Sword Art Online Fractured Daydream Preview – Shattered Timelines

The Sword Art Online series has a special place in my heart. Not only was it the first anime I’ve ever watched, but also a series I’ve been following since I was in elementary school. Over the years, Bandai Namco has released several titles under the Sword Art Online name, which take the same characters, and adds an original twist to the story.

I recently had the opportunity to participate in the latest closed beta for Sword Art Online Fractured Daydream, and let’s just say that the formula they have going is certainly interesting.

Where Timelines Converge

In Sword Art Online Fractured Daydream, the story takes place in a world known as Galaxia, a new system added to ALfheim Online that allows players to “relive the past”. Unfortunately, a malfunction has caused all players from all over time and space to be displaced. And it is up to Kirito and his friends to make the timeline flow properly again, even if it means working with both friends…and past foes.

Unfortunately, this is about as much as we know, because…the story just wasn’t implemented at all in this beta test. As soon as you boot up the game, you’re greeted to a tutorial, which goes over the game’s mechanics, and how to control your character, which is Kirito at first. Afterwards, there are only two modes that were available to play, with no mention of any Story Mode or single player content, although marketing material suggests that we’ll see an entirely original story.

Though I will say that, if you never watched or read Sword Art Online, then you’ll be hard pressed to understand half the characters that appear in Fractured Daydream. While its actual placement on the timeline seems to be around the end of Season 2 and thereabouts, in my first ever mission, it immediately asked me to defend a character from the latest season of the anime series, and a very late one at that. So yeah, this is definitely not the best game to start your Sword Art Online journey with.

Work Together with 20 People!

So let’s go into the two offered modes. The first one is called Co-Op Quests. Here, 20 players connect online and are divided into five teams of 4 players each: A, B, C, D and E. These teams are separated at first, each with their own unique missions to do, which can range from disabling terminals, clearing out enemy outposts, and even escorting an NPC to the target location. Once each team finishes their mission, they all meet together in a single location where the objective is to defeat the boss enemy. In the event that the game is unable to find 20 people, the remaining slots are filled with CPU characters.

The beta allowed for six characters to choose from: Kirito, Agil, Argo, Leafa, Sinon and Oberon. The full release promises a roster of almost 20 characters. Each of the characters has a specific “role”, which affects how their kit is structured, as well as what kind of accessories they can equip.

For example, Kirito is a Fighter with a versatile kit and well-balanced abilities, while Sinon is a Ranger, attacking the enemy from a distance. This entire structure makes it feel as if Sword Art Online and Monster Hunter collided together, and really, that is a formula that might just work, I thought. Still, seeing as it has some competition in the area, it will require some work, but that’s just what you’d expect from a beta test, after all.

Furthermore, Co-Op Mode works in a system that the game calls “Awakening Level”. How it works is very devious: Everyone starts at Level 1, and must work their way up by defeating enemies and finding chests. This means that at first, all of your Advance Skills are locked away at first, and require the player to level up and gradually unlock them. And this also applies to enemies, who get progressively stronger.

Raid Battles for the Hardcore People

The next mode available in the closed beta are Raid Battles. Now, this…is definitely not a mode for the faint of heart. Instead of individual missions for each team, all 20 players are divided into five teams, and they compete against each other to defeat a super-strong boss. And I mean it on multiple levels, because while the boss’s attacks are relatively easy to dodge, it has a lot of HP. And like in Co-Op Mode, the same Awakening Level system is present, where everyone starts at LV 1.

As this is a competitive mode, the game will frequently add bonus objectives, such as “deal the most damage”, or “combo the most attacks”. Honestly, this mode was really puzzling to understand as to what’s the intention here. It’s a competition, sure, but at the same time, everyone is working together to defeat the same boss? Perhaps there is something I’m missing here. Still, the beta had quite the small amount of time before it would fill in parties with CPU characters, so maybe the experience will be improved in the full release.

One, two, three, four, five…six health bars. And only 20 minutes to defeat it.

This uneasy feeling that has persisted even after playing the game for three consecutive hours: just what is the gameplay loop in Fractured Daydream? Try as I might, I just couldn’t see clearly what was the intended objective of the game. Perhaps a result from the current lack of a storyline, but even without one, it seems the main appeal of Fractured Daydream revolves around trying to connect online, and gather a group of 20 people. But even after you do so, a question arises: what next?

Perhaps this is left for us to imagine what we’ll see in the full version, as this beta definitely feels like we’re only seeing a fraction of what the developers wish to offer in the full release. At the very least, cross-play between platforms of the game is confirmed, ensuring that there’s a consistent amount of players online. It’s 2024, yet so many games don’t offer it, and in my opinion, limiting platforms just doesn’t help an online game at all in the long term, especially with how Fractured Daydream seems more geared toward a multiplayer experience.

A Promising Prospect That Requires Some Work

Sword Art Online Fractured Daydream’s concept is definitely interesting, though the beta’s limited showing definitely leaves you wondering just how the developers will enrich the experience, because as it is, there’s not much that the game does to stand itself out.

As a personal note, I truly wish that they manage to flesh out a good story, because without it, I feel that Fractured Daydream might fail to interest players in the long run. Still, time will tell as to what sort of features we’ll see, and if the developers at Dimps can successfully make it a game that manages to be more than just a blip in the sea of titles.

Sword Art Online Fractured Daydream will be coming to PlayStation 5 in 2024.