For Disney fans who’ve always wondered what it would be like to live in a Disney or Pixar movie, Disney Dreamlight Valley might be the closest real-life version of that experience. Dreamlight Valley is a free-to-play game that lets you play as yourself and live in a fully customizable Disney…uh, World! The main story campaign will allow you to bring in characters from Disney and Pixar movies and have them live in your town, which will enhance the life-simulation aspect of the game.
Disney Dreamlight Valley’s Game Manager Manea Castet gave me a tour of the gameplay as well as the customization menus the game has to offer. What I witnessed was a very personal life-simulator/adventure hybrid game magically unfold before my very eyes. (*Cue “When You Wish Upon a Star”*)
What's the adventure in Dreamlight Valley?
Disney Dreamlight Valley might seem like a cute life-sim on the surface, but the start of the game is actually a mysterious adventure that has you rescue the valley from darkness – which later becomes the beautiful life-simulator you see in the trailer. In the beginning you meet up with Merlin from The Sword in the Stone, and he’s hoping you can help him recover his memories and figure out what happened to Dreamlight Valley. You’re quickly introduced to your Quest Log and learn a few basic moves to get to the main hub of the game, the Dream Castle. Everything is dripping with Disney references, including the name of your first mission to find a Royal Tool: “The Pickaxe in the Stone.”
The Dream Castle is the center of the valley and acts as a gateway to all the Disney realms that we know and love from the movies. After the valley fell to darkness, Disney and Pixar characters escaped to their own realms, and it’s up to you to bring them back home. The quests keep you immersed in the world by describing the Disney characters in the context of their universe and not just their movie titles. For example, once Merlin shows you how to unlock the first door to a realm, he asks if you want to visit “a desolated planet with a shy robot” or “the ocean with a demigod.” Players unfamiliar with these Disney movies will be curious about the worlds that await them, but if you’re a Disney fan you’ll already be excited to know you’re about to visit the worlds of Wall-E and Moana, respectively.
There will be a total of four realms to play when Disney Dreamlight Valley launches in Early Access this summer, with many more to follow after. Castet ran around the Dream Castle and showed me several locked doors that will soon become entrances to a different Disney or Pixar movie world. Gameloft confirmed Wall-E and Moana as two of the four early available realms, with the other two remaining a mystery for now.
Once you enter a realm, you’ll get to watch an intro cutscene featuring your customized avatar (more on this later) interacting with the Disney character of the realm you chose. In my demo, we visited Wall-E and found him on his trash-infested planet from the movie. Wall-E was terrified of us, but we were able to chat with him (with several dialogue options!) and we figured out that one of his wheels is broken and needs to be repaired. I didn’t get to see much of the Wall-E realm, but the gameplay seemed similar to the missions outside of the castle in terms of using the tools you’ve acquired. For example, using your newly acquired pickaxe to destroy some debris to try to find clues and save Wall-E.
Speaking of beloved characters, I was excited to find out there will be voice acting, with a mix of original Disney voice actors as well as soundalikes. It won’t have full dialogue voice lines, but when you’re in the valley hanging out with all your friends, Mickey Mouse might walk by and say “Good Morning!” out loud. In the demo we spent some time with Goofy, for whom Bill Farmer does in fact reprise his role in this game. The characters and their houses also have their own unique soundtracks associated with the character to add to the immersion.
What do you do in a Disney Life-Simulator Game?
Let’s pause on the adventure portion and talk about the relaxing life-simulator part of the game. You can own and decorate your very own home in Dreamlight Valley! Castet gave me a tour of his and he had a Monsters, Inc.-inspired living room, complete with a Mike & Sully couch pillow set and a coffee table with a monster eye on it. All of these items can be purchased in your valley’s store, which looks and functions like Nook’s Cranny from Animal Crossing. We visited the shop and saw Donald Duck and Remy walking around the shop… (Side note: I wonder if the critic from Ratatouille, Anton Ego, has thoughts on a rat shopping in a store?) It’s important to note that items in the shop can only be purchased with in-game currency and not real money.
Disney Dreamlight Valley’s in-game clock functions in real time. If it’s nighttime where you are in the world, it’s nighttime in the game. The good news is that the shop and restaurant are open 24/7, which should make it easier for people who can’t play at certain times to do everything they want to do. However, Castet did mention that certain characters like to visit the restaurant at specific times, so there will still be an incentive to check in to the game at certain times at various locations.
The map of Dreamlight Valley is composed of multiple biomes including the main Plaza, Peaceful Meadows, Dazzle Beach, Forest of Valor, Glade of Trust, Sunlit Plateau, Frosted Heights, and the Forgotten Lands. The main storyline of Disney Dreamlight Valley is said to contain about 40-60 hours of gameplay, but once you fill out the valley with all the characters you’ve rescued, you’ll have so much more to do post-game. Every character has their own unique questline and story arc, and can be leveled up to give you their own rewards. I watched Castet ping Goofy’s icon on the map to reveal a magical trail leading you to where Goofy currently is in the valley. Goofy needs help finding his fishing rod, and once you find it (of course it was just lying there at the lake, classic Goofy), he gives you a better fishing rod which unlocks a whole new world of gameplay.
