The game begins as your Dreamlord awakens in this world and meets its inhabitants. A basic tutorial introduces you to the backstory and guides you through moving around in the world, changing camera angles, and other basic orientation details. I found the tutorial was pretty lacking. Moving around is fairly standard for anyone who’s played an RTS before so it’s not hard to pick up. After you practice the basics of combat at your home base, the tutorial ends and you’re ready to go out into the bigger world, in theory.
What the tutorial didn’t cover, and probably should have, is how to manage your territory. Patria management is handled outside of the game client in a web browser. I found that this was both handy and a bit annoying. Managing your patria from a browser was useful when you weren’t actually playing the game because you can manage and monitor your Patria from anywhere at anytime. My routine was to play at night and manage my spoils in the morning before starting work for the day. It worked well for my schedule and allowed some flexibility you don’t always get when playing in a virtual world. It becomes cumbersome when you’re actually playing Dreamlords and you need to keep bouncing between the game and the browser just to alter a few details. Just to be clear, there isn’t a constant need to keep going back and forth between the client and the browser, it just becomes a hassle when you have to do it often.
As I mentioned before, there wasn’t really a helpful tutorial to guide you in getting started. You’re left to your own devices to figure out how to do that as the help button in the management screen isn’t very helpful and only offers basic information that is already obvious. Information isn’t displayed in a very intuitive or easy to interpret manner, and when you want to look at new information in the management screen it can take a little longer to load than a standard webpage, so figuring things out on your own can be a little vexing. This was a bit of a barrier to entry for me because I don’t feel that players should have to go searching for guides and wikis made by third parties, or ask the same barrage of questions many new players seemed to be asking in the help chat just to start playing.
My first challenge was getting more troops and better troops. I conquered as much territory as I could with just one unit of footmen, and then I needed more guys. In the game client I found out where to train new soldiers, and equip my troops with better gear fairly easily. It was just a matter of spending a little tribute, a sort of in game currency which is used to buy gear and items for your troops, in-game boosts, and other items. Gear can also be crafted but I’ll get into that next time. In the browser I found where to research improved soldiers and new unit types easily enough, in the research section of the training ground building. What I found less obvious was how to increase the size of my expeditions into new territory. Each unit has a point value depending on how powerful it is, and you are limited in the number of points you can use to attack a territory, so I quickly hit a wall when my one unit of footmen and my dreamlord just weren’t strong enough to precede.
Upon further poking around I found that I had to add more workers to my training ground to increase my expedition size. That’s the basic mechanic of Patria management. Hire more workers. This causes a building to conduct research faster, and also increases production of whatever else that building produces. Now to the next problem, how do I get more people? To answer this question I had to break and ask in the help chat, where I was told that I had to earn Gnosis to get more people. Gnosis is another loosely defined quantity in the game. You earn Gnosis in PvE by killing monsters and converting the loot into Gnosis. Seeing as I had hit a wall in my outward expansion, the only way to get more Gnosis was to grind out enough by attacking previously conquered lands and killing the monsters within. This was the basic pattern of my PvE experience. Just as I would be gaining momentum and starting to have fun, I would need to stop and grind for Gnosis before I could move on. At first it was a good time, but the maps quickly became repetitive as they are not very different on a fundamental level, and that’s essentially the fun killer in PvE.
The maps also lacked in the tactics department. Terrain rarely plays a decisive factor in PvE, making the differences between the maps fairly cosmetic, and most enemies are easily defeated with very basic tactics. That being said, the combat is very easy to get the hang of, and it has enough going on in terms of unit abilities to keep things interesting. The units in your army are all designed to fill a roll that will be familiar to MMO players. Foot soldiers are the tanks and have special powers that build threat levels, mounted units are faster and do more damage but have less hp and armor, scouts are the strikers doing good damage from a distance but with vulnerability to melee, and priests are the healers/buffers. The fun for an MMO player is that you get to use all of these archetypes at the same time in Dreamlords, rather than play one character at a time. Despite being very limited by the number of unit types, the constant research that’s going on in your city means that you are frequently unlocking new abilities and tougher units which can help break up some of the monotony of the maps.
I found that the constant research in Dreamlords was somewhat of a mixed blessing. On one hand it means that even when you’re not playing, something is always going on and your patria is getting stronger. On the other hand, some of the techs take a long time to develop which can be a bit frustrating, especially if you’re a new player. When you see that some of you’re first techs will take days or even weeks to finish, it doesn’t really make a new player want to play the game again the very next day. Once you’ve had a few weeks in the game, the management portion of the game does get a little more fun, but you have to put in you time early on to get to the fun.
The graphics and sound quality in the game are pretty good compared to many of the other free-to-play offerings out there. They’re not triple A quality, but you can tell that Lockpick made an effort to make visuals a priority.
As mentioned earlier, Dreamlords is operated under a free-to-play business model. There’s no cost to download the game and there are no subscription fees. Where does Lockpick make their money? If players need to, they can purchase tribute. Tribute can also be earned in game but at a significantly slower rate than just purchasing ten thousand tribute for 15USD or one hundred thousand for 100USD. I managed to go through about 3000 tribute in my first month, and if I’d know what I was doing in my first weeks I probably would have gone through less than half of that. The bottom line is that if you play this game long enough there’s a good chance you’ll want to buy tribute, but it is something you can avoid for a long time. And when you add it up, it’s still cheaper to buy tribute every so often, rather than paying a monthly fee or paying for a box.
Players can also upgrade to a premium account which allows you to earn trait points, which enhance your dreamlord faster and also helps you earn tribute at a slightly faster rate. Premium players are also granted full access to the game’s market, where players can exchange goods and commodities. Premium accounts cost $40 for six months and $70 for a full year. But I wasn’t playing on a premium account, so now that we’ve moved outside of my area of experience in Dreamlords, it seems like a good time to end this glance at the game. Next time I’ll talk more about the other factions, crafting, PvP, and go into more detail about some of the topics that I’ve only touched on.