Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for Disney Dreamlight Valley.
I don’t usually go for “early access” titles. Some developers and publishers really take advantage of early access, pushing out incomplete games and getting players to effectively pay full price to do the work of a quality assurance team, and just in general, I’d rather wait until a game is ready for prime-time before sinking my energy and money into it. A title has to be something truly exceptional to attract my attention while it’s still in early access. Enter Disney Dreamlight Valley.
At time of writing in November 2022, Disney Dreamlight Valley still has some of the issues that make early access titles so offputting – major missing features, an incomplete story, and some bugs, glitches, and areas where more development time is needed to give the game some polish. But despite that, I’ve sunk more than 100 hours into the game since it launched in early access back in August, and I’ve been having a whale of a time!
Disney Dreamlight Valley blends the customisation and design gameplay of titles like The Sims with the casual life-sim gameplay of the likes of Animal Crossing, combines those with some simple but fun nonviolent puzzle-solving gameplay, and then also throws in character-focused storytelling that can absolutely compete with any narrative game on the market – at least if you’re a Disney fan! The game’s characters, all of whom are lifted directly from Disney’s extensive back catalogue of blockbuster films, feel real and feel fun to engage with, and the game has so much to offer to kids and adults alike as a result.
As expected, recent titles like Frozen and Moana feature in a big way, but Disney Dreamlight Valley also happily incorporates characters from titles that are almost certainly less well-known nowadays (especially among younger players) like The Sword in the Stone. In fact, the very first character that players will meet upon starting a new game is Merlin – a storytelling decision that I find incredibly bold.
Unlike in games like Animal Crossing, where villagers can feel flat and repetitive after a while, the characters in Disney Dreamlight Valley feel much more complete. Partly, it must be said, that’s because they’re all familiar characters from films that most players will be familiar with, but a big part of the way they come across in the game is down to some creative quest design and some pretty good writing. Characters will also interact with one another, stopping for a casual chat that players can overhear while wandering around the valley or participating in other quests, and this small detail goes a long way to making Dreamlight Valley feel like a real place and its inhabitants like real people.
As an early access title, there are of course areas with room for improvement. But I have confidence that developers Gameloft will take player feedback on board and implement changes and fixes as they have done already. Improvements have already been made, for example, to the in-game photo mode, to the impact weather can have on the game world, to certain character interactions that players generally weren’t happy with, and much more besides. One of the advantages of early access is that developers have an opportunity to get feedback from real players – and Gameloft has certainly shown a willingness to change, adapt, and tone down different elements of the game in response.
Disney Dreamlight Valley feels like it’s also taken on board feedback and criticism of other titles in the casual life-sim genre, particularly 2020’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Complaints and criticisms about that game and how difficult it was to play long-term when compared to other Animal Crossing titles abounded, and while Disney Dreamlight Valley is still very much incomplete – multiplayer and cross-platform play have yet to be added, for example – other criticisms that I and others levelled at New Horizons simply don’t apply here. Crafting, for example, is so much easier and smoother in Disney Dreamlight Valley, and the simple fact that tools don’t need to be replaced every five minutes is fantastic!
Characters feel dynamic and respond in real-time to events in the game, and each character has their own series of quests to play through in addition to the main storyline. While there’s a case to be made that exhausting all of the quests should bring the game to an end, there are still “daily duties” – mini-quests that can involve some or all of the game’s roster of Disney characters. Moreover, when the main quests and character quests have all been completed, Disney Dreamlight Valley remains fun to play as an Animal Crossing-esque casual life-sim game; there’s still fun to be had. Racing through certain questlines is not how the game is intended to be played, and several quests have natural timers – plants that take time to grow, or objectives that can only be performed at certain times of day, for instance.
Although the in-game economy works relatively well at the moment, there are potentially things that could be reworked or rebalanced in future. The titular “dreamlight,” for example, that players accumulate as a reward for accomplishing tasks and finishing quests has a limited number of uses – and when all of the different areas of the map have been unlocked, I found myself simply accumulating dreamlight by the boatload with no way to use it or spend it.
Likewise, the in-game “coins”, while slow to acquire at first, soon build up, and I found that getting a moderately decent crop farm going soon racked me up over 2 million coins – and although there are things to spend those coins on, I’ve hardly made a dent in a money vault that even Scrooge McDuck would be envious of!