Now that you can fish, you can catch a rainbow trout, cook it with other ingredients (you can plant and grow crops, for example), and then create full meal items and unlock recipes. Every character has their own favorite meal, and it’s a great way to increase your friendship level with everyone in the valley. Castet showed me that you can then assign tasks to people (he made Goofy go fishing on his own, classic Goofy) so that living and growing the Dreamlight Valley is a true collaborative experience.
You can cook new recipes in your home, in Goofy’s home, on a grill outside, or even cook with Remy himself! Disney Dreamlight Valley doesn’t limit you on where you can perform tasks, and in addition to cooking, you can also craft items. Yes, you can buy furniture items at the store with in-game currency, but there’s an entirely separate pool of items that can only be crafted. I watched Castet pickaxe a boulder that was in the way of a path, and then a pop-up appeared that said “New Recipe Unlocked – Brick Road.” It was really cool to see everything have a purpose, and when you unlock one thing, it gives you so many more things to do.
Who do you play as in Disney Dreamlight Valley?
You are an avatar that you can customize to your wildest dreams. You are your own Disney character living in this world, even to the point where you can feed and tame little rabbits and squirrels so they follow you around like you’re a Disney Princess. The customization menus were extensive, including choosing a body type, body shape, and skin color; they even had options for skin color with vitiligo. The wardrobe menu included your basic tops, pants, shorts, and shoes, but it also included options for hats, masks, glasses, jewelry, gloves, socks, and even full costumes. And before you ask, yes, you can wear Mickey Ears and the famous Spirit Jersey from Disneyland! In the demo, Castet tried on a “White Space Jacket” which was a Buzz Lightyear-inspired top, and we paired it with a Monsters, Inc.-inspired Decontamination Pack backpack.
If none of the clothing options strike your fancy, you can even create your own wardrobe from scratch. Castet showed this to me by picking a plain white shirt, choosing a seafoam green solid color, and then selecting from a large library of images that included shapes, symbols, characters, food, animals, and more. He created his own custom Buzz Lightyear shirt by placing a solid white circle shape in the center of the shirt and then overlaying a Star Command logo on top. Once he confirmed the design, he put on the shirt and then layered it with the fancy White Space Jacket for a truly unique look.
What's the replayability of Disney Dreamlight Valley?
One of the first questions I asked Castet was if you could replay realms in the Dream Castle. To my surprise the answer was both yes and no. The “no” was for realms where it affects the main campaign. For example, we needed to rescue Wall-E from being stranded on his planet and bring him back home, so there’s really no need to go back into the door for Wall-E’s realm once he’s in Dreamlight Valley. However Castet mentioned being able to jump back into the realm for Moana, because that’s the easiest way to obtain coconuts to use back in the valley. Just don’t mess with Maui when he’s on the breakaway.
The main replayability comes through making your valley exactly how you want it to be, much like any life-simulator game. I was blown away by how easy it is to organize the valley to your specific desires. Castet had his house in the grassy area of Peaceful Meadows, but he showed me how simple it was to instantly drag-and-drop your house and move it to the sandy shores of Dazzle Beach, with no downtime whatsoever. You can place furniture items inside and outside the house, and truly make the space your own.
Free-to-play and monetization
So how will this free-to-play game make money? There won’t be many opportunities to spend real money in the beginning, aside from purchasing the Early Access Founder’s Pack (you will also be able to access the game if you have Xbox Game Pass). I was happy to learn you can’t spend real money to speed up processes like growing crops, and all the items that you would buy in Scrooge McDuck’s shop can only be purchased with in-game currency. Gameloft did tell me that while the realm experiences will be free, they do plan to sell expansion packs and even more options for cosmetics in the future.
What’s the future of Disney Dreamlight Valley?
Gameloft says that they have plans to add many more Disney and Pixar characters from popular, classic, and even obscure movies down the line. I told them one of my personal favorite Disney movies is Treasure Planet and I asked if we could ever see that be added to the game (because who wouldn’t want to ride a Solar Surfer?!), and while Castet couldn’t confirm or deny, he definitely had a hopeful tone in his voice of what is possible in Disney Dreamlight Valley.
Early Access will be a solo outing, but Gameloft plans to add multiplayer options in the future. I can already imagine the incredible valleys that people will create and I really want to visit those valleys for inspiration because I am not creative at all when it comes to design (please no one look at my Animal Crossing island).
Disney Dreamlight Valley is coming to almost every platform including Nintendo Switch, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X and S, Xbox One, and PC and Mac via Steam, Epic Games Store, Microsoft Store, and the App Store. I’m also happy to report the game will support cross-play for most devices, with the goal to eventually have full cross-play support on every platform. I haven’t stopped thinking about this game since I experienced my hands-off demo, and I can’t wait to play it and try my hand in creating a personalized Dreamlight Valley. If I’m not happy with my house, I’ll try to crash at Wall-E’s, which is just his trash compactor. Hakuna Matata!