Reviews

Deponia Doomsday Review – Let’s Not Go Around One More Time

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Platforms: PC
Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Daedalic
Publisher: Daedalic
Singleplayer: Yes
Multiplayer: No

Review code supplied free of charge by the publisher.

Having been suddenly revealed by Daedalic and arriving less than a week after they confirmed its existence my reaction to Deponia Doomsday was a confusing one.  My initial feeling was one of joy. The Deponia games are arguably my favorite modern point and click titles, packing in a beautiful art style with a great sense of humor and fun story that centres around the biggest douchbag in history, a character who somehow manages to keep you playing through his adventures despite how big of a prat he is. However, once my initial reaction had subsided doubt creeped into my mind; while the ending of Goodbye Deponia caused some controversy it was supposed to be very final, and now after three years is another game needed? The answer, as it transpires, is no.

Perhaps much more importantly, it’s also a fascinating game to pick apart, not because of its mechanics or story or characters or in other words all of the things that should make it worth picking apart, but because of why it was made in the first place. It’s also a problematic game to talk about since everything worth pondering revolves around the ending.

They almost go and cock it all up within the first few minutes by essentially resetting everything. Through the ex machina of time travel the writer’s pen themselves out of the seemingly quite final corner by taking Rufus back to the very start again, committing the cardinal sequel sin of hitting the emergency reset button. Rufus barely got any genuine character development across the entire original trilogy before a quick personality shift came out of left field, so to have even that small amount of progress removed is cheap. It smacks of a blatantly obvious attempt at getting a fourth entry out of a series that was never meant to have one, a trilogy that wrapped up with an ending that left many disappointed, yes, but was intended to be final. I mean, it was called Goodbye Deponia, for crying out loud.

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So Rufus awakes at the start of the game only to discover that everything he previously experienced was seemingly nothing more than a dream. It turns out that’s not entirely true, however, as time travelling has managed to get itself involved in the form of a character called McChronicle, and Rufus comes to realise that what he saw actually happened, and may yet come to pass.He got off Deponia, travelled to Elysium, met Goal, foiled a plot and ultimately sacrificed himself for the good of the planet. More confusingly, though, he see’s himself much older and scarred destroying Deponia by unleashing nuclear Armageddon. Everyone else, however, is clueless to what is coming. As for Rufus, he see’s a chance to change things and get a different, happier ending from the one he witnessed while still attaining his very simply goal of getting the hell off of Deponia.

It’s not a great start, reeking of desperation to eek some extra money out of a finished trilogy through a lazy storytelling device that essentially brings everybody back to square one. Still, it’s an interesting premise because with all the knowledge of what might come to pass it opens up plenty of scope for Rufus’ character to evolve. Or at least it should, but as we’ll discuss it seems that the developers still struggle to craft any form of character arc for their lead dufus. Sometimes he seems to use that knowledge, and at other times it’s like he’s completely forgotten about it.

Thankfully the writers salvage their own time-travelling silliness to a degree, weaving an enjoyable time travelling tale that connects the iffy beginning to the even iffier end. On the surface this is once again a story about Rufus, the most self-centred tit in the universe, trying to get of the trash planet of Deponia and up to Elysium, while meeting Goal, who is the love of his life even if he’s too much of a moron to see it. But really what Doomsday is about a letter to the fans disguised as an entire game that seeks to explain why the trilogy ended how it did, wrapping a whole new time-travelling tale around Rufus and Goal to justify it. It’s a fascinating move on the part of the developers, but they don’t seem to actually have a whole lot to say about their own ending other than, “It’s like that because that’s just how it has to be.” So much more could have been done with this premise, yet doesn’t take long for the game to go from playfully teasing fans about the ending to slapping them in the face every few minutes with some ham-fisted writing that increasingly becomes the arguments of a team who clearly feel their audience just didn’t, “get it.” Worse still is while credit must be given for the writers sticking to their vision, they still don’t get why the majority were annoyed; it wasn’t the bittersweet ending itself, in fact we could understand that, it was how suddenly it came, the sudden personality shift of Rufus and the lack of resolution after. For a game with Goodbye literally in its name, we never got a proper chance to say goodbye. Doomsday does a little better as it builds toward its finale, but the lack of proper resolution was still there. Having now played four games following the story of Rufus, Goal and Deponia I was again left wondering what happened after the credits rolled. It’s like Mass Effect 3 all over again.

