Broken Roads Review

The number of games set wholly in Australia (that aren’t sports games) is terribly small, so as an Australian, I was most excited to learn of Broken Roads, a CRPG set in post-apocalyptic Western Australia, even more so upon laying eyes on it. Set within the post-apocalyptic society that remained in Western Australia’s wheat belt you blow in from wherever to work around the lovely town of Brookton before it’s attacked. From there you try to find a way to rebuild and involve yourself in numerous other people’s problems.

Shortly before it was originally set to launch in November, I’d played some of the game, but it was not fit to release so they delayed it by five months. Sadly, even after several additional months of tuning, I still found similar issues to what I experienced last year.

You’re quizzed at the start of the game and, depending on your responses, your character is placed one of into four philosophical quadrants on a moral compass: Utilitarian, Machiavellian, Nihilist, or Humanist. What quadrant you’re in gives you some different dialogue options, but also some combat traits such as the confusing “don’t die on me” one which would momentarily swap characters' places to take damage for each other.

The combat is turn-based involving movement points, action points, and a bit of cover. You can equip two weapons and some consumables, and switching between the weapons takes an action point. Ammo is in infinite supply, but it has to be reloaded occasionally during combat. Outside of story segments, you’ll be ambushed traveling over the world map between discoverable locations. I did several fights which gave me little reward until eventually the game decided to give me at least the weapons they were holding. There are skills you can use instead of just shooting or chopping, such as putting up an overwatch to then witness the enemy stay in place so it doesn’t go off.

You also learn magic through the arduous process of just talking to a guy. This gave me three additional skills on my tree but I mostly just stuck using the fire ability for some crowd control, although unfortunately, it had awful reach. Your skill points level up the different skills to tiers that increase their effectiveness, so I mostly stuck entirely on the gun skills to get through. Initially, I thought the combat was a bit tough, but after leveling up my character, my only struggle was the controls. Constantly I’d walk out of cover because of a misclick (no double tap to move) and fight to hover over the enemy instead of a corpse or moving right next to them. Often I hardly had to engage with the skills and mostly just stuck with shooting people, though DJ’s area-of-effect heal got used sometimes. Because of that, I barely touched consumables besides using all my hand grenades on some spiders and I didn’t regret that. The only boss encounter I had in the game was so piss easy it was over in two turns, and I didn’t even have my full party. However, that was after reloading to get the fight to get out of the softlock it put me in (which has supposedly been patched).

There are some skill checks here and there but it’s not very often. I’m a bit more used to perhaps newer CRPGs, and at some points, I wondered why I couldn’t just attack people, but one skill check did let me take out a leader before the fight began. The party system in general is a mess, whenever I’m in Merredin, the base town, I’m by myself but whenever I want to leave I have to pick multiple companions (and it never saves my choices). In every other town, I have to wait for all five of us to trot into our exact spaces when I wish to interact with any item or NPC. At least I do get the benefit of some characters such as Cole being useful to complete tasks outside of combat. I found my inventory to be full of a lot of items I wasn’t sure were going to be of any use, especially the food which healed so little compared to the bandages I rarely touched. Gear is hard to come by and quite expensive but there is a system to upgrade your weapons that is a fair bit more affordable.

The story itself seems to start strong giving you the moral dilemma of forcing you to for someone who keeps generational “indentured servants”. Yet aside from helping a specific one, there was not anything I could do about the situation unless I was supposed to take the other politician at face value, but I ended up helping neither as I went to investigate something more interesting and the debate started without me. For a game that likes to bring up philosophy, it doesn’t make a point of having it mean anything. Bugs railroaded my journey to Kalgoorlie and there were only a couple of options to choose from. I dare say there might be a better or “true” ending, but the only one I had access to hardly made even the slightest difference when I made my final decision.

My party members rarely reacted to anything, and if they did it was much too late. I’d done something pretty bad since I was locked out of all other paths, and it wasn’t until I’d teleported back to Merredin because I’d bought a sheep that they started laying into me, even then they still stuck around. None of the characters are ever particularly developed throughout the main journey, but I suppose that’s hard to do when all they do is follow me around despite some never liking me. Whenever I head back into town I don’t have anything new I can say to the people of Brookton. At least they remembered to keep calling me Noodles from time to time.

Initially, I thought I hadn’t encountered that many bugs, just some fleeing enemies staying still on the map, or loading an encounter where the bandits I was facing were already dead on the ground. Yet as I continued to journey, I once again came across the same problem I had five months ago, I couldn’t figure out how to progress the game and I wasn’t sure if it was because of something I wasn’t doing or if it was bugged. A major progression block is getting passage into Kalgoorlie, with no direction on how to do that. I needed to bring up conversation topics that weren’t showing and talk to characters that might be where they say there are but I can’t even click on them.

Thankfully I only had to do one nasty thing that did eventually work and I could continue the game to beat it in under twelve hours (with a lot of mucking around because of this). This issue was compounded by how quests list all the objectives together in no particular order even when they result in different things or directly conflict with each other. There are many odd design decisions mixed in with bugs and perhaps performance problems since whenever I move between locations I have to wait a few seconds before I can click anywhere to move. A lot of times, I’ll be teleported somewhere in a scene to just talk for a second before once again being taken somewhere else. It’s particularly annoying as movement is slow and sluggish, getting around towns is always a bother. Plenty of quests involve going back and forth between places which is bland enough but once I was told to get a pass by a guy, and when I went to get the pass they told me to go back to the guy I was just talking to, who wouldn’t let me do it prior. 

I liked what I heard of the soundtrack, especially in combat, but listening closely, it seems either the song in question went all over the place or it wasn’t sure what track to play and kept changing. Voice acting in this game is sparse with a bit at the start, only a few lines here and there besides the narration. One character who perhaps has the most voice acting really didn’t sound too great. Major cutscenes are just still images, accompanied by okay narration. There is a constant glossary highlighting the definition for not only game-specific terms but all the Australian slang that worldwide players may not understand. The only real point of joy in this game is the visuals (not the characters mind you) with a gorgeous painterly style that really depicts the Australian outback as it is - rusted tin roofs, scrub, and dirt. The gardens in Lake Deborah are the most breathtaking location there is.

I was excited to see my country represented properly in a video game, and that did happen. Sadly the game itself isn’t worth a damn, it’s a classic style RPG but none of my choices matter and I can hardly make any of them. Many systems and choices are just odd and make it unfun to play. They have a roadmap to change some issues I had, and some minor odd design decisions have already been fixed, but we’ll have to wait and see if that really fixes the poor story. The only real redeeming quality this game has is the art.