Dream cycle hero

Dream Cycle (Early Access) Review

Exhilarating in its grind

Dream Cycle verges on the earlier, lofty promises of the much maligned space survival game No Man’s Sky; it boasts of an infinite adventure, stating that “new realms will become available” with regular updates, along with “new biomes, additional story chapters, weapons, enemies, skills and powers”. And even in its nascent Early Access state, where your dream-traversing adventures are limited to just a single location, there are already 10,000 uncharted levels to explore and objectives to overcome. So while it’s not 18 quintillion levels large—at least not just yet—the vast immensity of Dream Cycle’s layered worlds are still tinged with crushing majesty and the wonder of seemingly endless possibilities.

In some ways, Dream Cycle does deliver on this promise. You’re an arcane apprentice called Morgan Carter, who is trapped in the endless dreamscapes of Dream Cycle when a long-lost relative stole your powers and left you on the brink of death. From here you must track down your great great granduncle, Randolph Carter, and foil his dastardly plans. That said, you’ll first begin with regaining your mystical powers and recalibrating your combat skills, since enemies such as corrupt pagans and monstrous goblins roam the dreamscape you now traverse. 

But hold on; this is an in-depth system that needs some getting accustomed to. You are armed with a sword for good ol’ fashioned stabbing and slashing, as well as a ranged weapon as your secondary armament—from a stealthier shortbow to a longer-ranged sniper rifle. There are also opportunities to stun your enemies with an appropriately timed kick, as well as a dodge ability that slows everyone else down around you for a brief moment. Both will reveal to you an enemy’s most vulnerable spot with a red glow, which is an area you can then strike at for critical damage. It’s a neat riff on the concept of nailing headshots in first-person shooters, and which forces you to bid your time into making more deliberate and opportune attacks. 

Then there’s the stealth attacks you can perform, where you’ll creep, leap and sink your blade into your enemies’ sinewy flesh from a distance or a great height—a satisfying and effective approach to a clean assassination. And if all these aren’t enough, you’ll wield magic spells too, from tossing lightning balls to transforming into a flock of raven. Such skirmishes, when carried out to the right rhythm and gait, can be surprisingly potent and crisp.

Intense bouts of combat

But perhaps because you’re technically on the verge of death, these fights can also feel particularly challenging. Pulling off the right moves in combat isn’t easy, particularly at the start where you’re mostly a hapless soul swinging a disintegrating, rusty sword at your opponents. Throw more than one enemy into the mix, and you’ll be flinching and recoiling from attacks more often than you’d prefer. One trick you’ll have to pick up, then, is to either perform as many assassinations as you can, or lean into the axiom of “practice makes perfect”—and immerse yourself in the tedium of the grind. 

The good news is that you’ll eventually get better at combat, since you’ll have around 10,000 available levels to tread through and perfect your skills. This isn’t always as awful as it sounds: the payoff is the exhilarating satisfaction that comes with finally inching one step closer towards nailing the cadence of combat, which is admittedly pretty darn thrilling at times. Launching yourself towards the unsuspecting pagan, with their backs turned to you, will send waves of dopamine down your spine.

The bad news is well, the grind. It seems that the crux of Dream Cycle, or at least in its Early Access state, is to carve a beeline towards your next objective or destination on a map—and that translates to mowing through every single pixel on that path. That’s right; every tile on the journey you’re blazing through is a level with an objective to complete, be it eviscerating all the enemies in the vicinity or destroying an illusive entity known as the eidolon, which you can draw out by killing more enemies, or triggering a sequence that will reveal a wee snippet of the universe’s tantalising lore to you through ambiguous quotes, whispered to you in deep, hushed tones. But it’s not just a series of adrenaline-fueled encounters; most times you’ll also be scaling boulders, rocks, and rickety wooden stairs erected on the edges of mountains. 

More to experience

All these clambering can translate into a real sense of adventuring and peril, but can feel empty over time, like Skyrim’s radiant quests that are used to pad in more content or justify its long playtime  This is especially when the progress in Dream Cycle feels delayed, with its payoff usually some pittance of gold, another rusty sword, or potions you can’t have too much of, since there’s a limit of the amount you can hold. Dream Cycle is a very intense grind, and your relationship with repetition is how much you’ll get out of going through these motions of climbing, stealthing and combat.

But perhaps there’s more to Dream Cycle’s reverie of an infinite adventure. Subsequent updates will probably see more locations, aside from its current expanse of wilderness and forests, and hopefully a greater variety of quests that involves more than just murdering pagans and hiking from waypoint to waypoint. In spite of the grind, the crux of Dream Cycle—its combat, tale and exploration—is still a meaty one. Yet paradoxically enough, I kinda wish there was more to experience.