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Developer Tim Schafer wanted the two acts of Broken Age to be played and reviewed as one piece, but unfortunately I can’t do that. Firstly because the two acts came out over a year apart, and secondly because I don’t want the poor quality of Act 2 to ruin my extremely fond memories of the first act.

Let’s begin with the cost cutting. We all know that Double Fine got into big financial troubles when developing Broken Age due to underestimating their budget, hiring top quality voice actors such as Jack Black, Jennifer Hale, Wil Wheaton and of course Elijah Wood, and throwing lavish parties for the development team. It’s more than apparent that all of these costs caused there to be deep cuts in Act 2.

broken age act 2 vella

Only 2 new characters have been introduced in this second act, and the whole game plays out almost entirely in just two of the maps from the original. Despite claiming to carry on directly from Act 1, characters have all changed position and activities from the first half with little or no explanation as to why. Vella’s family have come all the way to Meriloft from Sugar Bunting, a journey which Vella could only partake in by flying, in a matter of moments with no indication of how they got there.

The interesting and innovative puzzles of Act 1 are replaced with the senseless puzzles of the 90s. Instead of stories developing naturally, you are instead set out with a list of 3-5 objectives from the beginning which you must complete. In Act 1 you can play Shay and Vella’s stories individually before they knit together perfectly at the end. In Act 2 you are supposed to now shift between the two characters continuously throughout.

Beyond this point the review contains mild puzzle spoilers.

broken age act 2

This is fine, except if you begin with Vella. When you reach the section where you need to switch to Shay, instead of her saying something like “I guess only Shay would know the answer to this” the game literally transports you to a new room and she exclaims “I know the answer is in here somewhere.” Here’s a spoiler: it isn’t in there, but luckily there are only a few possible answers to this problem, making it is easy enough to brute force your way through.

This isn’t the only time this happens. At one point Shay is trapped and starts complaining that he is going to die if he doesn’t get out soon, while clearly pointing out a way to escape. However, to solve this puzzle you must not move Shay for 2 minutes (real-time) in order to collect a puzzle solving item, despite only having clues to the contrary. When Double Fine decided to give out a walkthrough with their review copies, they probably should have thought about why it was they had to do such a thing.

It’s not problem puzzles or missing maps which had me so disappointed in Act 2. It’s the complete lack of story. In Act 1, you follow Vella on an epic journey across multiple lands as she learns more about the Mogs and the maiden’s feast; you question the mystery of Shay’s life in a child’s dreamworld, and his missions to rescue helpless creatures. In Act 2 all mysteries set up in Act 1 are solved almost immediately. It half heartedly answers some intrigues while presenting nothing new. With no new mysteries to speak of, playing Act 2 is very much like going through the motions rather than playing an actual game.

broken age vella

Act 2 feels like gameplay was supposed to extend beyond the plague dam, where you could meet the creatures controlling the Mogs and discover exactly what happens to the maidens once captured. This would have elevated the game far beyond what it ended up being. Instead, you get some vague explanation about blood, which doesn’t really answer anything, in a dialogue opportunity you could easily miss.

Not everything about Broken Age Act 2 is sub-par. The voice acting is still some of the best I’ve heard in a game, as well as all those shiny graphics. There were also one or two puzzles which were innovative and clever, and required a certain skill to figure out, but they were all few and far between. What Act 2 was mostly missing was the heart from the first act. By now, with all the pressure from fans and backers to complete Broken Age, it must have felt more like a huge burden than a work of passion, and they were more than relieved to toss it out of the door in whatever state it was in.

HUGE PLOT SPOILER

Broken age

This lack of passion is most pronounced in what could be one of the laziest explanations for a plot device of all time. So what is this link between Shay and Vella that causes their stories to intertwine so heavily, that makes their connection so strong? Well, even when Vella is just a space invader on the screen, Shay just had this “sense” that she was “his one.” Why does he have this sense? Because he was born in the Mog and… you know, he just does, OK? Stop asking questions. Using “love” or any formation of it to explain the supernatural actions of characters is one of the most cliché ideas of all time, and I did not expect it to be tacked on to the second half of a game that had an amazing plot twist at the climax of Act 1.

Broken Age Act 2 had a lot to live up to when it was supposed to be the second half of an amazing set up, but even without the comparison to Act 1, it just isn’t very good. I would compare it to The Phantom Menace, except I think George Lucas really cared about that film and tried his best to make it good. Instead Broken Age Act 2 just feels like everyone working on it hated and resented it, and wanted it out of Double Fine’s door as quickly as possible. When you even disappoint me, one of the most hardened Double Fine fans, you know you need to examine the wreckage.

Our copy of Broken Age was provided courtesy of the developer. You can purchase yours on Steam.

