If Act 1 Broken Age served as a gentle, charming introduction into a new world of locations and characters, then Act 2 solidifies this world, bringing in many things I love and remember about playing adventure games (and admittedly a couple of things I didn't love).
This isn't intended as a review, just thought-dump of everything that is floating at the top of my mind after finishing.
- While it didn't particularly bother me that puzzles in Act 1 were on the easy side, they ramp up pleasingly in Act 2. There's something nice and familiar about being deep into the puzzle structure of an adventure, with some jobs solved, some half solved and gradually piecing it together by degrees. In Act 1, the puzzle chains were never quite long enough to build this momentum. With Act 2 it was much rarer that my initial idea would be the right one - the puzzles had nuance and made me feel cleverer as a result.
- I had a real "turn off your computer and go to sleep" moment finishing this game and it's been a while since an adventure game has done that for me. I just had to see it through.
- Another thing I like about adventure games is when you get to revisit an old location but in a new context. Act 2 has a lot of this; in fact it fuels almost all of the second half (in fact more like the second two thirds, since Act 2 plays about twice as long by my count).
- It was fun and for me quite emotionally satisfying to see these characters in new contexts, and it was nice to see many of them evolve a little and develop as minor characters over the course of the game.
- The resolution the the plot brought some closure without resorting to a simplistic "and they all lived happily ever after" style wrap-up, which I really appreciated (mostly).
- It goes without saying that the game remains beautiful, the animation has somehow gotten even better and the additions to the soundtrack are extremely strong.
- Many of the puzzles were to do with positioning or using devices in the second game, and although they were cool, they became somewhat tiresome on repetition. It was occasionally frustrating to do two out of the three things I had to do to solve a puzzle but miss one step, then have it all reset so I had to set it all up again.
- I'm also not a fan of puzzles that rely on player knowledge that is greater than the knowledge of the characters I am controlling and there are a few instances of this in Act 2. I'd rather be putting myself in the heads of the characters than acting like an omnipresent puppet master pulling their strings.
There were aspects of the plot which might become clearer on repeat plays but right now I am not quite sure about. It's difficult to go into without spoilers but I'll be subtle. If you're really, really touchy at even the barest of references to things that happen, I would skip this section until you've played.
- After playing it's still unclear to me exactly why Shay was necessary and how his role in the plot was supposed to work. It seems a bit vague and handwavey on first blush. I think I'd have liked an opportunity to drill down more into the mechanics of how his role is intended to function.
- There are also aspects of Vella's world I found less fleshed out than expected. In act 1 there was no sign of advanced technology in areas she visits but the characters seem happy to talk about video games and TV shows in act 2. Then there are the fantasy or cartoon elements like talking trees and clouds you can stand on, and the result is a little more of a muddled piece of world building than I've come to expect from Tim Schafer.
- In the past his worlds have always been fantastical but very consistent. This holds very much true for the spaceship, which felt very much like a real, defined location with rules and definite characteristics by the end, but less so for areas like Meriloft, Shellmound and the bits in between.
- While, as I said, I thought the end largely brought the story to a close, part of me wanted just one more "what now?" beat to round things off.
What's eminently clear to me is that this is a game that was crafted with a lot of love.
While I don't think it is the instant masterpiece that Grim Fandango was, the absolute last word in puzzle design that defined Day of the Tentacle, or imbued with such confident world-building and story telling as a Full Throttle, it is certainly has enough of all three in its DNA that I will proudly place it next to any one of those on my shelves.