Broken Age: Act 2 Review

Puzzling decisions

Since I never wrote a review for the first act of Broken Age, let me share my thoughts on act one before diving head first into act two. Broken Age: Act 1 is a phenomenal work of art that is endearing, clever, humorous, challenging, and absolutely gorgeous. Broken Age has one of the most vibrantly beautiful art styles I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing, something ripped straight from a children’s storybook, catering to an underused pastel design. The writing and characters were done wonderfully thanks to director Tim Schafer’s immaculate work and the fantastic performances given by Elijah Wood and Masasa Moyo. The story is a well-rounded coming-of-age adventure, learning about independence, responsibility, and one’s ultimate place in the overarching world. It’s extremely well-written and its respectful, never forceful, approach to comedy is a welcomed touch. The puzzles are most definitely challenging at times, but never too unapproachable and/or unachievable. They require a delicate slice of patience and will incept a rewarding “ah ha” feeling of discovery.  On top of the well written story, act one is wrapped up in one of the most tantalizing and brilliant cliffhangers that I have ever experienced regardless of its medium of entertainment. To sum it all up, I absolutely loved act one of Broken Age as it was clever, refreshing, and most importantly, it revitalized a dying genre. The cliffhanger was brilliantly written and inserted at such a riveting moment that I couldn’t help but want more. It was one of my favourite games of 2014 and its successor crawled its way onto my anticipated games of 2015 list. So does Act two live up to the insurmountable expectations that were gloriously left by its predecessor? Unfortunately, Act two can’t even hold a candle to its older brother.

The exact same characters in the exact same places...
The exact same characters in the exact same places…

Act one was so wonderfully realized and its world so immaculately built that it’s fairly difficult to not be underwhelmed by act two’s execution as it doesn’t bring anything new to the table nor does it expand on the grand foundation of its initial counterpart. For starters, Act two primarily takes place in the exact same locales as act one; that means you’ll be traversing familiar landscapes and interacting with familiar faces. That initial, raw excitement of uncertainty is unfortunately tamed and never fully fleshed out in the same capacity as the first act. Characters are, however, as charming as ever and even though they’re extremely familiar, it’s still great to interact with them once again and dive deeper into their story and personality. Characters such as the hilarious Chip, a hipster lumberjack who’s afraid of commentating trees, and Harmn’y Lightbeard, a peculiar leader fixated on lightness, add substantial depth to the wonderfully crafted world of Broken Age. The great cast of characters are accompanied by the expected well-written script crafted by Tim Schafer. Dialogue is genuinely funny, and though it’s not as original as the first, act two thankfully manages to inhabit the same humorous charm. Broken Age has this phenomenal pastel-esque art style that is drop dead gorgeous and vibrantly unique in its own right. It’s a beautiful art style that will undoubtedly hold its own for many years to come. However, regardless of act two’s achievements, it doesn’t change the fact that act one did nearly the exact same thing and was far more original as it had no template to rely on. Act two had the chance to expand, a great foundation to build upon, but unfortunately it stayed far too close to home and embraced the safe and familiar route, a shameful decision. Another disappointing element of Act two is its lacklustre story which didn’t rise up to the occasion nor live up to expectations. As I previously mentioned, act one ended on a brilliant cliffhanger, the proper way to end the beginning of a two-parter; the ball was in act two’s court and it could’ve approach the situation in a multitude of ways. Unfortunately, that brilliance amounted to nothing more than a string of fetch quests, lacking the sheer depth which made act one so memorable in the first place. Yes, the first act tasked players into fetching certain items in order to advance the story, but these quests were carefully weaved into the story, and interacting with the charming characters and exploring new locales helped hide the traditional, monotonous nature of fetch quests, thus fluctuating the natural pace of the experience. The banal tendency of the fetch quests are far more apparent now that we’re constantly visiting the same locales and interacting with the same characters. Although certain plot reveals and character elements are undoubtedly intriguing, they’re not enough to make up for act two’s shortcomings, let alone fill in the insurmountable shoes left by its predecessor. I should mention that, even though act one ran perfectly on my Lenovo gaming laptop (a year ago), Act two crashed my laptop consistently. No matter how hard I tried, I could never get act two to run properly as it would constantly freeze before ultimately crashing the application. Perhaps my laptop isn’t capable of running Broken Age: Act 2, but if my laptop has the power to run a hi-spec game such as The Witcher 2, I’d assume that it would be capable of running an average graphical game like Broken Age. I’m happy to report that Broken Age: The Complete Adventure runs perfectly on the PlayStation 4 and even though a mouse is the ideal peripheral for a point and click adventure, the DualShock 4 is a satisfying alternative.

