Last year’s release of Broken Age: Act 1 was one of my personal contenders for Game of the Year. On Indie Haven, I gave it an Honorable Mention for Best Narrative that year. It was a delightful point and click puzzle game that twisted narrative tropes on their head, featured fantastic performances of unique characters and ended on the greatest cliff hanger ending of any video game I’ve ever known. The first half of Broken Age kept surprising me with new things, was paced wonderfully and solidified Broken Age: Act 2 as one of my most anticipated games of 2015.

Having now played Broken Age Acts 1 and 2 to completion, I have to say I came away from Act 2 a little let down. It had its moments of brilliance, but Act 2 is nowhere near the game changer that Act 1 was. The puzzles are not as intelligently telegraphed, the narrative doesn’t conclude in any meaningful manner and there are very few narrative surprises to be found. While Act 2 did demonstrate an intelligent understanding of how to foreshadow puzzle existence and hide additional content within a second exploration of a world, it failed to capture the pleasure of progressing through Act 1’s narrative the first time.

Let’s kick off with the positives. Act 2 maintains the high level of audio and visual polish that helped Act 1 shine. Performances across the board are both well written and performed. Writing on a character dialogue level remains superb, with characters maintaining their unique personalities and maximising the narrative potential for the role they’ve been set in the story. Just looking at the smaller scale character interactions, the narrative is still rock solid.

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In terms of the game’s puzzle design, Act 2 does a lot more to interweave the two halves of the story and encourage players to switch back and forth between characters to solve puzzles. For Vella to solve a puzzle you may have to go to an area of Shay’s story and get him to reveal the answer there. There’s no narrative explanation how finding an answer in one path allows the other character to know the solution to a puzzle, but from a purely mechanical perspective it shakes up the puzzles nicely. Also, the ability  to return to old areas with new tools acquired in Act 1 and solve new puzzles is for the most part well thought out. Occasionally, changes in the state of the world between Act 1 and 2 are really poorly telegraphed, but otherwise on a puzzle solving level it was enjoyable to explore new solutions to problems in the world.

So, let’s get onto the problems with Act 2. Act 2‘s overall narrative arc is far less rewarding to complete than that of Act 1. Where Act 1 ended on a twist that made the entire narrative flip on its head and demanded a replaying of the story, Act 2 ends on a moment of happiness that doesn’t tonally fit the experience. The cast of the game seems to be completely oblivious to the dire situation they remain in and the huge open-ended ramifications of the plot. The story ends with a calm and happy moment that is completely at odds with the unresolved primary plot of the game. Act 2 of the series offers little to no resolution for any of its narrative threads and just felt like the plot ran out of steam and could not be bothered to go any further.

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Also important to note, the puzzles in the later sections of the game are far more obtuse than those in Act 1, with the games at times deliberately leading you away from necessary solutions. You’ll persevere to try to reach a solution for some puzzles and actively be told that you’re doing the wrong thing and how to back out of the situation. You have to ignore direct prompts from the game for lengthy periods of time in some cases to progress. Also, there are several times where the world contains red herring clues that are just hidden enough to convince the player they’ve discovered a solution, while being deceptively unconnected to progression. Several times I wasted hours staring at what seemed obviously like the solution to a puzzle, trying every possible variation on how to get further. It’s not just obtuse solutions, it’s a game actively trying to hide its solutions from you and encouraging you to waste time on solutions that lead nowhere.

“Nope, that map you found that looks exactly like it’s what you’re looking for is not the solution. The solution to this puzzle makes far less sense than this. Go find a more obtuse and less sensible solution.”

(For context, me and mutiple other critics all got stuck at the same point in puzzle progression and after eventually progressing all agreed that the solution had been needlessly obtuse).

Back on the positives though, it does have one adorable moment of LGBT representation that did warm my heart somewhat.

Ultimately I came away disappointing with Act 2 of Broken Age. It’s not that it’s terrible by any means, but Act 1 for me was such a benchmark of smart narrative and clearly communicated puzzle design that anything less than spectacular was going to be a let down. It still has great moment-to-moment character interactions between its memorable cast. It still has interesting puzzle solving to be done but the ending is super unfulfilling and at times it will have you tearing your hair out over solutions that lead nowhere.

Oh, and this game made me never ever ever ever ever want to wire a robot ever again.

About The Author

Founding Member

Laura’s gaming journey began in the 90′s when she was given a SNES by her older brother with Mario paint. From that day video games were all she thought about day or night, be it playing them, designing them, discussing them or writing about them. Why does she want to write about indie games? Because indie devs are awesome and she wants to be their new best friend by telling them how terrible their games are. That’s how it works right? Twitter: @LauraKBuzz Email: Laurak@indiehaven.com

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