You'd be forgiven for taking one look at Disney Dreamlight Valley and writing it off as a microtransaction-laden mobile port designed to occupy your attention in the bathroom. You're presented with a mashup of Disney properties in a cutesy life sim wrapper, and it's developed by a studio that historically has worked on mobile titles — Gameloft. Not only does the actual product defy this assumption, it also provides phenomenal groundwork upon which to build.
Technically, Disney Dreamlight Valley hasn’t been released yet. The version of the title currently available is an early access build, and you can only play it if you buy one of the premium editions for now, though it is intended to be free-to-play upon proper release. Knowing that was the state of the game upon booting it up, we came away both surprised and impressed with what we saw.
This title is absolutely packed to the brim with content. Being a life sim, you've probably seen most of the gameplay systems before. The game doesn't stray too far from that established formula, but rather focuses on putting a Disney coat of paint on everything. You'll have plenty of time for crafting, cooking, farming, and all manner of systems that will be wholly familiar if you've played any life sim title previously. One of the most striking things about the game, however, is that rather than provide vague, nebulous objectives that allow you to shape the experience however you want, the title has a proper story that moves forward at a solid clip.
You play a person coming to a mysterious town beset by The Forgetting, a mysterious bit of magic that manifests through ominous thorny vines. The natives of the town have been scattered across not just your village, but across dimensions, and after the wizard Merlin seeks your help, you set out to restore the town to what it once was. By collecting orbs of power you can restore the memories of your fellow villagers, comprised of a selection of all-time Disney favourites. Alongside obvious inclusions like Mickey, Goofy, and Donald, you'll run across a number of more recent characters from the likes of Tangled, Frozen, and more.
The first major update for the game has already been announced and will be adding characters from Toy Story, and this is where the game has a real chance to stick around. The way the title is structured leaves near-infinite room to introduce new characters and biomes, as the hub area allows you to warp between locales. There are eight interconnected areas, each with a Wishing Well that serves as a fast travel point, and then a smattering of bonus areas you warp to at your local castle. These are usually tied to quests, and they unfurl at a pretty reasonable pace.
However, the game is prone to throwing a lot of side quests at you all at once, often including tasks you have no clue how to complete. Despite this, things are never too overwhelming. Your quest log is good at providing concise information, and the map is in-depth and useful. More important, these quests are paced in such a way that you're taught about the systems the game wants you to utilise. Like any life sim title, you can choose to ignore all of this and just spend your days harvesting fruit or digging random holes, but the game of course opens up the further you get. It includes some pretty impressive systems, most notably a robust town designer, allowing you to decorate and relocate not just your own home, but just about everything in the entire game. There's a cap on assets, but you have more than enough room to get crazy with things.
If you’re a Disney fan, you'll really want to dig into this side of the game, as the patented Disney magic is on full display. Characters are fun to talk to and build relationships with, offering both heartwarming conversations and perceptible rewards, though sadly outside of a few canned lines, they largely speak only in text. Their abodes are themed after their movies, including tons of Easter eggs tucked away, as well as truly wonderful re-imaginings of music from their films. It's always a good idea to flit through any building you find to get ideas for what to do with your own home, as well as check out the impressive attention to detail. The sheer volume of options for building is staggering. Based on the lists of items you can peruse, the game already has hundreds, if not thousands of items available with the majority of them tied to Disney properties. Any time you visit Scrooge McDuck's shop, you'll have a hard time picking which item you want to scoop up first. Do you want the Frozen-themed knit sweater? Or the Ratatouille kitchen set? Or maybe the Fantasia mop statue. Any Disney nerd is going to be in love with this game very quickly.
The game's technical performance isn't flawless, which is where the game's early access state really shows up. It's relatively easy to soft-lock quests if you complete steps too far ahead, creating extra headaches and work for yourself. Graphical glitches are constant, most notably with the camera. It will often lose where you are in the world and warp to the complete opposite end of the map before snapping back to you, and it can be disorienting. Camera manipulation in general is the game's weakest area. Trying to get the right vantage points when placing furniture or moving buildings around can truly be a pain, and it sucks some of the fun from the process, making things tedious.
Also, if you poke around through the menus, you'll see all the signs pointing towards what the title's microtransaction economy is going to look like, with a plethora of different currencies, as well as a battle pass. The actual microtransactions aren't in the game yet, but all the framework is there, and the moment things shift to properly free-to-play, you can bet that'll be added. So, while the game is charming and pleasant now, it's a slippery slope to being bogged down by a microtransaction economy.
Disney Dreamlight Valley is delightful. The title is a brilliant life sim sandbox that already has a staggering amount of content, and has already begun outlining what comes next. If Gameloft plays its cards right, this game could be a mainstay on many people's consoles for years. Thousands of Disney-themed items and a robust construction mode pair with all the traditional life sim trappings executed at a high level to create a surprisingly excellent experience. Whether you want to completely redesign your town or just go fishing with Mickey, the game has everything in place to ensure you get the most out of your experience. A slew of camera bugs and the odd crash stand out as early access hiccups, and the framework for an extensive microtransaction economy is a red flag, but this isn't enough to stand in the way of having a lovely time.