Disney's Animal Crossing rival is our favourite early access game of the year—a game that doesn't just rest on its license to provide tens of hours of cosy entertainment. For more awards, visit our GOTY 2022 (opens in new tab) hub.
Lauren Aitken, Guides Editor: Disney Dreamlight Valley delivers on all its promises and is the only PC life sim to rival Animal Crossing—there, I said it. Whether you're a Disneyphile or not, there's so much to be getting on with in Dreamlight Valley, from growing and harvesting crops, relocating everyone's homes on a whim and the many, many character quests that are available.
Blink and 30 hours will have gone by and you're now richer than Scrooge McDuck because you're cheesing the pumpkin farm. The addition of new realms opens up new questlines for the latest valley inhabitants as well as your existing pals, and the Star Path isn't the most horrendous battle pass I've ever seen—not least because the best stuff isn't locked away until the very last level.
Lauren Morton, Associate Editor: Dreamlight Valley is a member of the modern class of early access games that could have just been full releases with a seasonal update schedule planned—perhaps an unfair advantage over games more truly still in development. It handled the early days well though, releasing several balance patches for rewards, bugs, and other adjustments before its first content update dropped. It has a public issue tracker board for keeping an eye on all that too.
Beneath that, Dreamlight Valley is just a great life sim already. It has a delightfully permissive, powerful building system and an inclusive character creator—both real wins for a new life and town sim. Its dailies are grindy and its quests are fetch-y, but character sidequests and the main story are both endearing in a genre that normally skips over plot.
I've spent 70 hours in it already and I've yet to finish the character questlines for the initial cast, let alone what's been added with Scar, Buzz, and Woody since. And yeah, some of my time can be clocked to aforementioned fetch-questing, but most has honestly been spent rearranging every biome in my valley just the way I like, designing new clothes, or fiddling around to see if I can unlock new cooking recipes. Several creators I follow who normally spend time designing in The Sims 4 or Stardew Valley took serious detours into Dreamlight Valley too, which I think is a real testament to how satisfying it is to customize your island.
So far, Dreamlight Valley's public early access plans are to keep churning out new character stories, decor, and seasonal events, but I'm also eager to see if Gameloft adds additional activities too. That's just conjecture from me, but I'd be glad to have even more ways to keep myself busy on the island.
Sure, a live-service life sim is pretty specifically designed to extort my evenings out of me, but I've genuinely enjoyed losing that time. I'd have preferred getting sucked into an indie rendition on Animal Crossing this year, but alas the global Intellectual Property Brand did genuinely nail this one.
Mollie Taylor, News Writer: Yep, I'm almost kinda mad that it took goddamn Disney to finally make an excellent Animal Crossing-like on PC, but credit where credit's due. I'm a casual Disney participator so wasn't expecting much, but found myself spending hours running around picking flowers and mining ore. I love that you can grab, move and delete practically anything on the map, and the dialogue is surprisingly witty to boot. The energy system is a bit of a slog and like Lauren M said, the dailies and quests are a bit samey, but it's still early days and I'm excited to see what else Gameloft can do.
Katie Wickens, Hardware Writer: I was in dire need of a cosy game this year, and Disney Dreamlight Valley managed to fill that void even in its infancy. I did encounter some strange bugs—Minnie Mouse showing up as a ghost from across the map being one of them—but for me it just added to the mystery. Gameloft fixed it, which I'm a little sad about, but it's good practice I guess.