While we’re on the subject of currencies, it’s clear that when Disney Dreamlight Valley exits its early access phase and goes free-to-play that a significant focus for the game will be on recurring monetisation and in-game microtransactions. Gameloft and Disney have not promised that all characters and story content will take the form of free updates, either, so there’s a risk in the longer-term that Disney Dreamlight Valley will turn into one of those titles that can be quite a money-sink. For parents of younger kids, that can absolutely be an issue, and it’s worth being aware of at this stage. While Disney Dreamlight Valley is currently quite generous with its various in-game currencies, one in particular – “moonstones” – is clearly being readied to be sold.
Moonstones can be earned in-game at time of writing, and are used to purchase cosmetic items like furniture, clothing, and motifs that can be added to custom designs. Players are also required to spend a large cache of moonstones in order to unlock more items for purchase via a kind of “season pass” that, once again, feels like it will be the target for future monetisation. Free-to-play games and ongoing “live services” require a source of income, but again it’s worth being aware even at this early stage that this is the model Disney Dreamlight Valley plans to adopt.
Character customisation is fun in Disney Dreamlight Valley, and I feel that there are a decent range of options including different body types, hairstyles, and so on – with some extras that can be unlocked in-game that weren’t available right at the start. There’s also a huge range of different types of furniture – many pieces of which are lifted from or inspired by modern and classic Disney films. And while there are plenty of clothes to choose from, I think I’d like to see a few more outfits and costumes that allow players to dress up as their favourite Disney characters. Some of the clothes feel a little too “generic” to me, and some of the costumes and outfits are more “inspired by” the films rather than directly taken from them. So that’s an area that I’d like to see improved upon! To give one example that may be more relevant to some fans than others, while Disney Dreamlight Valley includes a decent approximation of Princess Anna’s dress from Frozen, there really isn’t a good facsimile of Elsa’s dress from the same film, despite it being one of the most iconic of modern Disney Princess costumes.
But for the creatives among you, Disney Dreamlight Valley offers a pretty extensive customiser, allowing budding designers to create their own Disney-inspired outfits. The game includes a range of blank clothes – tops, dresses, hoodies, and even Mickey Mouse ears – that can be customised with patterns, designs, and much more. These designs are unlockable through gameplay, so the more time players invest in Disney Dreamlight Valley, the more options there will be when it comes to making fun outfits. Although I have the imagination and creativity of a colour-blind slug, even I managed to create a few fun designs with an intuitive and easy-to-use customiser.
So that’s all there is to say for now! I may take another look at Disney Dreamlight Valley in the months ahead, perhaps when it’s ready to leave early access and go free-to-play. If you have Game Pass either for PC or Xbox, Disney Dreamlight Valley is incredibly easy to recommend. At £35/$30, there’s more than enough content to justify the price in my view – and coming in at less than “full price” is fair for a game that is still in early access and has a few issues as a result. However, despite being in early access, I found my 100+ hours with Disney Dreamlight Valley to be remarkably smooth and free from major bugs; there have only been a couple of occasions on which the game crashed, and thanks to a frequent auto-save, I didn’t even lose any progress.
There are anecdotal reports from folks who play on Nintendo Switch having a worse time with more frequent crashes and finding the game to be a less stable experience, but as I’ve played it on PC I can’t speak to that – however, it’s worth being aware of that and checking out other reviews if you plan to play on Switch.
For my two cents, Disney Dreamlight Valley is probably the most fun gaming experience I’ve had in 2022. For anyone who’s a Disney fan there’s a lot to love – familiar and new friends to meet and hang out with in a game that blends both narrative storytelling and casual life-simulation. I haven’t seen some of the newer films from which some characters were taken (Remy from Ratatouille and the titular Wall-E were both new to me) but even with that limitation, I had a whale of a time.
Disney Dreamlight Valley is also one of the best early access games that I’ve played – speaking for the PC version, at least. Despite a persistent issue with cloud saving (which I’ve been repeatedly assured is being worked on) the game is largely bug-free on PC, runs smoothly and plays exceptionally well. Were it not for the incomplete story and some impassable doors, you’d hardly realise that the game was in fact still in early access!
So there we go. I’m happy to recommend Disney Dreamlight Valley at this time. Check back when the game leaves early access and I’ll try to share my updated thoughts!
Disney Dreamlight Valley is out now – in early access – for PC, Mac, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Nintendo Switch. Disney Dreamlight Valley is the copyright of Gameloft and the Walt Disney Company. Some screenshots used above are courtesy of Gameloft. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.