A reader tries the early access version of free-to-play title Disney Dreamlight Valley and is surprised to find it’s actually a good game.
Gameloft has a reputation for making solid but soulless mobile apps that rip off the most iconic gaming franchises. So when I saw that they were releasing a new free-to-play game based on Disney my scepticism was high to say the least. I was imagining waiting hours for the simplest tasks to be completed, unless you pay to speed things up. When I found out that it was a life simulator, I thought, ‘Oh great, another Animal Crossing wannabe, this time with a lick of Disney paint.’ I now have to eat these words, as all of my lowest expectations were debunked.
The first thing to note is that to get early access on PC, Xbox, Switch and PlayStation you do have to buy a Founder’s Pack that costs anywhere between £24 and £58, depending on what tier you want. This is unless you have Xbox Game Pass, in which case you get the base pack and access to the game via XCloud.
However, when it is officially released next year, not only will it be free-to-play on all these platforms (including iOS), but the only paid elements will be optional cosmetics and game expansions. In an era where microtransactions are offensively abundant even on paid games, Gameloft’s approach here is not only refreshing but also matches the open-ended gameplay.
The interplay between the story and that gameplay is also really inspired compared to Gameloft’s past games, and free-to-play games in general. You move into a Disney-ified valley that has been overtaken by dark magic, ruining a once bustling valley.
It becomes your job to restore the village to its former glory by entering different realms based on various Disney/Pixar movies (including classics such as WALL-E and Ratatouille) and convincing characters to move back to your village by completing various quests for them.
Underpinning this fleshed-out story is an open-ended environment where you can garden, cook, dig for resources to sell, and buy furniture/clothes to customise your character and house. A big focus is placed on befriending Disney characters (having daily conversations with them, giving them gifts etc.) and completing their individual quests.
Completing these activities will give you Dreamlight that you use to expand the valley and unlock realms. Free from time constraints, despite the game syncing with real-world time, the gameplay resembles Disney Magical World 2 and is all the better for it.
The graphics are sprinkled with Disney charm, but it is obvious that the game was built for mobile first and then retrofitted onto consoles. Before trying the game, I found this to be questionable, and was worried that this would hinder the experience on home consoles but I was wrong, as the controls are very intuitive on a controller and the gameplay has enough depth for longer sessions.
The fact that cloud saving can be enabled on all non-PlayStation platforms also helps with this. I still find the trend of porting mobile games onto dedicated game consoles lazy and cheap, but Gameloft has made an effort to make the game work on all platforms.
Overall, Disney Dreamlight Valley proves that Gameloft can develop unique and memorable games, that mobile gaming can be more than a constant ad for microtransactions, and that Disney video games can be more than tacky movie tie-ins. Soft locks and bugs make it clear that this game won’t be leaving early access anytime soon, but based on what’s here so far, this game has no business being free.
Tested on a Steam Deck via Xbox Cloud Gaming.
By reader Connor
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