Earlier this year, a new Disney-themed life-sim adventure game called Disney Dreamlight Valley was announced. With footage showing off an idyllic village that’s been overtaken by mysterious forces and your neighbors would be Disney and Pixar characters, it was easy for life-sim fans to instantly connect the dots and go “DISNEY MEETS ANIMAL CROSSING?!?” (Yes, the capslocking is necessary.)
Now after Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ crazy success, it might be a little eye-roll worthy to label other life-sims as such. Yet, that initial observation does fit in spades as even I couldn’t help but to go “Oh, this is very Animal Crossing” during my 25+ hour playthrough ahead of its Early Access launch on Tuesday, September 6th.
To sum it up best, Disney Dreamlight Valley is Animal Crossing (Pocket Camp trying to be New Horizons) with a touch of Kingdom Hearts (mash-up of different Disney and Pixar properties with some good ole darkness in the plot) and a dash of farming sim in the vein of Farmville (not Harvest Moon, Story of Seasons, or Stardew Valley – sorry). It’s also fair to throw in a comparison to The Sims too despite the fact that you can only control your own character, and unfortunately customization doesn’t include sliders to tweak every little bit of your avatar. Yet, all of these genre bits are built into a game whose skeleton structure consists of a free-to-play backbone that could’ve doubled, or even started out in development, as a mobile game filled with microtransactions (don’t worry – those are still there). And, to wrap it all up, it’s still an “in progress” and being released as an Early Access title with a full launch planned for sometime in 2023.
DDV’s plot is relatively simple, and a bit “mysterious” starting out. After crafting your character (which you can also import from the start via the avatar tool Gameloft released for PC this summer or edit at your leisure in-game), you’re treated to a cutscene that hits some familiar plot points in a good chunk of farming sim games – you’re leaving your day-to-day life in the city for a familiar place in the countryside. It’s heavily implied you lived or visited here quite often in your childhood and you’d pretend up fantasies and play them out. Taking a moment to reminisce and rest, you drift off to sleep. Next thing you know, you find yourself transported to Dreamlight Valley!
There’s just a bit of a problem – the village has been taken over by The Forgetting which has manifested as Night Thorns. These Night Thorns have trapped Disney and Pixar characters in different locations as well as making them forget about… well anything. And oh boy, it’s a good thing you’re here because you can fix this whole thing!
Luckily when you were transported, Merlin was nearby. He’ll get you up to speed on what he knows about Dreamlight Valley, acting as your guide of sorts for DDV’s “tutorial”. You can begin to clean up the Plaza area of DDV and you’ll be tasked to find the four Royal Tools that you’ll need for your day-to-day life in DDV. What are the Royal Tools? Simple, they’re your watering can, pickaxe, fishing rod, and shovel. They all have their own magical effects (save for the shovel, it’s just a shovel… at first) and some can be upgraded later via character-specific quests. With the tools (specifically the pickaxe) acquired, Dreamlight Valley is becoming a bit more like its old self. But you’re not done yet. You have to keep removing the Night Thorns and unlock the rest of the valley (and also bring some characters back home). How you’ll do this is by collecting Dreamlight which is the payout for Dreamlight Duties.
DREAMLIGHT THE WAY… WITH MAGIC, MONEY, ACTIVITIES, AND FRIENDSHIP
Tasks, duties, initiatives – whatever you want to call them there’s a whole system to collecting Dreamlight. There are eight “lifetime” Dreamlight collecting categories: Foraging, Gardening, Fishing, Cooking, Collection, Friendship, Village, and Mining. You’ll find duties like “catch x-amount of fish”, “harvest x-amount of vegetables”, “earn x-amount of Star Coins”, and more. Duties are tiered between two and five levels and the Dreamligh payout increased with each tier (50 Dreamlight to 500 Dreamlight). Thanks to the variety and the low threshold for completing a number of duties starting out, you’ll have enough Dreamlight to exchange to unlock new areas (Dream Castle and Dazzling Beach) in the beginning.
And if you’re stuck or have completed a decent chunk of duties, there’s a ninth category. Simply called Dreamlight Duties, six different duties will be available at all times. These sort of act as “daily duties”, but they’re always refilled with a new task. They’re a great alternative if you’re stuck trying to earn Dreamlight in the lifetime categories, as you’ll need a bunch to open up the other areas (called biomes in-game) and unlock the doors to other realms in the Dream Castle.
You can also craft Dreamlight, but I recommend against that outside of quest purposes as you’ll need Dream Shards for more important quests.
But there’s more to just collecting Dreamlight to bring Dreamlight Valley back to its old self. You’ll also need lots of Star Coins (the game’s gold coin currency).