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The gorgeous town of Meriloft, introduced in Act 1.

Act Two is nearly double the length of Act One, and this isn’t due to the inclusion of more content or more story to engulf, in fact there isn’t anything substantial to be found here, instead puzzles this time around are twice as perplexing and twice as frustrating, requiring more time and patience than anything that was thrown at you in the first act. The gameplay is obviously identical to its initial act and is typical of the point and click adventure genre. You interact with certain items and the environment to advance the story and to dive deeper into the intricate puzzles. A major difference in puzzle structure in Act two is the requirement to constantly switch between Vella and Shay, as they can unravel discoveries that may aid the other in a particular task. Now this is an extremely intriguing gameplay element and would definitely help spice up the traditional formula of act one, the problem, however, is the fact that Double Fine never introduces the element to you formally, you honestly have to pick it up on your own accord. For a puzzle element that wasn’t present in act one, you’d assume that Double Fine would properly introduce said element in the following act as there is no real reason for the player to just automatically pick up on this sudden, unannounced change. It’s just a bizarre gameplay decision, one that could’ve been interesting, but ultimately ended up being frustrating. However, the perplexing nature of the puzzles result in a much more satisfying feeling of reward, but this is more of a feeling of relief than satisfaction, relieved by the fact that the arduous puzzle is done. The undeniable fact that the puzzles amount to nothing more than simple fetch quests also hinder their impact and overall importance. Finishing Act 2 of Broken Age was a joyous occasion, but not in the sense that it was fun nor did the ending offer something versatile, no it was joyous moment because I didn’t have to play it anymore.

Puzzles are ridiculously frustrating
Puzzles are ridiculously frustrating

Broken Age in its entirety is a very good package, just prepare to be disappointed by its lacklustre approach to a fitting conclusion. Act one set up such an amazing world, with intriguing characters, and told a light-hearted but relatable story about responsibility, ultimately setting up act two in the best possible manner. It’s an unfortunate shame that Double Fine didn’t take that extra time to fully expand the exquisite lore they had created; nothing substantially new was created for act two and even though it was generously formed as a free update, I feel slightly cheated and disappointed as a fan since I waited an extra year for a simpleminded, shallow continuation hiding behind the success of its older brother. Maybe it’s because I loved act one so deeply that I’ve taken act two’s execution more personally than most, as most reviews or impressions of act two indicated positive reception. There is still much to like about Act 2: the characters are just as charming as ever, that gorgeous unparalleled art style is back and better than ever, intricate puzzles make a triumphant, albeit frustrating, return, and the core directing and writing are top-notch and on point. Just don’t expect anything to substantial and if you level your expectations, then I’m sure you’ll enjoy act 2 more than I did. But I feel that we shouldn’t have to level our expectations to perceive a game as a “good” one. We should go in wanting to have fun, to escape our busy lives and dive into uncharted worlds where possibilities are endless. Broken Age fostered some exceptional ideas and started this race ridiculously strong, however they were unable to keep up with its greatness and tried too heavily to replicate it. Act 1 never had to be replicated, it had to be expanded and further explored for different opportunities. Act 2 relied too heavily on its older brother’s success and ended up becoming exactly like it, however Act 1’s achievements had already been accomplished and its initial nuance had dissipated, with Act 2’s efforts ultimately falling flat. I wanted something new, something more out of Act 2 and unfortunately I never got it.

6-5-stars

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