A non-review of Dreamgate for Steam

All right, so this is not a review because Dreamgate is still currently in early access. As such, many or all details I share with y’all might change before the game goes gold and launches for real. But really, in this modern era of gaming, updates and patches post launch might radically change any game after it’s reviewes. Take Dead Cells for example. I gave that game glowing praise as an early access offering, and after going gold, the developers have continued to shit on the game with new unbalanced biomes and one-shot enemies that cater only to the hardcore crowd while telling those of us who supported them in early access that we can kindly go fuck ourselves for enjoying their product on a lowly casual level.

*Sighs* But I’m not bitter about it or anything.

Anywho, Dreamgate is a card game merged with a dungeon crawler. It’s similar to Slay the Spire, but offers more player classes, and boasts on their Steam page that there’s no mana or energy required to play cards. (I’ll be coming back to this selling point soon, because it’s the main reason I bought the game.) You start out with one passive skill and a tiny deck, and then you slowly collect more cards through winning battles and leveling up. Defeated enemies give XP, and each level-up offers up three new cards. Don’t like any of the new options? Hit Skip and hope for a better pull on the next level-up or dungeon room victory. (Though it should be mentioned that certain low-level rooms don’t drop cards, so it’s entirely possible to win four and five battles for no reward.) 

Defeating the boss at the end of a dungeon floor offers the chance to replenish your healing potion card, drop off all gold/money cards so as not to lose them after dying, try your luck for new skill cards or passive skills, or exile cards from your deck. All of these options use a certain number of action points, so the routine most of the time is dump gold, refill potion, hunt for one new skill. Later on after unlocking more action points, that last part can be expanded to hunting for one new passive skill and one skill card.

Between runs, the gold that was saved up during runs can be spent to unlock some options on a skill “tree.” I put tree in quotes because none of the classes have many options to unlock, and even after all of them are unlocked, they don’t do much to help improve the characters or the gameplay loop. They feel tacked on just to make the jump from rogue-like to rogue-lite.

Where things really begin to break down, even before all the classes are unlocked, is that there’s not many monsters included in the game, and most of them are more annoying than they are challenging. There’s the enemies who force you to discard right at the start of your turn, enemies who force you to discard at taking damage or dying, enemies who force you to use only a certain number of cards per turn, and enemies who deal damage to you with every card, even when you’ve killed them. There’s even an enemy who upon death will destroy a random card from your hand. So that one good card you’ve been relying on? Yeah, it’s gone for the rest of the run unless you luck out and find it in a later level. (This is not impossible because there’s so few cards in the game overall, but still very improbable.)

This is before you get to rooms with special stipulations like “all attacks deal 3 damage.” That seems great if you’re throwing knives, as that 1 damage weapon now does 3. But it’s not so nice when a card meant to do 12 damage is nerfed, and meanwhile the enemies can still shell out their full damage with no penalty.

But the thing that’s really grinding my gears about this game is that “no mana/energy” claim, because it’s pure unadulterated bullshit. It implies that you can play all the cards in your hand without limitations, and this game chock full of limits. There’s even a whole class of weapons that have the term Limited on them, which means you can only use one Limited card per turn. Now before fans of the game get nitpicky, yes, there is a passive skill that can be found on certain runs that will allow for the use of two Limited cards per turn. But that’s not a guaranteed drop, and in the meantime, it’s entirely possible to draw a hand of 7 fucking cards and only be able to play one because they’re all fucking Limited. ASK ME HOW I KNOW THIS. ASK ME!!!

*Sighs* But I’m not bitter or anything.

Beyond the Limited cards and the enemies and passive skills that all limit how many cards you can play, the developers also added Arcane cards that in fact require energy to play. They have spell cards that require using item cards to gather energy, with a cost of 3 or 4 energy to be cast. Playing as the Battle Mage? Well you’ve only got 2 energy per turn, so you need two energy crystal cards and the spell to all appear in the same hand. RNGesus is almost never going to be that kind to you, so these spells are essentially useless for most runs. Useless, and a direct lie about that “no mana/energy” selling point.

Add to this the cards with the Fumble characteristic. To play these, you have to choose another card or two to discard first. There’s a starting weapon common to several classes that fumbles one card in exchange for doing 5 damage. This is fine if you have an unplayable card like a curse, toxin, wound, or a gold card to shuffle away, but less than optimal if all you have are weapons and you have to choose which attack to give up. Oh, and if you end up with only a Fumble weapon in your hand, but nothing to discard, you have no weapon, simple as that.

Pair Fumbles up with an enemy who forces a discard at the start of every turn, and another who forces a discard if you so much as play a card, and suddenly your “unlimited” options quickly dwindle down to nothing for multiple hands in every run. No seriously, you can have runs where you can’t do anything because the combination of a lousy draw and the enemies’ stipulations tie you into inaction. But hey, at least there’s no mana or energy, right?

But let’s drop that worried bone and get to the final point. There are only four levels to this dungeon crawl, only one final boss, and said boss has 400 fucking hit points and a rotating but unchanging set of phases to make sure every run ends in the most boring slog possible. I need to make this clear. I’ve beaten the last boss with every character class. He’s not challenging, he’s not fun. He’s just boring.

When it comes right down to it, this is the same problem that made Slay the Spire so unenjoyable so quickly. Dreamgate has very little variety to make additional runs worthwhile. There’s other character classes, but they all share an overlapping pools of cards and passive skills. The enemies get stale quickly because there’s just not enough of them to make the core gameplay loop compelling. There are no other modes to change things up, so it’s just this one stale grind every single time. And for the love of RNGesus, games like this need to design way more bosses if they expect people to keep running on the same hamster wheel over and over and over.

For all my problems with Binding of Isaac, that rogue-like offered up a huge pool of bosses, and every update has deepened that pool with new options. These rogue-lite card games don’t have a quarter of the enemies and bosses to fill their dungeons, and so I can’t even make it past 40 hours before I’m bored away from their loops.

I wish I could say something positive, but all I can finish with is that this is an okay distraction for a week or two. For the price, that’s not bad, so I’m not saying don’t buy this because it’s hot garbage that’s not worth your money. I’m saying it’s not worth much time, and it could be so much more compelling with more content and at least 25% less annoying bullshit.