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Lovecraftian games are a dime-a-dozen these days. Games like Dark Corners of the Earth, Call of Cthulhu, The Sinking City, Stygian, Moons of Madness and Lovecraft’s Untold Stories all present various aspects of Cthulhu mythos in a video game form with varying degrees of success. Yet, the “definitive Lovecraftian experience” is something these games aren’t, as they come up short in one way or another. Enter Dreams in the Witch House! Taking inspiration from classic point & click adventure games, social sims and RPGs, filmmaker, animator and teacher Antti Laakso’s new title manages to achieve what games multiple times their budget could not.

Dreams in the Witch House is a horror adventure game developed by Atom Brain Games and published by Bonus Stage Publishing. The game saw a release for PC via Steam, EGS and GOG on 16 February 2023.

Re-imagined Horror

Dreams in the Witch House is sort of a reimagining of the classic Lovecraft story of the same name. At the same time, it also borrows many elements from the sprawling Cthulhu mythos. You play as Walter Gilman, a new admit to the (in)famous Miskatonic University in Arkham. Walter rents the attic room of the ill-reputed The Dombrowski’s boarding house. Things start off well for poor Walter but it all descend into a cesspool of madness-infused nightmares and imposing dread sooner rather than later. 

Dreams in the Witch House

The story of the game is pretty standard stuff and will feel familiar to readers of Lovecraft. Eagle-eyed players will be able to find references to a lot of Lovecraft’s works as well as weird fiction as a whole. The story is pretty open-ended and there are lots of different endings as well. While there is a definintive “good ending”, it’s not a game you play just with the intention of beating it. It’s meant to be replayed multiple times and the information and mechanics you learn in one playthrough can be put to use in the next. You’ll easily get your money’s worth of content.

One Foot in the Grave

Dreams in the Witch House shines in perfectly blending elements of survival, social sims, roleplaying and puzzle-solving. It’s also where other Lovecraftian games stumble. The game looks and plays like a 90’s Lucas Arts adventure game but there’s more to it than meets the eye. From the day he arrives at Arkham, Walter has to juggle his health, hunger, energy sanity and education. This is not an easy task. The game runs on a day-and-night cycle and features a simulated calender. The clock is always (almost) ticking. Players will have to keep Walter healthy, fell-fed, up to date on the university syllabus and most importantly, keep him sane. Then there’s the matter of his WIP paper on the relationship between science and the occult. Oh and if you have any time left, there’s also the matter of impending doom. 

Dreams in the Witch House

The survival mechanics work as they would in any other game. Players are given a housing and limited amount of money to be spent over the weekend and have to keep Walter well-fed and well-rested. This being a cosmic horror game, there are odd occurrences that try their best to drive Walter either ill or mad. There are items and events players can use to counter the overwhelming odds and this is where randomization comes into play. The game heavily relies on randomizing events, item placements and some elements of story progression. This ensures that each playthrough remains fresh. Players will probably finish their first (maybe the second too) playthrough without even seeing half of the story.

At the same time, the survival mechanics aren’t so hardcore that it turns away players. Take me for example. I suck hard in survival games but had the survival mechanics of this game down in a handful of hours. If I had one complaint here, it’s that sometimes it can take a while for something interesting to happen and you can find yourself repeating the same daily tasks until it does. It can also take a lot of time for Walter to learn occult tomes. It kind of makes sense, since they are full of incomprehensible knowledge. But it’d be better for the player if a patch could adjust the rate at which Walter can complete one reading.

Education is Important

The next major gameplay element in Dreams in the Witch House is the social sim aspect. Since Walter is a university student, he has to attend classes and pass exams. In order to do this, Walter will have to go to the university library, search through catalogues and burrow the books they need for reference. Walter will then have to read the book, attend the exam, answer a few questions and will get a grade depending on his exam skill level, status effects and answering skills. The better he does at an exam, the better his allowance will be. As a PhD scholar, I was able to relate hard to a lot of the academic stuff that goes on in the game.

I have to appreciate the developer for his attention to detail when it comes to university proceedings. There are real-life books included in the catalogue and the exam questions are all based on actual scientific facts. You can also do stuff like meet new people, and find a studying partner or you can also muck around and not go to the university at all. All of these elements work together really well and ensure that the social sim aspect of the game doesn’t come across as gimmicky.

A Love-Letter

Lastly, Dreams in the Witch House houses a classic adventure game underneath. Item manipulation and puzzles are of significant importance here. Much like the good old days, the game doesn’t hold your hand, not one bit. Puzzles are really obscure and require an eagle eye and a lot of effort from the player. By this, I do not mean that the puzzles are hard to the point of being undoable. I just mean that the game really makes your brain do some work for a change – modern games have pampered us so much. Solution for one puzzle may be in a totally different area and you might even come across puzzles that require more story progression. This is also the reason why it will take several playthroughs to see and do everything the game has to offer.

Fans of old-school adventure games will find a lot to love. At the same time, players unfamiliar with such games will find the puzzles too hard and some of the mechanics poorly explained. I, for once am glad to see a game that doesn’t make sacrifices in design to cater to a wider audience. As I’ve mentioned before, the game is designed in such a way that it’s better to just enjoy the game without the sole purpose of reaching an ending. If that doesn’t entice you, then I’m sure someone will come up with a 100% guide on Steam (as it’s the case with pretty much all games) any day now. Plus, there are lots of helpful hints and tips in the Steam discussion portal should you find yourself hitting a brick wall.

Nailing the Fell

Dreams in the Witch House has lots of gorgeous pixel art and a stellar sound design that goes well with it. Environments are choke-full of detail and there’s lots of interactivity. The soundtrack is composed by Troy Sterling Nies and it’s a perfect fit here. It helps to build an atmosphere of dread and uneasiness, something that’s a pre-requisite for any Lovecraftian game. Truly a love-letter to a bygone era.

The game also runs beautifully on the Steam Deck and the artwork looks stellar on the small screen. All you need to do is bind some keys to controller inputs and you’re good to go! The absence of cloud save is disappointing but I guess you cannot have everything. 

Real Talk

Dreams in the Witch House is a tightly-designed love letter to cosmic horror as well as old-school adventure games. It seamlessly blends elements of survival games, RPGs and adventure games with a tense gameplay loop that keeps you on your toes. High replay value and open-ended narrative are the cherries on top! Dreams in the Witch House is easily going to be one of the best indie games of this year. 


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