We’ve just had a wealth of great games from 2022 and have a whole year of new ones ahead of us — yet one game I keep finding myself coming back to is Disney Dreamlight Valley. I didn’t expect to get so hooked on this one — how did it happen? Was it the capitalist duck? The mermaid who’s strangely supportive of fishing? Or was it the magic of all these faces together in one game?
Disney Dreamlight Valley has been available in Early Access with Xbox Game Pass for over three months now. It’s set to launch in full as a free-to-play game later this year, but judging by the fact that one of its achievements can only be unlocked by building 30 houses for friends, and that there are currently less than half that number of villagers with buildable houses available (the game has already had several updates adding in new characters, but not all come with a buildable house), it’s safe to say we’re still some way out from the game’s full launch. So, why am I still playing? Well, firstly, Disney Dreamlight Valley has an impressive amount of content already available for a game in Early Access (especially if you play in a more relaxed fashion), and that’s one great point, but there’s also the fact that Disney Dreamlight Valley gets a lot right. The Disney characters themselves conjure up such a hefty wallop of childhood nostalgia that any project involving them would likely attract players anyway, but Disney Dreamlight Valley has also done a good job of taking a few elements from life sims and farming games and improving them. Combining those elements back with a relaxed, enjoyable gameplay loop, a lot of free rein with decorating, and an ever-growing roster of shiny Disney buddies just waiting for you to hang out with them, and Disney Dreamlight Valley promises to keep me hooked for some time. That’s not to say Disney Dreamlight Valley doesn’t have its issues. Being an Early Access game, it comes with its fair share of bugs. And depending on your feelings about the more grindy aspects of the game, that could get old too. Plus, there’s Scrooge’s extortionate prices in his shop. In Disney Dreamlight Valley, the valley itself is suffering under the effects of the Forgetting, which caused its inhabitants to lose their memories and be scattered around the game’s various realms and biomes while the valley is overgrown with Night Thorns. Naturally, to rebuild and reinvigorate the valley we’ve got to do a lot of building and resource-gathering. Scrooge is happy to help us rebuild — but at a hefty cost. In other words, if we waited for Scrooge to act out of the kindness of his heart, we’d be in the Forgetting forever. Who cares if the other characters don’t have homes, Scrooge has his shop and his piles of money! Being the only shop to sell cosmetics clearly translates to Scrooge having a monopoly over the valley’s finances, leaving him free to charge 20,000 Star Coins for a skirt or 40,000 for one dress without fear of repercussions. And it’s not just him. Some characters — cough *Minnie* cough — have no problem demanding insane amounts of resources for quests without deigning to lift a finger themselves, and happily stroll around the valley while you do the heavy lifting.
So again, why the Disney Dreamlight Valley love? Well, it’s clearly taken a look at the way things are done in other games and decided on a few improvements. Like most of the Animal Crossing games, Disney Dreamlight Valley runs in real time. Unlike the AC games, Dreamlight Valley doesn’t close up shops for extended periods of time. Scrooge, being the money-hungry McDuck he is, keeps his shop open all night, and Goofy will turn up at his market stalls whenever you need him. Sure, the characters sometimes go to sleep, meaning you can’t access their homes or wake them up (why always you, Kristoff?) but this hasn’t been a major bugbear yet. And now that there’s a day/night toggle, those of us who play in the evenings don’t have to live in perpetual darkness anymore. And, unlike the most recent AC game, tools don’t break! Let me repeat that — tools! Don’t! Break! They’ll still need to be upgraded before you can tackle some of the bigger obstacles in the various biomes, but at least you can go gardening and fishing and mining away without worry. Plus, you also don’t have to wait days for buildings to be constructed, meaning you can carry on with whatever you were doing straightaway. Nor do you have to pay to move buildings (please don’t anyone tell Scrooge this is a thing in other games) so you can decorate and customise the valley to your heart’s content.