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So, the ending. It’s complicated. Tossing aside the lack of resolution and suddenness of the ending in Goodbye Deponia I was quite fine with the route the writers opted to take, viewing it as a perfectly understandable decision in the context of the narrative, but disliking the sloppy execution. For a lot of other people the finale was a bitter moment. It seemed to be the lack of a happy ending that was difficult for them to come to terms with, and as someone who typically gets absurdly invested in characters from books and TV shows and videogames it’s a problem I can, at the very least, relate to; we always want happy endings for those we’ve come to care about. However, I also understand how narrative works and sometimes happy endings just don’t work, especially if you happen to be G.R.R. Martin. The entire trilogy was sprinkled with strong hints about Rufus’ inevitable destruction, playing on the idea that fate can’t be derailed, a theme which Doomsday picks up on and runs with. Now obviously I can’t talk about the finale of Doomsday here without essentially spoiling it, so just skip ahead to the next paragraph if you don’t want to figure out how the closing moments will play. Still here? Okay. For Doomsday the writers stick to their guns, for better or worse depending on how you felt about Goodbye. It’s the same ending with a few changes. It’s a bold choice and one that I commend them; they firmly believe that Rufus falling is how his story should end, and I can respect their choice to go with the original ending rather than attempting to craft a whole new one simply to please people. Sometimes as much as the audience might hate it’s the author’s story and not theirs. Ultimately the way that Doomsday handles it creates more meaning behind the event, even if the writers don’t actually seem to have a whole lot to say. They spend an entire gamer claiming that their vision is right, but by they end all they have to really say it it’s that way because that’s just how it is. That’s it. Doomsday is littered with far less than subtle kicks to the stomach about how things have to stay the same or it’ll only get worse, that you should never tempt endings. There’s no attempt to justify what was quite a sudden change of character for Rufus, a hero who firmly believes in there being zero no-win situations, nor to add anything tangible to the story. Having played the entire game through to the end twice, I can firmly say that Doomsday does not add a single thing of value to the story. The only thing they improve upon here is that they build toward Rufus’ change of heart a touch better than before, making his final sacrifice more understandable, although you’ll still be left feeling like it just doesn’t make any sense for Rufus to go out that way. I agree with the style of ending that Daedalic want – for a character as self-serving as Rufus the ultimate ending would be to put that aside – but they don’t seem able to properly transition Rufus from dumbass to self-sacrificing hero correctly. In Goodbye Deponia he barely had any character development before the ending came from nowhere and he gave up his own life. Doomsday handles it a little better, peppering the story with moments where Rufus seems to have learned from his future visions, but ultimately by time the ending comes around it still doesn’t feel like he’s anywhere near being the kind of person who would willingly die to save everyone else, even his beloved Goal. In reality his personality suggests that the better bittersweet ending would be for Rufus to die while still absolutely trying to get out of the situation. But the hardest thing to accept is how the marketing of the game seems to very deliberately trying to lure fans in with vague promises of being able to change the ending when they can’t. It doesn’t matter what you do, the game will end the same way. A lot of fans will buy this game thinking they can finally see a happy ending, and wind up feeling betrayed.

Thus far, then I’ve been riled by the time-travelling beginning and was left with the feeling that while the ending is better than the last one they attempt it still makes most of the same mistakes. But but what about the journey between beginning and end? You’ll be glad to hear that it’s quite fun at times, once again putting the series somewhat hit or miss humor front and centre, although the amount of laughs isn’t anywhere near as much as previous games, largely because of a shift over to a more somber tone in sections. Rufus remains the biggest ass in the galaxy, his self-centered quips and firm belief that he’s the greatest thing ever making him a very take him or leave him kind of hero. Some people love how his attitude feeds into the brash humor, and others struggle to get behind somebody who is such a twat from beginning to end, which is understandable. Even as anti-heroes go it can be hard to connect to someone who is just such a bloody jerk, especially to Goal who deserves much better. Still, his antics have been toned down just a tad, presumably a direct reaction to criticism. Speaking of Goal she is as lovable as ever, even if she does still just sit around and do very little in the grand scheme of the adventure, something which annoyed me about the original trilogy, too. On the flipside she gets a bit more development this time around, largely because we get to see her from a few different periods in time and how she has changed between them. A few new characters also appear, including the aforementioned McChronicle whose presence never really gets explained properly, but he’s a solid addition to the cast with a running joke being about Rufus either can’t or just won’t pronounce his name right. A couple of old characters also get to pop in like Toni and Wenzel, both getting to chat to Rufus before he gets away from Kuvaq.

For everything that the game gets right, though, there’s plenty that it doesn’t, such as the lack interaction between Rufus and Goal. They rarely get to talk to each other, and when they it’s mostly just rehashing everything from the past three games, albeit at an accelerated rate. We get to see Goal again go through being somewhat enamored with Rufus, then pissed off, then making up with him, and the compacted timeframe makes it feel rushed. There’s several moments that get glossed over entirely, like when a young Goal is talking to a much older version of herself who fondly remembers all her adventures with Rufus. It’s a perfect time to develop Goal, who even goes on to confront  Rufus about his possessive personality, but it gets brushed under the rug and forgotten about. Rufus and Goal are the beating heart of the series, so it’s such a shame to see both of them get very little time to interact with each other. For most of the game Goal is simply sulking, annoyed or being kept away from Rufus. It’s a silly mistake.

