Having grown up in the era of Disney's film renaissance, I am well versed in all things mouse. I know many songs by heart, have watched every animated movie and have visited Disneyworld on more than one occasion. But what's never gelled with me is Disney games—the last one I enjoyed was Toy Story 2 for the PlayStation.
Disney Dreamlight Valley feels like a Disney game created just for me. It combines all the things I love most in games: life-sim, intricate character creation, a big map, adventure, narrative-driven stories and very cute critters. There's licenced voice acting and music throughout and many, many easter eggs to find for the Disneyphiles among you. It's a Disney game made with millennials and gen-Xers in mind.
Into the unknown
The Dreamlight Valley's mysterious ruler has departed and, in their absence, the Forgetting began. Ghastly Night Thorns grew all over the biomes and characters retreated to their homes and into the Dream Castle, with most losing their memories. It's up to you, Dreamlight Valley's magical saviour, to restore the memories of its inhabitants and rid the world of the Forgetting. There's no combat in Dreamlight Valley, rather you'll use your magic to destroy the Night Thorns and complete quests by helping various characters in each biome, such as searching for their lost items. Helping characters is also the way to unlock Royal Tools, which will help you on your way to saving the valley. Sounding like a pretty basic fairytale adventure so far? Well, not quite.
With 40+ hours of main story being promised, there are also unique character quests that will unlock tools—such as a fishing rod or shovel—and special rewards, depending on your friendship levels with said character. There are realms hidden behind doors in the Dream Castle that function as mini biomes where you'll need to solve increasingly difficult puzzles to unlock even more characters. Around two-thirds of Dreamlight Valley's content will be available when the early access period begins later this summer, with more being added throughout the year.
One of the key elements of Dreamlight Valley is self-expression, whether that's with a snazzy outfit or a total rearrangement of one of the many biomes across the map. The aim isn't to become a Disney princess, but rather to express your love of Disney in your own way. Of course, there are many costumes to let you cosplay as Elsa if you wish, but originality is encouraged.
The sandbox elements of Dreamlight Valley have you cooking, farming, collecting resources and more through interacting with characters, such as Goofy. It's a bit of an eclectic mix of Dragon Quest Builders 2 versus Animal Crossing as you need to assist characters to unlock the tools you need, and you won't be able to get everything unless you progress through the story. The more tools you unlock, the more you'll be able to do in previous biomes and so on. You can catch a fish and cook it outside on a stove, in your house or even pay a visit to Remy in the restaurant to cook for guests. It's incredibly interactive and offers a more The Sims-like experience than what you'd expect from your traditional life-sim.
Meticulous planning, tenacity spanning
There are also RPG elements to consider, too; all this saving the world is tiring business, and your avatar will lose energy over time. You can have a wee kip in your house to regain your strength or have a snack, but unlike your Disney heroes, you don't have endless energy to expend. Befriending the characters means that you can assign them tasks to make your life a little easier, such as helping you forage for resources. You'll get a bigger and better yield when you've got a friend helping you because you're the best of friends, having so much fun together…
The real gem of Dreamlight Valley is the landscaping and world building. Scrooge McDuck is the store owner and is somehow less money-grabbing than Tom Nook. He'll sell you all manner of items for your home, the world and outfits, though you'll unlock the bulk of the furniture and props by completing quests and out in the open world. There are over 1,000 customisation options so don't worry about becoming bored with your look. You can customise everything from clothes to body type and become whoever you want to be.
You can expand the size of your dilapidated little shack and pick it up and place it in any biome. Want a house on the beach inspired by Moana and Ariel? Do it! Or would you prefer to live near Pride Rock and pretend you're a lion? No one's judging here. While you can't create cliffs or rivers, you can pick up every tree and rock and move it, creating a truly personalised experience that is unlikely to look like any other player's valley. There are plans to link the game with social content, presumably to show off your weird and wonderful homes, and the team are hopeful that they can add co-op later so you can visit your pal's world.
At present, items can only be bought with in-game currency, Star Coins. These can't be purchased with real-life money, though there are plans to make some unique items available for sale towards the end of the early access period, depending on feedback from players. It wouldn't be Disney without a little extra spending, after all.
You ain't never had a friend like me
Throughout the demo, I got to see some of my favourite characters and charming little details that capture the magic of Disney. When having a chat with a little toy-sized Buzz Lightyear, I spied Woody walking behind me. Upon turning around to say howdy, however, he dropped to the floor and played dead. It's like the weeping angels from Dr Who only a thousand times less terrifying. After I turned my back to him, he made sure the coast was clear before getting back up and sauntering off.
Each character has their own agenda, making their feelings known towards the Night Thorns strewn across the land—angry Goofy is hilarious, by the way—and engaging in activities they enjoy, like fishing. You can even make friends with the bunnies, squirrels and baby turtles found in each biome and, once tamed, they'll follow you around. Don't pretend you don't want a horde of cute animals following you at all times.
Gameloft plans on updating Dreamlight Valley well beyond its planned release in 2023, adding even more adventures and items. Having the choice to solve some puzzles, decorate my house and engage in some good old fashioned questing sets it apart from its life-sim counterparts. I can't stress enough how excited I am for this game. Disney content aside, if you've fallen out of love with Animal Crossing and the like, you'll be as obsessed with life-sim/ adventure/playing dress-up experience in Dreamlight Valley as I was with We Don't Talk About Bruno. You can play the early access version by purchasing the Founder's Pack on Steam or via Xbox Games Pass later this summer, so watch this space for a release date.