Uncle Scrooge is Dreamlight Valley’s adventure capitalist who sees business opportunities everywhere, including outside of his own shop. Need to upgrade your house? You’ll be paying Uncle Scrooge in Star Coins. Looking to upgrade any of the businesses in the valley (Goofy’s Stalls and Remy’s Restaurant)? Go see Uncle Scrooge. Do you need to build a new home for a Disney or Pixar character that left Dreamlight Valley and can now come back? Uncle Scrooge (once you’ve placed the lot via the Furniture menu). Looking to restore Wishing Wells in the different biomes because they act as a fast travel mechanic? Uncle Scrooge, save for the first one (thanks Merlin).
Between all the upgrades and items that Uncle Scrooge sells in his store (stock changes daily), you’ll be trying to earn as many Star Coins as you can. Luckily, there are a few different ways to get them. The main one is getting items from activities and selling them to Goofy at his stalls.
Like any life sim game, there are various activities you can take part in. For DDV, you can farm (referred to as gardening), mine rocks for minerals and gems, forage for plants, fish, dig, craft, and cook. Here’s a quick rundown of each:
- Gardening: You can grow seeds into various crops. There is no star rating associated with crops and they all have different timers (carrots take 15 minutes to grow whereas wheat takes only 1 minute).
- Mining: There are rocks you can mine in each area of Dreamlight Valley and they regenerate after a few minutes. Striking them will earn you crafting materials (rocks, iron ore, etc.) and gems that’ll be needed for quests. You can also make a good amount of Star Coins selling gems.
- Foraging: Wild herbs, fungi, flowers, fruit, crafting materials, and more can be found throughout Dreamlight Valley. They spawn and regenerate within a few minutes which is good because you’ll need plenty of ‘em for quests.
- Fishing: Each area outside of the plaza will have a body of water (ponds, rivers, or an ocean) where you can fish. Bubbles (in white, blue, and orange) with ripples around them will indicate where you can cast your line and, hopefully, make it through the fishing prompts to net you a catch.
- Digging: Simple. With your shovel, you can dig just about anywhere and get materials (soil, sand, and more) as well as gold. For a guaranteed item, find glowing patches of earth with cracks.
- Crafting: Thanks to a handy crafting station available at Uncle Scrooge’s shop and outside of Goofy’s home, you can slap together materials to make refined crafting goods, furniture, and more. You’ll get your own crafting table (and the ability to make more) after completing a particular quest.
- Cooking: Make dishes from crops you’ve harvested, fish you’ve caught, and ingredients you’ve found while foraging. There is a rating system here, but it needs some tweaking. Yes, 5-Star dishes can sell for lots of Star Coins, but depending on what ingredients you use, you can sell some pretty pricey 1-Star dishes too.
Actions do require energy and you only start out with so much. As you level up your character, your energy bar increases. After you’ve depleted your energy you can restore it by eating food and dishes you’ve made, or having it instantly refilled by entering your house. If you don’t mind the trek, it’s best to just pop into your home sweet home and step back out. Save the dishes for selling at Goofy’s Stall for Star Coins.
Overall, some of the activities feel unbalanced. Since things regenerate quickly, it’s easy to cycle through the valley and repeat collecting materials (more so when you’ve unlocked more areas). This is a personal preference, but I want a life-sim that has me limited to what I can do in one game day. Since DDV is in real-time (like Animal Crossing: New Horizons) and everything is on short timers (save for some crops, the longest is a grow time of 4 hours)… the mobile game aspect really shows here. Either limit me to what I can do in a day, or switch this to a farming sim like Story of Seasons where one game day is equal to 15 – 20 minutes of real-time. I want my progress to feel like I really earned it, not that I just ran around my village and grinded for less than an hour to get enough Star Coins to complete some major story quests.
Since this is a life-sim, you can customize Dreamlight Valley, your home, and clothing items. For the valley, you can move and place objects (furniture, trees, entire homes, foraging spawns, and more) within the furniture menu while you’re outside. You can really make Dreamlight Valley your own place – everything from trying to recreate where the homes were originally shown in DDV’s cutscenes to your own take now that you’re saving the place. Plus, if you changed your mind about where you’ve placed a character’s home, you can easily change it no matter what condition it is in (fully built or in the “give Uncle Scrooge Star Coins to proceed” construction plot mode).
As for your home, while you can’t customize the exterior yet, you can upgrade the interior and design it to your liking. There’s a variety of wallpaper and flooring to collect and unlock. Plus, there are over 900 furniture items in-game to buy, earn, and find (and some have different color options). While you might not find a piece that is straight out of your favorite Disney or Pixar film yet, there’s enough variety to decorate your home (up to four different expanded rooms) and the valley.
