Dreii (PC) Review: With a Little Help From my Friends

Dreii is a collaborative puzzler where up to 3 players arrange blocks of various shapes so that they reach a glowing orb. This sounds simple (and it is, at first) but it quickly becomes apparent that some shapes have a mind of their own. Bring a few different environments and block types into the mix and Dreii will leave you scratching your head and hoping that your partner can figure out what the hell is going on. dreii_still_006

The real-time problem solving with strangers is where Dreii excels. When you start a level, you’ll be matched with up to two other people that are already playing the same level who can drop in and out at will (think Journey).  To add to the puzzlement, communication is limited to a few phrases such as, “help” and “wait!”, so you’ll have to get to know your partner’s personalities. To make things even trickier, some levels can only be completed with multiple players so if partners don’t excel at working together, stages can drag on. dreii_still_003This is both a blessing and a curse for Dreii. It’s great when it works; friends lending a hand to precisely arrange blocks or cautiously maneuver puzzle pieces without disrupting other shapes. Its’ an enjoyable experience that no other game quite recreates. I don’t know if I’ve ever played another game where my ability to work with a player had such a direct impact on my own success. However, by that same token, it often caused an adverse affect. Some players would actively try to disrupt my progress. Other players would butt heads about a puzzle’s solution, stagnating progress for everyone. Moments like these felt like the frustrating equivalent of playing an FPS with a companion that likes to shoot you in the back. Luckily, a few bad apples won’t ruin the whole barrel entirely as players always have the option to work through as much of Dreii solo as possible or exit the game and reload in hopes of finding a more agreeable partner.

dreii_still_007Finding some agreeable players to join up with is well worth the effort because once you’re able to dig into multiplayer puzzling, Dreii becomes a Joy. The visuals are nothing to write home about but offer an attractive minimalist approach that suits the simplicity of the game well, even if the real highlight here is the gameplay. The variation in physics that different environments offer keep Dreii fresh,challenging, and unique. The different approaches necessitated by various block types require extra care and consideration on certain levels. Other additions (like water levels) make the once stable ground an unstoppable current. These small tweaks on an already great formula put Dreii among great puzzle games like Portal and The Witness. Like those titles, Dreii takes the simple premise of arranging blocks and adds in some small variations to make that simple concept more challenging, throwing in its own special touch of friendship and collaboration.

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If it seems like I’m harping on the collaboration aspect of Dreii, it’s because I am. It can’t be overstated how integral other players are to this game. Not only because teamwork is required to complete some of the levels, but because it’s what makes Dreii feel human. No other puzzle game has made me consider the importance of working with others behind or beyond the screen. The fact that they were tugging blocks away from me, or helping me position a rectangle just enough to cover a gap and avoid obstacles challenged me to think about how I work with others on a daily basis. Am I being too strong-headed?  Does my partner offer a better solution than I do? Is it more important to help someone else even if I think they’re wrong? It’s this kind of pensiveness that Dreii reflected back at me with every level and what truly great puzzle games do. They do more than bring to your attention to a series of puzzles. They reflect your own thought processes back at you. Yet, Dreii takes this formula one step further by adding in other people it made me think about how my ideas and the actions they lead to affected those around me which is a pretty novel thing for a video game to do.

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