A year ago I bought the highly anticipated game Broken Age. One of the unique aspects of this crowd-funded game is that they released it in two parts. Everyone who bought part one got part two, when it was finished. That wait however took over a year. The first part of Broken Age was amazing and engaging, did the second part live up to the wait?
SPOILERS AHEAD! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!
In short… not really. The first game put you in control of two young teenagers who live very different lives. Vella, a girl from a world in which young maidens are sacrificed to a monster every 14 years, in exchange for safety; and Shay, a boy who lives on a spaceship, seemingly alone with a computer standing in for his mom and dad.
In the course of the first part, both of them embark on a path of rebellion from what they are told their lives are supposed to be about. Vella, by refusing to be sacrificed to the monster, and instead destroying it, and Shay, by ignoring all of the infantile safety warnings of his computer mom and dad to explore more of the spaceship that he calls home, and contributing to its demise.
At the end of part 1, Vella forces the monster to crash, and it’s revealed that the monster and Shay’s spaceship are one in the same, and through a freak moment the two end up switching places with Vella trapped inside the downed spaceship, and Shay, free to explore the outside world for the first time in his life. Until this conclusion of part 1, the only thing that bound these two paths together was the notion of children learning to grow up and discover who they are, and trying to create their own identity. This symmetry inside disparate worlds is one of the things that made the first part so engaging. You were watching two very different people encounter the same challenges of youth, in their own ways.
Part 2 began where part 1 left off, and unfortunately decided to abandon the main story elements of part 1, that of youth and identity, for a more formulaic story about aliens trying to acquire some perfect genetic material to strengthen their frail bloodlines. Both Shay and Vella continue to have adventures, and need to figure out who the other person was in order to progress to their conclusion, by interacting with the world that belonged to the other. Shay explores the world that Vella changed through her bravery, shooting down the monster. Vella explores the weirdly created home of Shay that is damaged and in tatters from her actions.
What has changed, however, is that everything that made the first part so engaging has been reduced to simplistic explanations reduce the power of the first part of the story. One element in particular is that you discover that Shay’s parents actually were real people, just speaking to him through computer terminals. Shay had simply forgotten they were real as he had stopped talking to them in any other fashion other than the communication orbs. So suddenly, a major plot device in explaining Shay’s personality was changed, for what felt like a cop-out to get a few more characters into the story. Vella’s rebellion that destroyed everything her world understood to be true is quickly dismissed, with her family desperately seeking to find her, despite so adamantly forcing her to go through the sacrificial ritual in the part one.
Once the second part reveals that there is a major villain involved, as well as an evil alien race, the entire focus of the story changes to a mediocre adventure story about trying to beat the bad guys. This really lessens the effect of part one, where the story really revolves around changing your world and becoming who you were meant to be. This is the first element that really disappointed me about part 2. It’s not that the alien story was terrible in its own right, but it was such a letdown from a dramatic standpoint. I ended part 1 with such a sense of connection to these two young people that I couldn’t wait to see how they continued to grow. But then all that connection was put aside so we could stop the bad guys. I felt like the story took a major dive in part 2 and that is unfortunate.
The second reason part 2 suffered is because of the new puzzles that the game introduced. In the first part the puzzles were mostly fun, and slightly challenging, but they always helped support the story. In part 2 the puzzles became maddeningly frustrating in their complexity, driven even higher by the loss of connection to the main characters. The complexity wasn’t even in the individual puzzles themselves however, as towards the end of the game, there were puzzles that required you, as the game player, to have knowledge from one characters storyline in order to solve a puzzle in the other. In other words, there was no way that the characters could have solved these puzzles themselves, as it required you as the player to switch back and forth to gather the clues to complete them. This method became maddening in the final sections of the game, and I ended up reverting to a walk-through to help me figure out when I had to switch back and forth between Shay and Vella.
The conclusion of the story was complicated to solve as you had to do every step in just the right order or you had to start all over again. However, once I got it done I was rewarded with a touching scene of the two teenagers finally meeting face to face for more than a brief moment. Granted you had to look past the fact that the alien race was still out there and would probably try causing trouble again. But hey, it’s not like this part tried to make much sense from a story perspective.
If you’ve already purchased and played the first part of Broken Age, you get the second part for free, so I’d encourage to play it even just to get some conclusion to the story (albeit a flawed one). If you haven’t purchased Broken Age before then I’m on the fence about recommending it. The first part is so amazing that it’s almost worth the money just for that part. Just don’t expect the second part to make you feel fulfilled and to live up to the first half of the game. Maybe someday someone will write a different second act for this game, as I think it really needs a serious re-write in the story department.