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The puzzles are another misstep. The series was oldschool in the sense that many of its puzzles used warped logic that took a while to wrap your brain around and often bordered on being frustratingly obtuse, but it never strayed over the line too often, and what frustration was generated was typically smoothed over by the game’s humor and charm. Once you managed to wrangle the game’s internal logic you could usually manage to figure out the more insane solutions  Doomsday, though, steps over the line numerous times throughout it’s 8-10 hour runtime, dropping in absurd answers to problems that nobody will feel like they solved through clever thinking. Take, for instance, a sequence in which you have to replace a red xylophone key. Thinking about the problem for a moment you head over to a piano you spotted earlier and prise a key from it using some tongs and then use that key on the xylophone. It doesn’t work. Baffled you spend ages ambling around until you desperately start mashing things from your inventory into everything on the screen, which is how you find that feeding the key into a sausage machine gives you a key-shaped sausage. Feeling more than a little confused you plonk that down on the xylophone, only to be told it doesn’t sound red. Doesn’t sound red? You bloody what? Sounding red seems like a small concern compared to using a sausage as a key to produce a musical note. So you find a way of cooking the sausage so that it turns red (the game drops a daft hint about this) and use it again, this time meeting with success. how the hell does that make any sort of sense? Sadly this is a common occurrence, the game often devolving into mind-numbing sections where you find yourself combining absolutely everything just to make a small amount of progress.

These overshadow the genuinely well designed moments, like mixing animal and human genes to create a small menagerie of creatures need to progress with some hilarious results. There’s a couple of really fun sequences that make use of time-travel and portal hopping, to, although by the end of the game might be more than a little iffy on whether everything actually makes any sense since you’ve jumped through time so damn often. I also really loved the idea that the Elysian council are pretty much nothing more than a bunch of idiots who reckon they are perfectly safe because they have a computer. There are indeed flashes of genius within Doomsday that remind me of the original trilogy, but it’s far harder to enjoy them when they are surrounded by so many mistakes. Puzzles that force the player to resort to mashing items together are simply lazy game design, pure and simple.

At least it’s all solid on a technical level. The Deponia games have always looked beautiful and Doomsday is no exception, boasting a vibrant color palette and a variety of stunning locations drawn in the series unique style. The animation could still be better as sometimes Rufus gets a unique animation for doing something but other times he won’t, but this is one seriously pretty game and the music remains as great as it once was, although strangely the beloved tramp with the guitar makes only a single appearance. The actors for both Rufus and Goal successfully slip back into their roles with ease and there’s not a single duff performance in the cast. Also, gotta love the special voiceover in the intro by a very well known man…

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With a few years to contemplate what they did right and what they did wrong with Goodbye Deponia have the development team learned much? No. Deponia: Doomsday makes most of the same mistakes with only a couple of slight improvements. Rufus’ character arc feels a touch more natural, for instance. In Goodbye he was a dick until the end when he almost instantly managed to change. In Doomsday his arc is spread out a little more, so that now he’s a dick until the last hour or two where a series if revelations makes him come to terms with reality and begin to realise what has to be done. A few moments spread throughout the story help build toward this, but it’s still a clumsy transition and by the end his personality shift still didn’t fit.

Ultimately Doomsday was not a game that needed to made. And yet I’m still glad it was. Despite all criticisms it was still a pleasure to hang out with Rufus and Goal again, two characters that I became surprisingly attached to throughout the course of the original trilogy. I just wish that this final adventure, and it really is final this time, had learned more from the prior games. I commend the developers for wanting to stick to their vision, and for what they were trying to do with Doomsday, but at the end of the day they don’t manage to fix almost any of the other criticisms, which makes this game redundant. And that’s what is; a redundant joy. It doesn’t need to exist. It doesn’t add anything to the story. It doesn’t add anything of value to the relationship between Rufus and Goal. It doesn’t justify, explain or otherwise strengthen the ending. It doesn’t expand the world’s lore. It never needed to be made, and it stinks of a company who maybe regret wrapping up their most successful franchise and who wanted one last monetary hurrah, and of writers who struggled to deal with the dislike for their clumsily executed ending to the original trilogy.  If you loved the previous games like me go ahead and pick this one up. Just be sure to understand what you’re getting, because if you buy it seeking closure you’re going to be left disappointed.

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