5.0
 

Average

Summary

It feels rushed, uncreative and so lacking in the passion that made the first act great.


Georgina Young

Contributor

British girl, currently in Japan. Surviving on a diet of retro games. Worshiping the god that is the Sega Megadrive. I like Nintendo.



  • Nope Naw

    “top quality voice actors” “Wil Wheaton”

    Uhmmmmm…. wat?

  • Riddle

    Good review. Sad to see a great idea so poorly executed. Though I’m not really surprised, having lost all of my admiration and awe of the once great Tim Shafer. Only nitpick I have -in the Summary: it says “It feels rushed, creative and so lacking in…” I believe that’s a typo. It feels creative?

  • Azure

    I quit once I found ‘mom’ just no, that was just dumb beyond belief. Didn’t even touch Shays part of the act 2 story.

  • JackDandy

    I was disappointed by this entire project. Didn’t even like the first part much.

    It’s a good thing KS ended up with lots of other great games, but it’s sad to think this will stain it’s legitimacy.

  • Nanya

    He’s one of Tim’s “bff”s.

  • kirakila

    So, uh… 3.3/10 😀

  • Kyle Francoeur

    By “top quality” they mean “expensive”.

  • Eralun

    I’m shocked, shocked! Well, actually, i’m not that surprised.

  • d0x360

    Yea I find him to be a pretty poor actor all around. He was great as a kid in stand by me but that role was perfect for his range. In everything since especially his recent stuff on eureka etc he shows a true lack of talent. Did you see his SciFi show about nerd culture? Omg it was awful. No wonder they killed it quickly it was never funny. I watched like 4 episodes hoping it would turn around (don’t know why) and it never did.

    Thing is, years ago because of Penny arcade being silly it became cool to like Wheaton. Lucky for him it earned him money and jobs. Problem is he has no actual talent to back it up but they think we still want to see him so he gets shoehorned into some stupid role…well did anyways as he doesn’t so much anymore now that they have realized he doesn’t actually bring an audience with him which is the whole point of hiring someone like him or a Felicia day. You hope their fans will watch your show and find they like it and keep watching.

  • John

    I knew it! Still resented the fact that I backed this stupid project. 3 Million dollars and couple years later and they still can’t even create a decent adventure game. Guess this’ll be another huge blow to the adventure game genre. Gee, thanks a lot TIM!

  • Jeremiah Simpson

    It costs a lot of money to hire security to deal with all the Navy Seals with over 300 confirmed kills

  • Ralph Wasl.

    Watching a playthrough of it, I’ve noticed that nearly every subplot from the first act seems to have resolved itself offscreen.

  • Getting Gay With Kids

    Schafer hasn’t done a good game in ages. Guy is the biggest CUNT in the world and I still will admit that Psychonauts is in my top 5 video games of all time. When did developers stop worrying about making a good story and instead push weird diversity quotas and do things for the sake of politics?

  • morzinbo

    I feel like Kickstarter calling AS their hero is a bigger stain on it’s legitimacy.

  • Wyatt Hnatiw

    Granted I’m not really an adventure game player, this is sad to hear. Hate to see games made for obligation rather than love for video games themselves, if that really is the case here. Thats the double edged sword of crowdfunding though, when you take money before the product is for sale you create obligations and with everything surrounding Double Fine I don’t know how they could have met them.

    Great read Georgie.

  • killdeer

    I havent played this but people liked Vella’s voice acting? I watched a few clips of Act 2 and its all just flat and monotone and has no emotion. The character shes talking to is a robotic knife who literally has no tone to his voice but at least he has a personality. Her voice just seemed flat and the “uh oh” was delivered as sleepily as “hopefully I can make some connections with this long hose”

  • Zanard Bell

    I guess this is why EA kicked Mr. Shitface out, then.

  • SiliconNooB

    Shut up Wesley!

  • JackDandy

    Yeah, that too.
    But at the end of the day, I still really like the idea of crowdfunding. It’s Caveat Emtpor incarnate.

  • George on the Go

    Thanks a lot. I’ve corrected it now 🙂

  • SIlver666

    Real Developers Such as Hideo Kojima still worry about good stories and perfect games. Timmy is just a hipster douche and a hack who climbed the mountain on others backs such as Ron Gilbert. Fuck Schafer!

  • sickbroski

    Why do you direct the reader to Steam to buy the game?

  • sickbroski

    Don’t blame the superstar, blame the cult of personality.

  • Revlofantasy

    That was one of the things that really took me out of the game. There’s so much that they introduce and never explain. I can’t tell if they did it all on purpose because they want to make a sequel or if they were just really incompetent.

  • ImperialFists

    well, that sounds underwhelming