Another handy thing is that while gardening you can just keep one button held down to keep planting or harvesting multiple crops at a time. Planting crops does go a little slower than harvesting them, true, but it’s still a useful addition. What’s more, one of the life-sim aspects of Dreamlight Valley is that you can invite characters to tag along. They all have ten levels of friendship to work through and while you can level these up by doing any activity in the valley, once you choose their particular specialty they can help you with (such as fishing or mining), they’ll level up a lot quicker whilst helping you out with that — and they’ll find bonus items too. This means that if you’re harvesting a high-profit crop with a character that’s levelled up in gardening, you can earn extra coins by selling the bonus crops your companion provides. You can catch rarer fish, meanwhile, by watching for different coloured bubbles in the pools and rivers of the valley, but in keeping with Dreamlight Valley’s laid-back atmosphere, fishing is a much more relaxed activity in this game. If you don’t catch the fish the first time, it’ll just chill there waiting for you to try again.
The characters themselves are obviously a big pull for the game. It does take a bit of logical acrobatics to explain how some of these heroes and their villainous opponents are chilling in the valley together, but it’s still a kick to see them strolling around and interacting with each other. It’s a little weird to see Ariel and Ursula benignly swimming around together, for instance, but it’s fun to watch Ursula sass Merlin. And, if we’re talking weird logic in this game, just hear me out — for some reason, the characters in the game are obsessed with watching you fish; get out your fishing rod and the nearest character will come hurtling in to watch you, even if you’re not hanging out with them. This is nice, in theory, but watching Ariel applaud you with a beam as you haul one of her fish buddies out of the water is a little awkward. And I feel bad for Moana — one of her biggest motivations in her movie is wanting to explore and sail over the horizon, and we’ve brought her to the one place in the world where there literally is no horizon. If she sails too far in Disney Dreamlight Valley, she’ll just plummet over the edge of the waterfall, providing an entirely different ending. And Remy — that cheeky little rodent is the smallest character in the game, and yet he asks for the biggest house; a mammoth multi-level townhouse on top of the restaurant he’d already requested. Merlin doesn’t even have a kitchen, but sure, the rat can have the prime real estate. And yet it’s very entertaining to hang out with these familiar faces, hearing their theme songs play in the background as they follow you round to harvest crops or mine for gems, and chatting with them about their personalities and stories. As an extra plus, they dole out themed rewards as you level up their friendship, such as decorations and clothing. You can also gift them things back, adding a nice little social element to the game.
On the topic of the characters: Ursula did some awful stuff. Truly reprehensible. And yet in Disney Dreamlight Valley, this isn’t the thing that makes her the biggest villain; no, it’s the fact that she knows when I have a quest for her and sits at the shore and waits until I’m almost in speaking distance before swimming far away out of reach. And Ariel — there are three small ponds quite close together in one of the biomes, and sometimes it’s like playing Whac-A-Mole to try to talk to her; she’ll just bob around in one pond before disappearing and popping up in another. Moana, Anna, Elsa, and Merlin are among my favourite companions, and we all know that WALL-E can do no wrong. There’s something wonderful about seeing them all living together in the Valley and working to make them all feel at home there, and the nostalgic magic of this effect is one of the game’s greatest strengths.
Another plus is how much you can decorate the valley and customise its layout: crafting new structures, finding more cosmetics, and setting everything up just how you think it should be. You also have a good deal of free rein in designing clothes, and a lot of Disney Dreamlight Valley players have already made pieces that could put Scrooge out of business. There’s a nice variety in biomes, ranging from snowy heights to sun-scorched plains with something for each character. Having quests to complete for them on top of the social elements and the farming, crafting, and cooking makes for a very enjoyable gameplay loop as you can switch up what you’re doing to match your mood. It’s an excellent pick for a fun, laid-back experience, all compounded by the fact that you’re surrounded by such cosily familiar faces. I will likely be meandering around the valley for some time to come, especially when new characters are added. And one day, who knows; maybe someone will rise up to end the reign of Scrooge…
What are your thoughts? Have you been enjoying Disney Dreamlight Valley? Let us know in the comments!