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Good, but maybe too much for new players?, July 1, 2018
I think The Dreamhold was my first IF, maybe three or four years ago. I've dabbled in IF on and off since then, but I've been making a serious attempt recently to get into it, and I thought I'd play this again to see if it still holds up.
The Dreamhold holds up, but it's... weird. It's an introductory game for players completely new to IF, but it's also a sprawling and intimidating puzzler, but it's also a beautiful empty space to explore, but it's also a patchwork biography of the space's owner. The more I think about it, the less I'm sure it all actually works together.
The big problem with the Dreamhold is that the puzzles in some places are, I would argue, far too complex for a first IF. Most of these complex puzzles are optional so that the new player can pick and choose what they do, and that's fair enough, but visualising them (and handling them, if you're not mindful of what actions you can type in a text parser) is pretty challenging. The machine in the Orrery, in particular, is a fine argument for having graphics in your games. There's also a few big red herrings, really interesting objects you can't actually do anything with, which is maybe a mean trick to play on new players.
Most of the puzzles are perfectly fine, though. Many of them are written to encourage experimenting with items and the parser, and I think they do a good job of this. The berries are a fun item to use in particular, flicking them at everything just to see if the game reacts.
I think the real strength of this game is the writing. Andrew Plotkin knows how to write a room description, so that much of the game is beautiful even in text. The story is told in non-chronological scraps and odd objects to find which hint at events far greater than the scope of the game. I enjoyed piecing this backstory together and theorising more than many of the puzzles.
The Dreamhold is still a good game, and a good choice for a first game. Just don't be ashamed to use a walkthrough if you want to poke around the game's backstory and some of its more interesting rooms!