Lastly, there’s your avatar. The game’s avatar customization tool isn’t as expansive as other games, but it’s a good start. If you also don’t spot the perfect hairstyle at the start, there’s luckily more in-game for sale at Uncle Scrooge’s store (randomly). Clothing, on the other hand, has a pretty robust customization feature. There are clothing bases for various styles (Mickey and Minnie headbands, backpacks, tops, bottoms, etc.) where you can change the base color and then layer on motifs. In addition to that, you can change the size and angle/rotation of motifs and also use some different visual effects (like mirroring). While this could benefit from a grid system so you can line up multiple motifs up just right, and the controls take a little bit of getting used to, it’s pretty impressive for an Early Access version of DDV.
For all Disney and Pixar characters, there is a friendship level system. Right now the max level is 10, but the in-game tutorial did show level 14 being possible (future update, probably). Characters will start out at level 1 and to increase it, you can give them gifts, complete their quests, participate in daily discussions, serve them dishes at Remy’s Restaurant (once unlocked), and “hanging out” while doing specific activities. Each level will give you Star Coins or items (motifs, furniture, or avatar items) as well as unlocking quests.
The cool thing about this whole system is that it’ll nudge you in the right direction to unlock more characters, recipes, and tool upgrades. During my playthrough, I was ignoring doors to other realms in the Dream Castle because I wanted to unlock all the biomes. Good idea in theory, but I was limiting myself from getting more quests. If I wanted to proceed with Kristoff’s next quest, I was gonna have to get Maui to move to the valley (same with bringing WALL-E to aid in a very important quest from Merlin). I thoroughly enjoyed how this is all integrated, especially since it’s rather easy to increase friendship levels.
How easy? Each day a character will have three gifts that’ll dole out more friendship experience than usual. You can find these out via the in-game Menu (Collection -> Characters) or by talking to them and selecting the gifting option. Now, you’re limited to a bonus for the first of each three items listed per day, so you can’t spam them with gifts. But, that’s not all you can do to build friendships. There’s a “hanging out” feature and it has activity bonuses.
Starting at level 2, you can assign characters a specific role: Gardening, Fishing, Mining, Foraging, and Digging. For instance, I gave Mickey a Gardening role, and while hanging out with him, he could find more crops while I was harvesting. Not only that, he earned friendship experience when I was doing any activities (including cleaning up Night Thorns). With every level increase, the role and its perks increase too. And this is where you can really make Star Coins thanks to the Mining role. Double the gems, double the sales!
THE SOFTWARE WAS CLOSED BECAUSE AN ERROR OCCURRED
Now to the not-so-dreamlike part… For the Nintendo Switch version of Disney Dreamlight Valley, this error screen is gonna be your unofficial 18th villager. At least, I hope not.
For me, it appeared 17 different times over 25 hours, 20 minutes, and 5 seconds of gameplay in docked mode. A majority of these crashes were associated with opening the game’s menu via the + button or using the D-pad down input shortcut command to get to the Dreamlight Duties menu. Others were thanks to small things like trying to take a picture with the in-game camera, picking up a green orb (which would give a memory, thus loading the game’s menu), entering a building, and completing a character interaction.
But that’s not all – I also encountered soft locking the game five times. Two were related to the map not loading correctly (and button inputs were not responding) and the other three were all loading errors while trying to place furniture outside in Dreamlight Valley.
Luckily, since DDV has an autosave feature, depending on your play style you might lose up to ten minutes or more of progression. If it happens enough though, it can get rather annoying. Depending on how much patience you have, this might have you imitating Donald Duck and exiting the game for the rest of the day.
Crashes and soft locks weren’t the only errors I ran into though…
GENERAL GAMEPLAY BUGS
Now, the game is in Early Access, which means there will be bugs. Here’s just a sample of what I encountered:
- Music stuttering
- Unable to harvest or water a crop
- Harvest bonus for crops not activating
- Harvest bonus for foraging activated, but unable to collect any items
- Visual fishing prompt to catch fish wasn’t loading (and thus the fish got away)
- Couldn’t complete a quest (fixing up Donald’s house boat) because the item I need to pick up it out of reach/bounds
- Can’t complete a number of quests due to a crafting item (seaweed) not spawning
- The Sunlit Plateau has no fishing encounters
- Weird camera movements inside your home where it zooms out into black
- Characters who enter your home with you block your way inside your home (Uh, thanks, Maui?)
- Couldn’t pick up a memory orb (But it was in my inventory after saving and restarting)
- Character animations clipping through the ground or stuck (and you have to push them around to get them to complete it)
In addition to that, there are instances of in-game event triggers not happening or happening too early. For example, after I unlocked my first realm in the Dream Castle, the game expected me to waltz right in. Nope, I didn’t do that. I ran back to Dreamlight Valley and was collecting more Dreamlight. At some point, I decided to talk to Merlin and he was chatting as if I went to that realm and came back. Similar stuff like this also happened at Remy’s Restaurant (was given the cooking meals-to-order tutorial before setting up the restaurant) and talking to another character who just gave up their memories of another character for plot purposes (didn’t forget everything apparently).
