Bro­ken Age Act 1

A Tale of Two Souls


Tim Schafer’s renown was earned by work­ing on iconic ad­ven­ture games in the ‘90s. Bro­ken Age marks his re­turn to the genre, rid­ing on the back of a pro­lific Kick­starter cam­paign that raised mil­lions. Now that we fi­nally have the first half, it’s clear: He still has the magic.

Part of Bro­ken Age’s ap­peal lies in its dual nar­ra­tive. On one hand we have Vella Tar­tine (Masasa Moyo), a young baker girl with no in­ten­tion of be­ing a maiden sac­ri­fice. In Shay Volta’s (Eli­jah Wood) case, he’s stuck aboard a space­ship run by an over­pro­tec­tive A.I. (Jennifer Hale), pass­ing his days with “res­cue mis­sions” de­signed for young chil­dren.

Vella’s tale is one steeped in ad­ven­ture, tak­ing her across vil­lages as charis­matic as her own. She’ll meet char­ac­ters like Harm’ny Light­beard (Jack Black), a man so ob­sessed with light­ness that he shed a let­ter from his name. There’s Cur­tis (Wil Wheaton), the lum­ber­jack who sus­pects that trees are out for re­venge. And then there’s the talk­ing tree, who con­firms Cur­tis’ rep­u­ta­tion as a fur­ni­ture­mak­ing mass-mur­derer.

Shay’s story is, by de­sign, far less ex­cit­ing. It’s hard not to feel sorry for him, forced to a life of rep­e­ti­tion. The break­fast ce­re­als never change, the ad­ven­ture sim­u­la­tions are the same, and din­ner is al­ways rep­re­sented by a sin­gle pill. It’s no won­der he sighs all the time.

In a mo­ment of de­fi­ance, Shay hap­pily fum­bles one mis­sion and in­ad­ver­tently meets Marek (David Kauf­man), a stow­away in a wolf cos­tume. The man’s propo­si­tion of sav­ing real hostages is too good to pass up, and thus be­gins Shay’s real ad­ven­ture.

Play­ers can at any point swap be­tween the two pro­tag­o­nists. It’ll pick up where you left off so there’s no missed con­tent, though there is the risk of ru­in­ing the pace. How­ever you choose to ap­proach it, I feel that fin­ish­ing Shay’s story first would have a big­ger pay­off in this half’s con­clu­sion.


Fans of Schafer’s ear­lier work may find the hu­mor in Bro­ken Age fairly sub­dued. It’s cer­tainly present but this is no Se­cret of Mon­key Is­land or Day of the Ten­ta­cle. That said the game makes up for it by ad­dress­ing, or hint­ing at, sev­eral im­por­tant is­sues through­out.

Some­times it’s as ob­vi­ous as Vella break­ing the maiden sac­ri­fice trope and sav­ing the day; other times it’s a tree ad­mon­ish­ing hu­mans for our reck­less de­struc­tion of na­ture. Rather than bring over­bear­ing, these themes sim­ply add an ex­tra sheen to an al­ready en­joy­able story.

The great pre­sen­ta­tion helps too. I couldn’t ap­pre­ci­ate Bro­ken Age’s de­sign ini­tially, what with all the other beau­ti­ful 2D games out there, but it didn’t take long for the styl­ized look to grow on me. There’s a painterly charm that’s rem­i­nis­cent of the pixel- edged clas­sics, not to men­tion the use of col­ors be­ing to good ef­fect. Here is an art style that sup­ports the sto­ry­telling, rather than be­ing the key sell­ing point.

I’ve been nam­ing the voice


tal­ents where pos­si­ble be­cause di­a­log in an ad­ven­ture game is cru­cial – a sto­ry­teller with bad de­liv­ery isn’t go­ing to cap­ti­vate many. While there’s the nov­elty of hav­ing celebri­ties, the ma­jor­ity of the cast ac­tu­ally do voice-act­ing for a liv­ing. And it shows, as each char­ac­ter you meet brims with life. Al­though Dou­ble Fine prob­a­bly went over budget here, the end re­sult al­most seems jus­ti­fi­able.


The big­gest strength of Bro­ken Age ac­tu­ally lies in its sim­ple puz­zles. Purists might ar­gue against this but ad­ven­ture games of­ten suf­fer from con­vo­luted de­signs that end up do­ing more harm than good. Where this game is con­cerned story reigns supreme, and hav­ing the player stuck too long just won’t do. If it’s chal­lenge you’re look­ing for then there are plenty of al­ter­na­tives – Amanita De­sign’s Machi­nar­ium comes to mind.

As it turns out, the Steam list­ing for Bro­ken Age prom­ises the fol­low­ing key fea­ture: “This one re­ally hard puzzle that you won’t get but you’ll look it up on­line and not tell any­body.” In­deed, they de­liv­ered on that one dur­ing Vella’s part. Other­wise, the puz­zles are all pretty in­tu­itive, leav­ing me to my own de­vices. In­ter­act­ing with ev­ery­thing on-screen out of cu­rios­ity and not ne­ces­sity sure is lib­er­at­ing.

Bro­ken Age is a game I’d en­joy and hap­pily en­dorse to fam­ily and friends. That honor al­most al­ways goes to party games so it’s nice to add a light­hearted, story-cen­tric ti­tle up on that pedestal. If you ever need to show how games can be more than score-chas­ing or dig­i­tal vi­o­lence, this is your ex­am­ple.

The only thing hold­ing back a full rec­om­men­da­tion is that Bro­ken Age isn’t fin­ished. Should that stop you from buy­ing it? Not re­ally, un­less you hate the idea of wait­ing months for Part 2 or look at value from an hours-per-dol­lar per­spec­tive. In­stead, what you get for your money is a charm­ing lit­tle ad­ven­ture that’s funny, in­sight­ful and hon­estly en­ter­tain­ing.

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