Broken Roads Review – IGN

Broken Roads Review – IGN

This might sound familiar: a devastating tragedy has ushered in the apocalypse, and in its wake people have been forced to adapt to a harsh, lawless climate. Australian studio Drop Bear Bytes has designed a classic turn-based RPG set in (you guessed it) a post-apocalyptic Australia, reducing it to an unforgiving desert full of man-eating spiders, raiders, and even bloodthirsty kangaroos. While that setup is a little too familiar, what’s supposed to set Broken Roads apart is an intricate morality system alongside its more traditional RPG character sheet. That seems incredibly promising at first, making me look forward to tackling some difficult moral questions – but after 30 hours of play, it’s clear Broken Roads falls distinctly short of its own goals, to the point it feels somewhat unfinished.

The specific circumstances under which you meet your adventuring party change depending on your background, but generally nothing connects you to the group of characters you travel with other than bad fortune. You’ll always end up travelling to the town of Brookton, which is quickly attacked by raiders from a technologically advanced settlement and burned to the ground, and then inexplicably stay with the town’s only survivors instead of going back to wherever you came from. Broken Road’s characters and plot are immediately so paper thin that they’re genuinely difficult to talk about – you’re introduced to a bunch of people who don’t have much personality other than being hard boiled survivors, and then you essentially become responsible for finding them a new home. Why are you getting involved? Why do a bunch of strangers trust you to make the hard decisions? Party members mostly don’t speak again after their initial introduction, so it’s difficult to tell. Broken Roads even introduces some magical realism later on to keep things interesting, but these plot points aren’t really set up well.

The morality system is interesting in theory, but falls pretty flat.

The question at the heart of this story is one many post apocalyptic games ask: who decides who should live and who should die? But Broken Roads just doesn’t have any interesting answers, which is particularly disappointing when an intricate morality system is supposed to be its centrepiece. Where other RPGs are happy to let you choose a rough alignment such as lawful good or neutral evil and call it a day, Broken Roads describes character morality by using actual philosophical principles and gives you a full questionnaire to determine your character’s beliefs. Are you a Nihilist who puts themselves first in any given situation, or are you more of a Humanist who wants the best possible outcome for the largest number of people? That’s interesting in theory, but because you have so little control over what happens, this idea falls pretty flat.

There are very few conversations involving a moral choice in the first place, and you’re locked out of pretty much all other conversation options once you’ve started down a given alignment path, leaving no opportunities to try something drastically different later. In that way, the hard decisions Broken Roads teases you with are actually pretty straightforward, and the story doesn’t change in any interesting ways from the very few moral choices you can make anyway. For example, you can involve yourself in a town’s elections, but which mayor gets chosen doesn’t have any consequences on the larger events, and isn’t even brought up again in any meaningful way after the fact.

One time I even rescued a person only for them to die immediately afterwards, completely without explanation or acknowledgement from any other characters. This could well be a bug, but it’s by no means clear – sometimes quests fail or resolve themselves if you don’t get to them in time, though these similarly have no effect that I can see on the storyline or your party. I went back a few times to see if different decisions would dramatically change anything, but they largely boiled down to disappointing dialogue differences: do you want to be mean or helpful? Broken Roads didn’t give me enough reasons to care about what I was doing as a result, and when I did make the effort, the rewards were pretty paltry.

Broken Roads is often just a long line of fetch quests.

Broken Roads is often just a long line of fetch quests, which doesn’t really make it feel as if you’re fighting for survival in the Outback. It’s also frequently tedious stuff – in order to infiltrate a community of philosophers, I have to talk to everyone, debate some characters in philosophy, and then scour several cities for a collection of philosophy books before I can proceed. This does make some sense, I’m making an effort in order to befriend a community, after all. It’s just… not fun to do, and it’s often not clear that you need to complete a random side quest to actually continue with the main task. Sometimes a character will ask me something, but forget important details (for example, exactly how many of a specific item they are actually asking for), leaving me to look it up in the journal. A lot of quests are busy work with no alternative, like exhausting every conversation option with a character. Sometimes, I even had to repeat conversations I already had in order to advance a quest. Broken Roads either tells me exactly where to go, or it tells me nothing at all, and both can be equally frustrating.

You can get into fights along the way, though battles happen very rarely either as part of the story (which can mostly be avoided) or as random encounters while travelling the world map (which you can choose to flee from). Combat, which is turn-based in classic RPG fashion, is incredibly frustrating thanks to a very rudimentary UI that makes choosing targets difficult, as well as enemy AI that makes opponents do almost nothing but attack you constantly – even if they kill their allies or set themselves on fire in the process. It doesn’t really matter whether you fight a band of raiders or some angry kangaroos, as these fights play out pretty much the same every time, hampered by slow animations, a lack of enemy variety, bugs, and few really interesting skills to shake things up.

Speaking of angry kangaroos – while it’s not very exciting to look at, a lot of love has clearly gone into Broken Roads’ Australian setting. The writing contains plenty of Australian in-jokes and a lot of slang that those of us who don’t speak Aussie can even hover over for a translation. And though it may not deliver in terms of story, the writing is very detailed and atmospheric, even if the occasional voice-over narration is pretty difficult to listen to. It’s just a shame that writing doesn’t deliver where it matters most.

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