The “D” Doesn’t Stand For Discount
“Gawsh Mickey, look at all these microtransactions!”
Following along in the free-to-play game business model with a Season Pass/Battle Pass tacked on, DDV will be nickeled and dimed when it comes to cosmetics. Premium in-game currency, Moonstones, can be used to purchase premium versions of the game’s “Battle Pass” (called a Star Path which will be active for about a month) and items in a premium in-game store menu (that isn’t live yet). There isn’t an official real currency to Moonstones exchange rate yet, and the only way to get them is via which version of the Early Access you buy into, completing Star Path “missions” (reward in both free and paid paths), and opening a free blue treasure chest you can find in the valley (which is 10 Moonstones per day based on my playthrough so far). Keep in mind that you’ll need to be online (or playing in online mode) to access that blue Moonstone treasure chest.
The first Star Path for DDV (which is Pixar Fest-themed) will have you progress by completing duties. These duties are similar to Dreamlight Duties, but will payout in the Star Path’s reward currency to exchange for items. For the Pixar Fest Star Path, duties payout in Pixar Balls (the blue, yellow, and red star ball you’ve seen in multiple Pixar films and shorts). You’ll have access to three duties at a time on the Standard (free) path, or six duties if you purchase the Premium path. There are two costs for this Star Path – 2,500 Moonstones for just the Premium path and 4,100 Moonstones if you want a head start with 100 Pixar Balls (please don’t buy the more expensive one – you can complete the 2,500 Moonstone option if you play consistently). Also, keep in mind that the Star Path is initially advertised as costing 10,000 Moonstones in the tutorial pop-up. Some duties aren’t too hard while others can be a bit of a grind, yet you’ll be rewarded with a higher payout in Pixar Balls.
As for rewards, there are five pages worth (there’s a “sixth” page for the premium route and it’s just a payout in Moonstones). You start out on the first page and can only progress after collecting at least three of the seven possible rewards. The breakdown for each page is essentially three rewards for the free path and four rewards for the paid path. As for what kind of rewards there are, you’ll find the following type: motifs (used in customizing), furniture, Moonstones, and clothing for your avatar.
If you go the free route for the Pixar Fest Star Path and complete all five pages, you’ll net 400 Moonstones and a variety of cosmetics (primarily motifs with some furniture and avatar items). On the other hand, if you dip into the Premium path and complete the whole thing, you’ll get everything, plus an additional 1,675 Moonstones. Altogether that’s 2,075 Moonstones which almost pays for the 2,500 Moonstone buy-in. A 425 Moonstone deficit isn’t terrible, but this is Early Access and things could change in the future. Star Paths are planned as a monthly release, but that could be tweaked and more than one could be in play at once. Don’t forget about the in-game premium currency shop and whenever that starts up every little shiny Moonstone is gonna count at that point.
For a sim game that’s all about living a Disney-themed life with Disney and Pixar characters as your neighbors, locking a good chunk of customization options and items behind a paywall feels gross (and very on brand for The Walt Disney Company lately). I understand that this is an Early Access version of the game and it’s billed as free-to-play, but there’s enough room to pivot to turn this into a base game for $59.99 and then release various DLC packs. Can that be expensive? Yes, it can – after all, look at The Sims series. But, in the long run, it could be cheaper for fans especially once we see the prices for the in-game store and what the character release plans once the game fully launches in 2023.
For diehard Disney fans, you’ll probably thoroughly enjoy Disney Dreamlight Valley for a bit. The idea works, it’s just a bit of an unbalanced mess in its Early Access phase. Be prepared for crashes and soft locks, plenty of bugs that range from “well, that sucks” to the game crashing or soft locking. Expect some progress lost too, ranging from a few minutes worth in most cases thanks to the autosave feature.
This could be a really fun and robust life-sim game, but it needs to figure out some key game design decisions (time mechanics). Unfortunately, that might not be enough, especially once the game is filled with microtransactions thanks to locking furniture, clothing, and design elements behind a premium in-game currency paywall.
Honestly, if you’re on the fence about Disney Dreamlight Valley after reading this I recommend the following. If you have an active Xbox Game Pass subscription, try it that way on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and/or Windows 10/11 PC. You can upload your save file to their Cloud servers and access it on another system if you decide to take the plunge and buy one of its three Early Access packs on a different system. If you like it, Early Access hiccups and all, great. If not, then you didn’t spend $29.99 to $69.99 on a game you ended up being disappointed by.
Disney Dreamlight Valley’s Early Access is available today on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC, and is coming soon to Mac. Standard Edition is $29.99, Deluxe Edition is $49.99, and the Ultimate Edition is $69.99 (please be aware you cannot upgrade your edition on the same console). For more details, you can visit the official Disney Dreamlight Valley site.
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