Broken Roads RPG Offers A Compelling Australian Adventure

The release of Baldur’s Gate 3 undoubtedly ushered in a wave of refreshed interest in role-playing games, not that those of us who really enjoy good RPGs needed too much encouragement. And interestingly enough, most of the post BG3 RPGs tended to bring something fresh and new to the genre, rather than trying to compete directly with the undisputed king. For example, The Thaumaturge gave us a historical setting and a magic system that was kind of similar to a Pokemon game. Sovereign Syndicate was all about clever dialogue choices and storytelling. And my personal favorite of the recent RPG entries, Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader, brought the normally combat-heavy space marine genre deep into traditional role-playing game territory.

So, after a very long delay, we finally can jump into developer Drop Bear Bytes take on RPGs, Broken Roads. In Broken Roads, players can enjoy a post-apocalyptic setting that doesn’t involve a nuclear war. Instead, the modern world ended with a series of pandemics and other global crisis events that caused most major cities to be abandoned, and forced people in Western Australia to move out deep into the Outback for better survival chances in much smaller groups and communities. Interestingly enough, even though there was no nuclear war, the landscape with its brown tones and decaying infrastructure looks a lot like those early Fallout titles, especially Fallout 2. So, Fallout players might feel a bit nostalgic traveling though Broken Roads.

Now, as excited as I was for Broken Roads (and I did have a very fun time with it), we do have to remember that Drop Bear Bytes is an indie developer, and that an expansive title on this scale is going to be a bit of stretch for them. As such, there are many things in it that are primitive compared with other modern RPGs, including most of the ones previously mentioned here which were also reviewed by GiN. This includes stacks of quality of life issues, bugs that range from annoying to game-breaking and some bad mechanics when it comes to some core functions like combat. We will cover all of that so that potential players know what they are getting into, but know that Broken Roads also does a lot of things right too. In fact, I would argue that, at least for me, everything they did well compelled me to keep playing in spite of its pretty obvious shortcomings. For me, the payoff was worth it.

So, starting with the good, the setting for Broken Roads is phenomenal. Drop Bear Bytes is based in Torquay, Australia, so they are experts on all things Australian, and it shows. Broken Roads is dripping in Australian culture, something we don’t often get to see in games. Even the dialogue sometimes features highlighted words whenever a local colloquialism is uttered by a character, something that happens all the time. Mousing over the highlighted words gives an explanation of that phrase’s meaning. Many of those sayings are easy enough to figure out using context, but a few are pretty odd, so it’s nice to have that “translation” available so we can see if we are, for example, being complimented or insulted by those colorful Australian sayings.

The plot is also really well done, even when compared with other RPGs. There is a lot going on in Broken Roads with hidden alliances and behind-the-scenes stuff that you may or may not fully uncover as you play, which is perfect for this RPG where its world is changing fast, and not necessarily for the better. The title also provides lots of interesting surprises which serve to increase the tension. If you loop back to a previous town or settlement on the map where, for example, you met some nice locals and established a reputation as a fair trader with the shopkeepers, you might later find it completely destroyed, with all those same people lying dead in the streets on a return visit. Things like that happen a lot in the story. It’s a cruel place, and Broken Roads does a great job of demonstrating that for players at every turn.

There is also a highly developed morals system in Broken Roads which was created specifically for the game, with a player’s initial core beliefs shifting a bit depending on certain dialogue responses or story choices over time. Each moral stance or belief comes with certain powers or drawbacks based on those beliefs and can also be shallow or deep depending on how much a character commits to it. Your core belief can also span across two core areas so long as they are not diabolically opposed to one another – and thus sit on opposite sides of the wheel.

The four core beliefs in the moral system are Utilitarian (a belief that you should do the most good for the largest number of people), Humanist (believing that everyone has value and should be helped no matter what the cost), Nihilist (only yourself matters) and Machiavellian (a belief that decisions should be made primarily to benefit whatever specific group you belong to no matter how small or exclusive that group is, even at the expense of others from the outside). Given that Broken Roads is a post-apocalyptic setting, I mostly went with a Machiavellian philosophy that emphasized survival for me and my group and was pretty happy with that most of the time.

