HIGH A beautiful Lovecraftian atmosphere.
LOW Environments feel empty and desolate.
WTF Replenishing weapons after death gets old reaaaallllyyy quick.
A game exploring the weird and terrifying worlds of American horror novelist H.P. Lovecraft is a fantastic idea. A game combining the movement and exploration mechanics of an open-world platformer and the combat of the soulsborne genre is also a fantastic idea.
An effort combining both of those things? How could it be anything but twice as good?
Enter Dream Cycle — an ambitious title from Toby Gard (creator of Lara Croft) and Cathuria Games that aims for something truly unique. Unfortunately, all the wonderful ideas in Dream Cycle fail to come together in a cohesive way, creating a confusing, and at times frustrating, experience.
Dream Cycle’s protagonist, the young sorceress Morgan Carter, finds herself thrust into the Dreamlands — an otherworldly place based on H.P. Lovecraft’s series of novels and short stories of the same name. While there, she must purge the land of evil, save lost souls, and thwart her great-great-grand-uncle, Randolph, from becoming a god.
Unfortunately, for a game based on concepts from a series of cult novels, the plot here is rather… formulaic. Solid voice acting makes Morgan an interesting and multi-layered hero, but Dream Cycle is far more focused on its ambiance than a strong plot.
Once play begins, the Dreamlands are revealed to be massive, and there is much to see and do. The areas are procedurally generated each time Morgan enters them, which keeps them enticing to explore — in theory. From either a first- or third-person perspective, Morgan will scale mountaintops, battle intimidating monsters, and explore every corner of this strange world, and this exploration is engaging, as Morgan (for the most part) feels fluid to control.
Gifted with levitating and dashing abilities, she can fly through the air with ease, which comes in handy both in exploration and combat. She also has an astral projection ability which allows her to leave her body and move the camera into surrounding areas to see what lies ahead. Though a bit buggy at times, it helps with knowing where enemies are positioned, or how to get to a tricky destination.
Sadly, much of this is for naught as the procgen leads to vast, empty environments with nothing but rocks, and mountaintops that seem like points of interest, but usually offer nothing to reward the player for scaling them.
Adding insult to injury, Morgan’s sharp traversal skills are blunted by the unclear level objectives. She’ll often be trying to free lost souls (usually meaning beating a couple of baddies) but they’re not always obvious, and while she can ‘ping’ them in her astral projections, even with that spiritual assistance their exact locations are difficult to decipher.
When enemies are located, combat is enjoyable, if not a bit clunky. Morgan has many options to engage in battle — from basic swords, axes, and bows, to more extravagant spells that can set enemies ablaze or ignight them with lightning. I do wish there were more weapons based on aerial attacks since Morgan is a master of the sky and a bit awkward on the ground, though.
Boss enemies are tough, and losing multiple times is not uncommon. Borrowing roguelike mechanics, Death will send Morgan back to the hub world, and she will lose all combat items accrued, aside from a few essentials, forcing the player to repurchase everything lost.
In this obvious attempt to re-create a common soulsborne death penalty, I constantly found myself scrounging for money, and upset after losing cool weapons with no consistent way of getting them back. So, instead of being able to try bosses again right away with my same build, I would have to grind until I found new weapons that I was often unfamiliar with, and then be forced to tackle a boss with a completely different strategy, making a lot of what I learned in my previous attempt moot.
Questionable design aside, it must also be said that Dream Cycle has a lot of bugs. From standing on platforms that aren’t there, to enemies getting caught in never-ending animations, there are a lot of rough edges here that don’t necessarily break the game but are a substantial distraction.
There are a ton of great ideas in Dream Cycle. Dreamlike, ever-shifting worlds, the Lovecraft influence, and exploring it all as a sorceress is a solid foundation to build an adventure on — it simply needs more time in the oven to improve the inconsistent mechanics, streamline the experience, and fix the bugs. It’s a great start, but it’s just not there yet.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Cathuria Games, and published by Raw Fury. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on PC. Approximately 10 hours of play was spent playing the game, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: This game currently has no ESRB rating. It is an action-adventure game with peril, combat, some frightening monsters, and some blood, but nothing overly graphic. I would say the game is suitable for Teens and older.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There is text in-game, but the text is not resizable. Audio cues are not required for progression, though they can be very helpful in determining where enemies are precisely located, making the game not fully accessible.
Remappable controls: Controls are completely remappable on the mouse and keyboard, but oddly not remappable on a controller.