Broken Roads Review – Roadworks Required

Broken Roads Review - Roadworks Required

Broken Roads, the long-gestating CRPG debut of Australian Studio Drop Bear Bytes, is finally here. You may have noticed one or all of my articles here on Player2 regarding Broken Roads and if you were to suggest that it is one of my most anticipated games for this year you would be correct. Filled with a post-apocalyptic outback Australia, populated with raiders, angry kangaroos, mutated wombats the dreaded drop bears, combined with branching storylines, gorgeous hand-drawn art and more Aussie slang and idioms than you can shake a stick at. The team at Drop Bear Bytes have aimed for the stars, and while Broken Roads is a bold debut, some significant issues will affect players’ enjoyment as they journey throughout the game world.

Starting the game involves creating your character, picking from one of four backgrounds that provide different starting bonuses. After you have finished assigning perk points and building your character with the skills you want you will be faced with a questionnaire that will designate your position within the Moral Compass, a mechanism that restricts actions and dialogue options depending on where you currently fit within one of the four alignments.

Breaking it down into bite-size chunks the Moral Compass holds the following philosophical meanings:

  • Humanist – Each Person’s Dignity matters most
  • Utilitarian – Everyone’s happiness combined matters most
  • Machiavellian – My group matters most
  • Nihilist – I matter most

Dialogue and action options will be available that correspond with your position on the Moral Compass and you gain perks that can both help and hinder your combat experience, like the Humanist perk ‘Dignity for All’, where you will be prevented from making risky shots that could potentially harm your companions. For those who prefer the Nihilist approach, the ‘Die for Me’ perk will have you swapping positions with people to avoid damage or letting someone behind you take the bullet that was meant for you. As your alignment changes you will lose and access different perks, and depending on how you play it is possible to have perks from two different philosophical leanings active at the same time.

Speaking of combat, the combat in Broken Roads is turn-based with your character and companions all proficient in different techniques and each one limited by movement and action points. If you have played any of the original Fallout or XCOM games then you will be ready to play. For those that haven’t, there is a small tutorial that gives you the basics. While there were a few moments early on that had me running away, lest I face a total party kill, once I had better quality weapons I was able to wipe out anyone I came across with little tactical thought or effort. 

In a decision that I have always thought surprising, the team at Drop Bear Bytes have set the companion characters to level up without input from yourself, forcing you to use the characters within the roles the developers have designed for them. This meant that certain characters, by the nature of their build, had very little movement and would often be left behind when moving during combat. It is a small gripe and nothing that a sniper rifle won’t fix. The other major issue I had with the combat came from the turn order and trying to figure out which enemy was going to attack next. Now I understand in the real world a person won’t be highlighted as the person who is about to attack you but let’s face it, in the real world you don’t see everyone waiting patiently for their turn in the exchange of lead jellybeans. Most of the time, when fighting humans you can figure out who is likely to be attacked next, if you have two enemies that are the same model then it’s a 50/50 guess, but when you are facing a herd of feral drop bears and you want to try and prevent a mauling you better pray to your divine being of preference as there is no way to tell them apart.

Before we get to the main component of Broken Roads I want to take a bit of time to talk about the world the team at Drop Bear Bytes has built. Not only do the hand-drawn settlements, people and animals look gorgeous, but the team has made sure to base the locations on their real-world counterparts. The hotel in Ardath, Wave Rock, and the Merridin District Hall, the in-game home to the Hunters and Collectors guilds, are all accurate recreations of the real-world locales that the player will visit throughout their journey.

These locales will also have NPCs and animals just going about their lives. Australian fauna is very present throughout your journey, and not in the typically expected ‘everything in this country is trying to kill you either’. Yes, you will face angry kangaroos, giant spiders and bloodthirsty drop bears, but take notice of how much care and love has been put into their models to make them as authentically Australian as our world-renowned murderous fauna can be. The game is also chock full of Aussie slang and colloquialisms with handy translations to prevent baffling and confusing international players. The one thing that I think would have topped it off would be if you could find notes or diaries that could help to flesh out the world, such as how Ardath became the hive of scum and villainy it currently is.

Also evident is a deep respect and acknowledgement of the traditional owners of the Australian nation. From the acknowledgement of country to the inclusion of traditional Noongar terms, the team at Drop Bear Bytes have made sure to respect the indigenous culture of Australia and incorporate it into the game. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there are several characters that you will encounter and speak with that provide information about the culture of indigenous Australians.

Here is where it starts to get a bit difficult for me. As noted, I have been following this game for a long time, and I really wanted it to be awesome and blow me away. What I got though, was an experience that at times left me confused and wondering just what the hell I was supposed to be doing and if what I was seeing was intentional or the result of the types of bugs that RPGs like Broken Roads are known for. Some of these are simple continuity issues, like a character noted in one of the still cutscenes as participating in a bake-off, even though I had helped get them smuggled out of the settlement to escape indentured servitude, but other quests sometimes seem like there is no way to progress them at all.

The issue of not being able to complete quests is compounded by the notion that the quest could be bugged or you just have missed something. Broken Roads does not hold your hand at all. There are no quest markers that lead you to your destination, and very few hints to set you on the right path. For example, one quest you receive shortly after arriving in Merridin tasks you with finding a black rectangle and a white rope. That is all the information you are initially given, and it is only after you travel to another area that you can question the quest giver and find out that the black rectangle is in Merridin and the white rope is in Kalgoorlie. Even that is not much to go on and it was only through dumb luck that I managed to find the first piece in Merridin. As it stands, the location of the white rope is in an area that most players will not even see until they are past the point of no return, locking them out from completing the quest at all. I was about ready to write off the quest as bugged out and continue, and it was only because I decided to check out every inch of Kalgoorlie for the quest item before continuing that I found the item to complete it.

What would be the biggest issue for me came at the end of the game. Now, the companion characters do not add a lot to the world. They each had their worldview and would throw out their opinion on something every once in a while but as far as I could tell everyone was ok with my life choices, they certainly had no problem following me around for the entirety of the game, which is important to note here, as I never changed my party from the same four characters for almost my entire journey. Then we came to the games big bad…

Here is where I truly had a “What the F*$%” moment as I was playing. Having followed me throughout the entire game, with little indication of how they felt about me one way or another when presented with the choice to walk away and abandon me, the bastards took it. One of them convinced a second to leave and another one followed. Three of the four companions walked away, and while I prevailed I was not happy about being blindsided like that. So I reloaded a save right before the encounter and took the option to surrender. I shit you not, the same companion that led the mutiny against me chastised me for being willing to surrender and questioned if I was serious. Now I’m paraphrasing here but I said “Hold my beer, we’re gunna fight”, and the bastards left me again. It is a hilarious story to tell now, but I was pissed at the time and I honestly cannot say if it was because of a bug or not. There is no surefire way to gauge your companions’ feelings about you other than a single line of dialogue when you speak to them in Merridin.

There was also a significant disconnect between what was presented in the narrative of the game world before the final confrontation and the repercussions of that confrontation. It is hard because going into further detail would divulge late-game spoilers.

Do not take what I have said here to label Broken Roads as a bad or broken game. While it does have some stumbles it is an RPG that does away with the traditional good/bad decisions and has room for those moments where even the stalwart paragon of justice has to get down in the mud to get his way. As I mentioned at the top, the team at Drop Bear Bytes have come out of the gates with a bang, and with some more refinements to gameplay and making sure the bugs get stamped out, Broken Roads will be a great debut game that shows off the Australian Outback, bloodthirsty drop bears and all, to the world.

Broken Roads Review Box

Broken Roads was reviewed on PC with a code kindly provided by the developer.

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