Broken Roads Review – Tough Choices

Broken Roads Review

Playing Drop Bear Bytes’ new CRPG Broken Roads, it’s pretty clear the game has a couple of standout aspects. The first is the setting and environment, a post-apocalyptic Australian outback. It’s authentic to the land and its culture in a way we haven’t seen before. The second Big Deal is the game’s morality system, which does a fantastic job of shaping characters, choices, and situations. Together, the result is a unique roleplaying experience.

It’s Philosophical

In Broken Roads, the player’s moral compass is literally that. A changing graphic indicates where on the compass dialogue choices, actions and decisions push the player. Starting with character creation — four starting characters and a series of questions — the game explores humanism, utilitarianism, Machiavellianism, and nihilism. For the ethics and philosophy challenged, these well-known ideas focus on how one acts in the world. At the extremes, some people act for the good of the order. Some act entirely selfishly. There’s a lot of grey area in between.

Broken Order is not the least bit cagey about where player choices land. It often clearly indicates which option is which. And even when the game doesn’t tell you which choice is utilitarian, for example, it’s pretty obvious. If all Broken Roads did was blather on about competing ethical systems, it would dull going. Where things become interesting is the way choices impact events, quests, characters, and dialogue.

Most CRPGs have some sort of morality system hidden under the hood. In Broken Roads, the systems take center stage. While it makes for some fascinating and impactful choices, it is anything but subtle. Some players might be put off by the emphasis on thought and dialogue versus action. The game’s dialogue veers from slang-heavy, profanity-laden everyday speech to extended philosophical discussions.

Twisty Road Through the Outback

Broken Roads has a main narrative quest, but its focus is on following a number of meandering side quests and characters. The game begins with the player choosing one of four character types, which loosely align with traditional RPG classes. Points are assigned along typical lines as well. The starting characters determine where players enter the game and run through some tutorial activities. Eventually, all the players converge in a small town called Bookton. Bookton is attacked by Mad Max-style raiders, a party is formed, and the story proper begins. The 20-hour game’s big questions are what was behind the attack, and pressing on to the city of Kilgoorlie for the answers.

But like most RPGs, the main quest is simply the trunk of a branching tree. The player and party are sent on a wide range of missions, covering an impressively rendered version of the post-apocalyptic Australian wasteland. Broken Road shines in the variety of quest types, and they often explicitly tie into the game’s morality system and ethical explorations. Some are a little too on the nose, like the quest to find a series of philosophical texts.

Broken Roads’ art style is painterly but relatively detailed, even if the color palette is muted and grows a bit repetitive. The flora and fauna of the Australian outback are impressively rendered. The game pays respectful homage to several cultural traditions. From the slang-laden dialogue to the naming conventions, it’s clear that Broken Roads understands its origins.

Combat Lite

Unfortunately, players coming to Broken Roads from ARPGs like Fallout (the original games) or Baldur’s Gate will find its combat and RPG systems a bit lacking. In particular, the turn-based combat is very basic. There are no systems like cover mechanics or line-of-sight considerations. In fact, the game’s camera sometimes struggles with finding a helpful point of view.

Likewise, while there is a leveling mechanic and nods to other traditional RPG systems, they too are bare-bones. While they don’t exactly feel tacked on, it’s clear the developers lavished much more time and attention on the game’s heady ideas at the expense of action or character development systems.

An Ethical Dilemma

Broken Roads delivers an engaging exploration of competing ethical systems in the guise of a CRPG. A respectful and authentic setting and characters sweeten the deal, making philosophy fun. The writing is mostly spot-on and entertaining. All that is good news for fans of the genre. Less successful: the game’s awkwardly blended or superficial combat and RPG mechanics. They’re not great, but they don’t seriously undermine the core of what makes Broken Roads unique.

***PS5 code provided by the publisher for review***

The Good

  • Smart and thoughtful
  • Interesting, unique setting
  • Morality system
  • Excellent music

The Bad

  • Basic RPG systems and combat
  • Some bugs and broken quests
  • Action-focused gamers might be bored