As a title, Broken Age Act II is a misnomer — there is no game called Broken Age Act II.
The second chunk of Broken Age —which was released over a year after the first— represents both Acts II and III of its narrative arc. Quite simply: it’s the rest of the game, and the game is very, very good.
Most stories cannot function at full throttle for the duration of the narrative. Typical through lines are made up of peaks and valleys that give characters a chance to develop and allow excitement to escalate over time. For obvious reasons, after the dramatic exchange between the heroes at the end of Broken Age’s first act, the plot takes a beat to breathe.
So imagine then trying to review a game starting with its slower, more methodical second act. It doesn’t really make sense. Within the realm of family fiction, it wouldn’t be unlike trying to critique the Pixar film Up (2009) starting after the balloon had already crashed, or walking into a theatre late to review Disney’s Frozen (2013) and just catching the last few seconds of “Let it Go.” It would be a completely backwards way to look at a piece of art.
Exactly like its unprecedented funding strategy, the division of Broken Age is either a fringe example of turbulent development, or a new hurdle everyone in the industry will eventually have to cross. At a glance, it seemed like Double Fine was only circumventing traditional publishers with Kickstarter, but now the studio has doubled back and made it hard to even talk about the without setup. This has led to a lot of weird inconsistent essays - not unlike this one.
Anecdotally, after struggling to prove the value of updating its review scores to reflect new developments, Polygon[dot]com finally has the perfect test case its premise. Broken Age Act II isn’t a new game unto itself, it’s not a sequel, and it's not an episode. No review of Broken Age ought to exist separate from any thoughts on the game that was released in January 2014.
Somewhere between the fervent sequelization of videogames, the costly realities of game development, and the new services like Kickstarter and Early Access, it seems like the industry was anticipating Double Fine to ship a sequel to one of 2014’s very best games in 16 months. This was an unrealistic expectation.
It’s pure semantics, but I can’t helping thinking “Act I and II” were a poor choice of labels over simply: unfinished. I do feel bad for the backers and early adopters (myself included) who might have been better served waiting to play the game as a completed whole… but holy smokes, Broken Age is still delightful.