The character creation part of Broken Roads is also pretty open. You have a choice of one of four starting character backgrounds, but all that does in terms of your character is give you slightly different base stats. From there, you can evolve your character however you like. You can become a charismatic wasteland doctor who is deadly with a knife or a stoic sharpshooter who solves his troubles with bullets from a distance. There is even a magic mechanic that you can eventually unlock which gives you some limited spellcasting options.

Unfortunately, this is also where we start to get into the less than perfect aspects of Broken Roads. As much freedom as character creation and growth gives you, there is not really much that you can do with it, especially when it comes to combat. Other than choosing to put points into shooting or melee mastery, there is not a lot you can do to influence combat. Your group and your enemies mostly just line up like American Revolutionary War armies and take turns shooting or swinging at each other until one side is dead, and that’s it. Compared with fighting in a game like Rogue Trader where, depending on their background, a character might have 15 to 20 possible opening moves including initiating conditions or synergies that you can setup for other characters to exploit, the combat in Broken Roads is downright primitive.

Basically, the best strategy that I found was to max out action points, which can be done by investing in intelligence and agility, and also by wearing certain clothing items. This gives you more shots per turn, and that is pretty much all you need to dominate most fights with little challenge, even some of the random ones that the title warns are really difficult.

I was also disappointed with the fact that there were very few opportunities to use the core stats outside of combat. For one playthrough, I created a very charismatic character and picked the barter trader background to accompany that. I figured there would be plenty of opportunities to influence dialogues and maybe even avoid combats like my rogue did in Baldur’s Gate 3. But after getting six hours into that playthrough, I was only given two opportunities to use my character’s charisma, and one time was a throwaway event where I earned a very small discount on a quest item I was buying. Meanwhile, there were plenty of opportunities in the main story where I should have been able to step up and influence people with my character’s honeyed tongue, but the game never gave me the opportunity. Those looking for deep role-playing based on character skills probably won’t find it in Broken Roads.

And then we come to the bugs and quality of life issues. There are so many in Broken Roads, and sometimes they compound one another. For example, in most RPGs you can loot multiple fallen enemies at the same time if their bodies are close together. But here, you have to go to each body and find the loot point to click on. And then once fully looted, the click point does not disappear, so you will often accidentally click on it again when trying to loot any other body piled up nearby. Another glaring issue is that you can’t compare the stats of weapons and gear in stores with what you are holding to know if it’s better or not. The only way to compare a potential new weapon with your existing gear is to buy it, so you will end up save scumming just for a visit to the market.

There are even quality of life issues at the very start. Players only have access to eight character models, four men and four women, with no customization options at all. I didn’t particularly like any of the base models, and none of them fit my vision for my character at all. It’s been decades since an RPG didn’t let me at least make basic changes like the color of my hair, my beard trim or my starting clothing (which never changes in the game even if you equip new armor and gear). Given that almost every RPG has this, even casual ones like Torchlight, I can’t imagine why it was not included in Broken Roads. That is pretty much RPG 101 if you want to provide an immersive experience.

There are also, unfortunately, quite a few bugs. I had the game break several times when it tried to force play a cut scene positioned on the other side of the map from where my character was actually standing at the time. When that happened, everything froze up, probably because the game didn’t know where my character was and an NPC was supposed to interact with me somehow, forcing me to eventually reset the game. There are other bugs that also pop up a lot. In combat, it sometimes becomes impossible to target an enemy in the middle of a fight for no apparent reason. Normally moving your group away from them, forcing the bad guy to step forward outside of his invisible shield to attack, would fix that problem. But that was often at the expense of giving your opponent a free shot at you. Hopefully, most of those problems will be quashed as the developers fix Broken Roads in the future, but there are enough bugs now that you might want to wear one of those anti-mosquito cork hats from the game while playing.

Now, for a title with so many quality of life issues and outright bugs, Broken Roads is still earning a relatively respectable GiN Gems score. That is because it really leans into the things it does right. I enjoyed the setting and the plot so much that I was excited to push on despite all the many problems. Probably not everyone will feel that way, but for those who really enjoy RPGs, Broken Roads is a really unique experience that is not to be missed. Just be ready for a few rocks and potholes along the way as your travel through those Broken Roads.

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