The game took me about eleven hours to play. It's a decent length but sadly unbalanced, with more than half the game spent in Rufus’s despised town of Kuvaq. For a game whose premise is to get off Deponia, an awfully long time is spent wandering the streets Rufus is sick of, and as the first chapter stretched on my own inability to escape started to sour me on the experience. I suppose I was just as relieved as Rufus to finally get out of there, but considering my mounting frustration, this character identification came with a price.
Though Deponia has a linear structure overall, the game has points of non-linearity, particularly during the lengthy town segment. Such freedom is a blessing because there’s always something new to try when you’re stuck, but also a curse because inadequate cluing might leave you unsure what you’re trying to achieve. Most locations and characters remain accessible long after you’ve used up what they have to offer, which greatly increased my backtracking as I struggled through Kuvaq’s convoluted final obstacle. Don’t misunderstand; it’s a wonderfully layered puzzle, one I wished I’d had the patience to figure out on my own once I understood how all the pieces connected, but a disconcerting lack of direction and my own restlessness sent me in search of a walkthrough to speed things up. Fortunately, once Rufus gets out of town the pace picks up nicely. I found the second half of the game much more satisfying than the first.
The game’s uneven pacing is echoed somewhat in its storytelling, with characters sometimes going on about things that seem not to matter and whole story threads being dropped without a backward glance. In particular, quite a fuss is made about Rufus’s father, who somehow managed to escape Deponia years ago (abandoning his son in the process), but he’s abruptly dismissed in the game’s second half and his greater role isn’t even hinted at. Chekhov once said that a gun that appears at the beginning of a story must go off before the end. The same holds true here; even if Deponia was conceived as the first slice of trilogy, it’s also a standalone game and should hold up as such. Which brings me to a much more egregious flaw: the completely unsatisfying ending. It’s not exactly a cliffhanger, but it’s a total downer. While the finale undoubtedly sets up the sequel, it’s never fun to feel like you’ve spent all this time to make essentially no progress.
As for the story in general, I didn’t love it and didn’t hate it. Deponia’s setting is unique and the instances of oddball humor (like the grand outburst of a robot obsessed with bubble wrap, or the banjo-strumming hobo who serenades at the start of each chapter) certainly make for memorable moments. But the premise of a young man wanting to leave home, see the world, and get the girl is fairly well worn and its execution in Deponia didn’t wow me. To borrow that old creative writing adage, I often felt characters’ feelings and motivations were being “told” and not “shown,” with lukewarm results, and I didn’t buy the Rufus and Goal love story at all. Deponia’s puzzles are definitely stronger than its story (which is not to say it’s a bad story, just not particularly noteworthy). Of course, it may have more impact in the original German. In general the translation seems competent—none of the lines really befuddled me or made me cringe—but there were plenty of moments where I probably should have been laughing but wasn’t, and I’m unsure if the translation or the source material is to blame.
One major example of the not-quite-right writing comes in the characterization of Rufus himself. People around him keep calling Rufus out for being self-centered and obnoxious, but he didn’t strike me that way at all. He comes across as an accident-prone dreamer with big plans, a Guybrush Threepwood or Roger Wilco type. (Have I simply become desensitized to self-centered, obnoxious heroes?) Sure, he takes whatever’s not nailed down to further his escape plans and has no qualms about stealing or destroying other people’s property in the process, but that’s par for the course in this genre. So this is a case where I’m not sure what to make of what Deponia’s trying to tell me. Some supporting characters’ motivations are also hard to swallow, particularly Goal’s; she’s not all that convincing as the feisty heroine / love interest (certainly no Elaine Marley). None of these are game-ruining problems, but this issue of not quite connecting with the writing surely prevented me from becoming too deeply invested in Deponia’s story.
Like with the plot, I neither loved nor loathed the voice acting, though I did count far too many instances of actors misreading lines with improper inflection or emphasis for the context. The music I started out liking: Deponia has a few strong themes, like the adventurous fanfare that plays on the title screen, and a later jumble of instruments and record scratches that sounds like a musical depiction of a junkyard. But my enthusiasm waned as it became clear that these few themes were all the game had to offer, the soundtrack becoming very repetitive. I also ran into two sound-related issues that negatively impacted my playing experience. One was a cacophony of voice loops and sound effects designed to build up during the course of a complicated puzzle, which became so grating that I had to turn off my speakers for a while. The other was an overbearing processing effect applied to the lines of the helmet-wearing Elysian soldiers, which consistently hurt my ears.
So, Deponia: trash or treasure? It’s neither all of one nor all the other; the game has flaws but also a solid list of positives. Though Rufus’s quest across Deponia can drag at points, the game’s art style is appealing, most of its puzzles are clever and engaging, and the overall experience makes for a largely enjoyable adventure. Daedalic continues to show that they understand this genre and know what makes it tick, and as a result, fans of old-school cartoon adventures will likely consider Deponia a junkyard find.