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Disney Dreamlight Valley: 8 Ways It’s Different From Animal Crossing

If you haven’t heard by now, the farm-life sim genre that gave us classics such as Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley is getting a new entry soon. Disney Dreamlight Valley is, in large part, exactly what it sounds like: a House of Mouse spin on the popular genre where characters such as Isabelle and Tom Nook are replaced by Princess Jasmine and Scrooge McDuck.

In many ways, Disney Dreamlight Valley looks to Nintendo’s dominant life sim for guidance, which means the two games play a lot alike in some regards. For example, both drop you into the world as a newcomer inheriting a fixer-upper of a home in a town full of friendly faces eager for a meet-and-greet. Both also let you live out your days on your own schedule with activities like fishing, mining, shopping, cooking, and more. However, as I mentioned in our earlier preview, Disney Dreamlight Valley is more than just Animal Crossing dressed in Mickey Mouse ears. Dig below the surface and you’ll find Dreamlight Valley does many things in its own way. Below, I break down the ways this new entry to the genre puts its own spin on things.

It’s free

Perhaps the most important difference between the two games is that Disney Dreamlight Valley is a free-to-play game. When it comes to PC, Switch, Xbox, and PlayStation platforms this September, there won’t be a price barrier between fans and the new Disney experience. Gameloft also made sure to ease tensions for players who might expect the typically mobile-centric team to use some mobile gaming tactics such as paying to speed up in-game timers or buying resources for cooking or building. None of that will be in this game.

Instead, it will feature optional paid cosmetics, like clothing, which will be available alongside free options, too. I also expect some sort of season pass structure with a premium path that will reward more Disney-themed goodies to players who buy into it, though we’re still waiting to hear more about that for now.

Adventure is out there

Disney Dreamlight Valley is, to a great extent, a casual life sim that lets you fill your in-game days with whatever you want to focus on in that time. However, there’s a whole other section that involves more story-driven levels and character interactions that don’t really have any equal in Animal Crossing. With Dreamlight Valley’s “Realms,” you’re transported to various Disney worlds such as Remy the rat’s restaurant from Ratatouille, The Little Mermaid’s sunny beaches, and Wall-E’s post-eco-pocalyptic planet.

In each Realm, you’ll complete missions for the heroes and villains native to the storyland. Complete their Realm missions and you’ll get to recruit them to your neighborhood where they’ll instantly become your new neighbor. It’s an interesting twist on the new-neighbor element of Animal Crossing, and Gameloft said new Realms will be added to the game often and for free.

You’re my favorite deputy

You start the game with a few neighbors, like Mickey Mouse and Goofy, and over time see the town fill in with new faces. One exciting wrinkle to this very Animal Crossing-like aspect is that each neighbor comes with their own reward tree. The more you hang out with your neighbors, complete their missions, or give them gifts such as homemade food or clothing, the more they’ll appreciate your companionship.

You can see previews of the items you’ll get from each of them every time you level up. With 10 levels for each character in the build I saw, there was a lot worth chasing. Not only do you get a hefty bounty of coin rewards for spending at Scrooge McDuck’s store, you also get cosmetics themed according to each character, like unlocking Goofy’s classic green hat or a Mickey Mouse couch. The game seems full of rewards to keep players invested, and so long as they keep the Toy Story cosmetics coming, I’m invested.

Frequent updates

Let’s be honest: Animal Crossing didn’t really get the post-launch support you might’ve expected for one of the biggest games in the world in 2020. Disney Dreamlight Valley isn’t out yet, so it could also go a different way, but right now at least, Gameloft’s intentions seem to include supporting this game closely and often. It makes perfect sense, given the free-to-play nature of it. In addition to the free Realms and new Disney properties debuting in the game regularly, the team said players can expect “expansions” big and small.

Surely this will mean things like new cosmetics at the very least, but can we expect Star Wars and Marvel to move to the valley sometime in the game’s future? According to the devs I spoke to, they aren’t ruling it out.

