Over four months have passed since the beginning of Early Access, and I still don’t know what to think about Disney’s Dreamlight Valley. On one hand, this game is a giant love letter to Disney. From the interactions between characters like Ariel and Wall-E, to the musical arrangements that play as you go about your duties, everything feels created by people who care. On the other, the game is currently unfinished, and while what can be experienced is a delight, bugs persist, and a few gameplay mechanics are still missing. Even some characters promised by the game’s Early Access trailer, such as Belle, have yet to appear. But if Gameloft, the studio behind Disney’s Dreamlight Valley, can stick the landing, this could be one of the best free-to-play titles on the market. For Disney Adults, that is.
If you don’t have at least a passing interest in Disney, there’s no reason to play this game, much less invest in its Early Access period. Everything, from the art design to the music to the writing, is a reference to Disney and Pixar animation. The Alligators roaming the Glade of Trust? They’re from The Pirate Fairy, the fifth film in the direct-to-DVD Tinker Bell franchise. Remy’s
mansion house for your Valley? That’s just the façade of Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure in Disneyland Paris. Admittedly, those are two of the more obscure visual references – half the fun is recognizing them for yourself – which show just how wide a scope this team is pulling from. Most references are much easier to spot, like the Mickey Mouse Club March playing over the radio, journal entries written in Atlantean, or hearing Stitch explaining the meaning of Ohana as you pass his house.
Then there’s the story. Yes, this game has a plot, and, surprise, your character is a Disney Adult. Turns out, having responsibilities and a job are hard, so you travel to your old home and fall asleep in the backyard. You wake in a faraway dreamland, which just happens to share a few similarities with your backyard. Unfortunately, a curse called The Forgetting has wiped everyone’s memories and taken over. Night Thorns now adorn the Valley and what once was thriving is now in disrepair. With a little Dreamlight magic, and some help from Merlin, Mickey Mouse, and, at the time of publication, 19 other Disney characters from various franchises, it’s up to you to restore the Valley to its former glory.
You begin with access to two Biomes and zero Realms. Biomes are customizable regions of your Valley, each with their own crops to grow, fruit trees/bushes to pick, spices to forage, gems to mine, etc. Each Biome also has at least one character to unlock. Realms aren’t customizable, but are franchise-focused experiences, and are the method by which most characters will be unlocked upon full release. To unlock the rest of the eight Biomes and the five currently existing Realms, you’ll need a currency called Dreamlight.
Don’t worry, Dreamlight is free to earn. How? By engaging in activities such as mining, farming, fishing, cooking, crafting items, changing your clothes, and even taking selfies. Some activities will complete achievements that give substantial amounts of Dreamlight, while others give less but are ever rotating. Meanwhile, you can sell certain items you earn from activities for Gold, which is used to buy furniture and clothes from Scrooge McDuck’s store, as well as to purchase villager homes. But these same items will also be necessary to complete quests, which will eventually require you to unlock Biomes and Realms to finish.
Also, the more you unlock, the wider the scope of customization. Each biome has companion animals you can feed to earn Motifs for the Touch of Magic tool, which allows you to make your own clothing using special Disney graphics and/or miscellaneous shapes, like snowmen, pumpkins, stars, etc. If Village customization is more your thing, you can choose where Villagers’ houses are places, how many trees there are, and anything else that tickles your fancy. Not enough? You also own an upgradable house which lets you create tens of rooms for all your Disney meets Animal Crossing dreams.
If this seems overwhelming, well, I can’t exactly say you’re wrong, but the game does its best to ease you into the unique gameplay loop. I enjoyed helping Woody fix up his carousel, but I absolutely adore the Toy story franchise. If I had no attachment to the character, his quests would have been busy work. Enjoyment of this game really, truly depends on your love of Disney.
If you are still interested in Disney Dreamlight Valley after reading all that, I recommend investing in Early Access. Yes, this is where the live-service portion of the game is. There are three packages you can purchase for any console or computer platform, and in each there are different amounts of Moonstones, the game’s premium currency. So far, the only thing purchasable with this currency is this game’s Battle Pass equivalent, the Star Path. The Star Path is not required and doesn’t add any gameplay. But now I can dress Merlin up like Father Christmas, display Carl and Ellie’s Fireplace from Up, or design a shirt themed around Fantasia’s “Night at Bald Mountain” segment. Completing the entire Star Path (which lasts between 30-45 days) will require completion of 50 tasks, so they’re only worth your time if you enjoy the game and really love Disney, since all the paid cosmetics will more than likely be Disney themed.
As much fun as I am currently having, this game isn’t without problems. This is, quite simply put, an unfinished game. Many characters and gameplay elements, such as seasonal events or multiplayer or even major cutscenes, have yet to be implemented, and even elements that are implemented feel half-baked, such as home customization, which still won’t let you properly arrange a desk and chair combo. But worse than that, bugs plague the game. Depending on which platform you play, your experience can vary drastically. Sure, PlayStation 5 players won’t run into many issues, but decorate too much using your Nintendo Switch and your game can crash.
I absolutely adore this game, but I am a Disney Adult who enjoys this genre of game. I’m the primary audience. If you’re the primary audience, I recommend jumping right in, if not for the Star Path items you may miss out. But if you only enjoy Disney in passing, or if you prefer to support finished games, come back in a few months and I’ll have my final impressions. I hope future updates continue to improve this game, but if they don’t, I’ll let you know.
Disney Dreamlight Valley is currently available for Early Access on PC via Steam or Epic, Mac via the app store, and Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series S/X, and PlayStation 4/5.