broken roads review

Broken Roads Review – Cactus

(Australia, slang) Non-functional, broken, exhausted.

I’ve been dreading having to write this review.

Critiquing a creative work that talented people put their heart and soul into is never a pleasurable experience when you can’t speak positively about the end result.

I’ve had over two weeks with the Steam version of Broken Roads now and several days with the Xbox Series X version, and right up until a large patch landed 48 hours before the review embargo, I’d found both to be blatantly defective products unworthy of being charged money for.

To detail my exact experience, I created my initial character on PC and hit a bug after completing a core quest around a dozen hours in that would disable the user interface and controls every time I entered a new location from the overworld map. I loaded a save from hours earlier and worked my way back up to that same quest only to hit the same exact bug.

broken roads review

A large patch then dropped, which didn’t fix it, but I figured that maybe the saves from that character run were just too tainted. I created an entirely new character of a different class origin, made different choices through their journey, and then hit the same bug again at the exact same place once I’d gotten back there a second time. Another enormous patch then hit several days later which didn’t remedy the situation on either character.

I was then given a code for the Xbox version. I selected a different origin again from the four available, made entirely different choices throughout around six hours of gameplay, and then hit a bug where the controls stopped working entirely when I’d enter a new location shortly before that same core quest beat which triggered a similar bug the prior two times.

Then, in the evening two days out from when reviews were due to go live, another large patch showed up for the Steam version. I checked both of my characters and they still had the same game-breaking bug. By this point I’d become entirely exhausted by the whole review assignment, but thought it professionally responsible to give it one more crack.

broken roads review

I created another character, choosing the fourth and final origin class, rushed back through to the point where the game had broken the prior three times, and this time had no such bug.

I very nearly screamed.

I played several more hours with that one working character the next day, but of course with so little time left on the clock, I had no reasonable hope of completing it before the deadline. Frankly, what I had been experiencing with Broken Roads outside of the bugs did not leave me desiring to really spend more time with it regardless.

All of the catastrophic issues above aren’t even to speak of the countless, more ignorable bugs I encountered during all of these runs also, which do feel noteworthy given that the game was delayed several months for reasons of polish. It’s also not to speak of the fact that Broken Roads’ systems of interaction, puzzle solution, and consequence of choice are frequently so oblique that it can become truly difficult to determine when things are bugged or simply working to the designer’s strange intention.

I tried with Broken Roads, I really tried.

broken roads review

For those who haven’t been following, Broken Roads is an isometric role-playing game set in post-apocalypse Western Australia that’s heavily inspired by the pre-Bethesda Fallout games.

It’s a cool idea, and the realisation of shattered towns scattered across the outback is truly beautiful thanks to terrific visual design and a powerfully-effective score. I must admit that most everything else before the bugs hit, and on continued play afterward, left me fairly cold though.

Broadly speaking the writing is fine. You’ll find yourself in some cleverly crafted situations with no clean way out, and as an elder Australian millennial I was tickled by some of the very specific jokes and references to stuff from my childhood that get made in the margins. This is an RPG that puts significant focus upon the party members you acquire along the way though, and it feels like a cardinal sin that most of them fall so flat as characters that I routinely struggled to recall who was who when leaving a hub location and having to choose which four to take with me from the list of their names.

broken roads review

Broken Roads, at least from what I was able to play of it, seems to aim for its characters to stay firmly rooted in a quite grounded setting. The problem with this is that no-one stands out enough from the jump to get you terribly invested in them as a role-player, nor are any of them charming or memorable enough to get you excited at the prospect of spending time with them. The voice actors do a good job with what they’re given, but in a world populated largely with common people just trying to get by, most of the non-player characters you meet end up feeling just like that and little else.

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Maybe in the finale it all explodes into some over-the-top Mad Max-ian silliness of heightened personalities and chaotic craziness, I unfortunately wasn’t able to find out. If an RPG fails to get you interested in its core cast within the first dozen hours that you spend with them though, that’s a bit of a fundamental problem.

broken roads review

On the flipside of the coin from all of the walking and talking is combat. 

There’s an achievement for getting through the entire game without killing anyone, but I’m not sure how this would be possible without an intense amount of luck and save-scumming. There were frequent instances where I’d discover a new location on the overworld and more or less instantly be attacked. You’ll get pulled into random enemy encounters while traversing the overworld also, but thankfully there’s no penalty for simply opting to flee when faced with them.

Combat itself is… fine. It’s not especially deep but it doesn’t really need to be. Its biggest problem is with how correctly highlighting your intended target can get extremely janky when multiple characters are right up close to one another. Given the fixed camera angle, this gets significantly worse if they’re standing in front of one another or if terrain is obscuring any part of them. As a turn-based system of engagement it’s serviceable, but it’s not very exciting or tactically satisfying on the whole.

broken roads review

The systems of equipping your character and their companions for combat are frustratingly old-fashioned. There’s no simple way to compare the stats of one weapon to another within your inventory, and getting your armaments upgraded is all done using the games dialogue system, meaning you’re just telling an NPC ‘please upgrade my hunting rifle’. Which hunting rifle though? I’m carrying nine of them.

Broken Roads does tout one key role-playing mechanic that I really like though, ‘the Moral Compass’.

This is basically an alignment dial with four quadrants which swings and broadens or narrows and focuses depending on the choices you make. Each quadrant has different perks within it granting passive effects or combat bonuses, and going hard down one particular path unlocks deeper options but narrows your overall philosophical view. It’s a wonderfully clever system and deserves praise for its design and implementation.

As I stated up front, I really dreaded having to write this review.

Broken Roads is a hugely ambitious work from a small indie team, and I give full marks to them for their attempt.

broken roads review

It’s entirely possible, however unlikely, that the back portion of the game is a different beast from what I was able to play. After four attempts and roughly 25 hours spent on an adventure that I really wasn’t particularly enjoying to begin with though, I frankly do not feel compelled to ever go back and find out in the future. 

Due to the utterly disastrous experience I had during the majority of my time with it, assigning Broken Roads any score higher than zero is asking that I give the game massive benefit of the doubt as it becomes publicly available. 

Another patch went live for the Steam version overnight, this one weighing in at a hefty 1.9GB, and so it feels somehow unfair to give the game a completely failing grade given the avalanche of couldn’t-be-more-last-minute bandaids and adjustments that have been applied. Of course the extreme lateness of which many of these fixes have arrived means that I cannot really test them either. 

Given how seismically the game’s stability has shifted every few days during the review period and how large the game is, the past few weeks of play time that critics have been privy to feel as if they’ve been rendered largely irrelevant to whatever the day one discourse ends up being anyway. 

Broken Roads attempts to put an Australian spin on the classic Fallout formula. Unfortunately it succeeds just as much at aping vibes from the modern iterations of those games, as just like each of them, it’s also releasing in a dramatically buggy state. At this stage, I can’t in good faith recommend a purchase of the game at launch.

[Editor’s Note: While we do usually score our game reviews, given the massive variation in the pre-launch experience and the unclear state of things at launch, we’ve made the call to not assign Broken Roads a final number.]