Complete a character’s Realm missions and they’ll become your new neighbor.

The house that Mouse built… but you rearranged

Though there aren’t currently any signs of terraforming like that in New Horizons, Disney Dreamlight Valley does build on the Nintendo giant’s town customization options in a major way. Like Animal Crossing, you can move your home in Disney Dreamlight Valley, but what’s exciting here is you can do that whenever you feel like it, for no money at all. Wanting more of a beachfront property? Just drag and drop your house to the shore in the game’s build mode.

Has Remy come to town but you’d prefer his home be next to yours rather than Scar’s? Just swap them. The feature isn’t limited to just you and your belongings: Every fence, potted plant, signpost, home, and more can be moved wherever and whenever you’d like. This should give players new and old to the genre quite a thrill as it really opens up the customization options for decorating the town precisely to your heart’s desire.

The same can be said of clothing. If you don’t like a piece of clothing, you can customize it with an intricate layering tool that allows you to add stamps, logos, and paint your own fashion sense right into your wardrobe.

A whole new world

Your starting area in Dreamlight Valley is roughly the size of the Animal Crossing town, but it gets much bigger over time. As you complete missions, you’ll unlock new biomes inspired by both different climates, like jungles and deserts, as well as Disney brands, like Frozen and The Lion King. This gives the setting a lot more visual variety and, when combined with the customization options, really allows you to theme your valley exactly as you’d like to.

Want to put all the Lion King characters in the plains to match the theme? You can. Want to move Olaf the Snowman to the desert as a callback to his misunderstanding of what happens to snowmen in the heat? Go for it. Like the friendship rewards and new Realms, new biomes are yet another carrot-on-the-stick for players who want to be rewarded for playing, be it a little each week or a lot each day.

Food serves more of a purpose

In Animal Crossing, food has a number of uses. You can sell it, ship it to a friend, place it on a shelf, or most importantly, eat it for extra strength when tackling a heavy task like breaking a rock or digging up a tree. However, you can easily carry out your day-to-day tasks without ever touching food. In Dreamlight Valley, eating actually restores your stamina bar. When you’re out working in the fields, the mines, or down at the pond all day, you’re liable to get fatigued.

Eating food fixes that issue quickly and easily for you when you’re in need. If you’re worried about having to manage this system, my pre-launch experience suggests there’s nothing to worry about. Not only is it easy to refill your energy using even basic foods like apples growing around town, but if you’re totally without any food, you can refill your energy by simply heading inside your home for a moment to immediately replenish your stamina. There’s no need to sleep or step away from the game. Still, if you want to cook for more than just sustenance, the game features over 150 recipes in the build I played, and I’ve already made several that would dazzle the food critic from Ratatouille.

You can decorate your village in the style of many different Disney franchises, or, like I’m going to do, make it one big Toy Story town.

A tale as old as time

We’ve mentioned already the game’s two main modes of play: the freeform farm-life sim and the adventure mode that takes players into new Realms. But there’s actually a third storyline going on all the time. It revolves around what characters call The Forgetting. In Disney Dreamlight Valley, The Forgetting was an event that seems to have wiped everyone’s memories and left dangerous Night Thorns scattered across the land. As the protagonist, you show up after it’s taken place, and part of your purpose is to get to the bottom of what it was and why it occurred.

While your first order of business may be to obsessively clear these Night Thorns from every patch of grass you can find them, they represent a deeper mystery. The biomes I mentioned, as well as some other landmarks around town, are covered in this sinister darkness, and while you’re not exploring Realms, cooking, or designing your own outfits, this Forgetting will be a long-lasting mystery that you can dive into by finding Memories around the world or by completing missions to remove its toxic influence.

Disney Dreamlight Valley launches in early access for free on September 6. In a rare feat, it’s not just hitting PC via Steam Early Access. It’s also landing on Switch, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS5, and PS4 on the same day. An optional Founder’s Pack will be available at launch and Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers will get it as one of their membership perks, though its contents have yet to be revealed.

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