Broken Roads Review – In Search Of Meaning

The CRPG genre has gone through a resurgence in the past couple of years, leading to more indie studios trying their hand in developing their own titles and providing the players with new worlds and stories to experience.

Broken Roads, developed by Drop Bear Bytes, and published by Versus Evil, is a fallout-inspired CRPG set in a post-apocalyptic Australia. The game provides a rich storyline focused on philosophy and morality, a new take on morality systems and choices in RPGs, and a memorable art style. But in the end, as much as I was looking forward to Broken Roads, I left the game feeling more disappointed than fulfilled.

Broken Roads, Character creation menu showing different origin characters.
In the start, we choose from four origin stories for our character; The Hired Gun, The Surveyor, The Jackaroo, and The Barter Crew.

I’ve had my eyes on Broken Roads for a long time. Just from a couple of screenshots that I saw online more than a year ago, I was hooked. I can’t say my expectations were unreasonably high. I just knew the overall visual design and the premise of the story, and those were some of the best aspects of my experience with the game. But when it came to the gameplay, the RPG systems, and the polish, Broken Roads was quite underwhelming.

The thing that really raised my expectations for the gameplay, was the character creation. We chose one of the origin stories for the character, and answered a few questions to determine our moral tendencies. Next, it was time to put points into our stats and abilities. The point system was nothing out of the norm for the genre, but it seemed very complex and detailed, making me excited for the same depth and complexity in combat.

Broken Roads Character Creation Stats Menu
As an RPG fan, this screen really excited me for the game. Surely, all these numbers and abilities would make a huge difference in the game, right? Right?

I start the game, and slowly meet the main companions and learn about the state of the world. One thing that I really appreciated in Broken Roads, is getting to learn more about Australian culture and slang. There are tooltips for every Aussie slang in dialogue to explain what they mean. Sure it’s easy to deduce a lot of their meanings by context, but I was so glad to finally learn what “fair dinkum” actually means.

We start our journey and head out of the small starting settlement, meet some NPCs, get to a town, do some side quests, town gets attacked by bandits, NPCs die, we flee, we end the first two chapters of the game, get to level four, and somehow, after all that happened, I have not been in combat even once. I was so confused, after more than two hours, I still didn’t know how the combat would feel in Broken Roads. There were certain cruel choices that I imagine could’ve ended in conflict, but even during the most climactic moment of the game’s opening chapter, when the bandits attack the town, all we can do is flee.

Broken Roads abandoned village
You can’t deny that Broken Roads looks amazing. The post-apocalyptic vibes of the Australian deserts and settlements were immaculate.

I could tell a pacifist playthrough was doable, but I picked the Hired Gun origin story specifically to focus and experience the combat gameplay and see the RPG systems in action. This made the opening hours of Broken Roads feel extremely slow and sometimes tedious. I pushed through, but I could imagine myself giving up on Broken Roads after the first two hours. The story, the world design, the voice acting, and the character designs were all amazing during this time, but an RPG game needs more than that to keep the players invested.

But, I finally got out into the open world, and experienced my first random combat event. I was attacked by a group of giant spiders, because of course that would happen in a post-nuclear war Australia. I have leveled up a few times, I have checked my companions stats, skills, and abilities, and after all this time, I was ready to see what I could do in combat.

Broken Roads, fighting giant spiders in a desert
I’ve fought my fair share of giant spiders in video games, but knowing the game takes place in Australia adds an unsettling level of realism to these encounters.

But the answer was, not much. We had different guns and melee weapons, but ultimately, all I could do, was move and spend my action points on attacking. I couldn’t really tell the difference between my different companions. The different abilities that we each had was almost always a waste of turn that could’ve been spend on shooting from range or smacking enemies in melee. Broken Roads‘ combat looks like the turn-based combat of games such as the XCOM series, with none of the tactical depth that they offer.

At one point, I reset all my stat points and abilities to see if I could get better results. First of all, you get hundreds of points to spend when you reset your skills, giving a false sense of choice and strategy to your decisions. But ultimately, the only actual use I found for them was passing skill checks that require certain abilities.

Broken Roads, map of a settlement.
The settlement maps were both beautiful and handy in exploring the environment.

The only meaningful combat-related decision I made throughout the game, was when we meet an NPC who possesses unique magical powers. They take us through a guided-meditation and asks us questions to teach us some of these supernatural powers. Our answers to these questions, determined what magical powers we would learn. I didn’t know this beforehand, so I chose my answers based on my character’s personality, and ended up with useless and non-synergistic powers. And this, the only RPG choice that could’ve helped me in combat, was irreversible.

I was pretty disappointed with Broken Roads’ gameplay at this point. I wanted to continue the story and see the game through, but I started noticing more unpolished elements. Clicking to interact with the NPCs and the environment took unneccasirly long as the game waited for all of my party to get to their waypoints. Items for side quests would end up in the junk category and I would sell them by mistake, leading to me losing track of multiple quest items. And in the end, a bug halted my progress and ruined my save files, preventing me from finishing the story.

Broken Roads town during night time with small fires spreading around
There is a day and night cycle in Broken Roads that actually affects the game world in a meaningful way. You can meet certain NPCs and encounters only during certain times.

The developers have been notified of the bug, and I don’t think other players will face some of these smaller issues after launch. None of these problems on their own were the reason that I gave up on continuing the game, but the culmination of them, specially the repetitive and bland combat, led to me losing my interest in the game altogether.

As excited as I was when I started playing Broken Roads, as much as I loved the diverse cast of characters, the unique take on the post-nuclear apocalypse trope, the great music and voice acting, and the stunning visual design, it really hurts to write that I did not enjoy my experience with the game. The lack of engaging gameplay and shallow systems completely overshadowed what was good about the game. If you’re a player that can overlook these shortcomings, I really hope you enjoy what Broken Roads has to offer.

Nima played Broken Roads on PC with a review code.

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