Broken Roads review – Swagging through the post-apocalypse

Broken Roads is packed with moral quandaries, and plenty of reward for your strife.
broken roads review pc

Who will you be at the end of the world? Will you be a fair leader, making decisions based on careful analyses, research, and just cause? Will you go with your gut? You’d better choose fast, because in Broken Roads, every choice counts – and every choice may lead to the collapse of postmodern society.

There are choices I made in Broken Roads that I deeply regret. At the end of the road, they reflected badly on my morals, and on my trust in the citizens of post-apocalyptic Western Australia. I trusted one person too many, and their bad decisions caused an entire town to fall, dooming a people to starve and die in the wasteland. But there are choices I’m proud of. People I chose to save against advice, who turned out to be a new lynchpin, who guided the people of their hometown to glory. I saved a child in search of purpose. I liberated an enslaved women longing for freedom.

It’s in these choices that your path through Broken Roads winds – and what makes it such a unique, fascinating, and layered RPG.

In this uniquely Australian tale, developed by Torquay-based studio Drop Bear Bytes, you are a survivor in the post-apocalypse, forced from your home base after an attack by a band of raiders. In this vision of Australia, post-catastrophic war, the towns of Western Australia have become isolated, with a view to protect their borders from outside incursion. Some folks have chosen the deadly route, closing off their towns with high fences and defences, shooting at visitors as they approach.

Others have become havens for survivors, inviting in all-comers for a brewing pot of conflicting beliefs and morals. As the pseudo-leader of a troop of off-shoot warriors, you must approach these towns to find true safety for your people – but this devolves to bargaining between towns, as you become a power broker of sorts, completing various quests that determine the future survival of each town.

>broken roads game
Image: Drop Bear Bytes

Do you depose the mayor of Merredin, knowing their removal may spark a revolution? Do you cut off the power supply to one of Southern Cross’ greatest weapons, knowing it will mean invasion by a rival, more powerful town? On the surface, these choices seem simple, but Broken Roads goes to great lengths to illuminate the complications of meddling.

If you depose the mayor of Merredin, you may threaten the balance and peace of the town. It will disrupt their policy of indenturing outsiders to unfair lifelong service, but at the cost of a workable society where the value of labour is understood. Freedom is essential, but without it, the building blocks crumble.

If you cut off the power in Southern Cross, you’re presented with another moral quandary. Invasion by a rival town threatens peace and security, but it will endear you to the magic-infused town of Kalgoorlie, and allow you to continue your quest with powerful new allies.

There are threads in Broken Roads that weave themselves incredibly well, complicating your journey with questions of morality and humanity. You’re constantly forced to consider your beliefs, and the roots of your choices, more deeply, analysing action and consequence, and your place as an outsider.

These choices reshape the game and your path forward so strongly that I suspect any playthrough of Broken Roads is likely to be wildly different, compared to the next.

>broken roads gameplay
Image: Drop Bear Bytes

Regardless of your path into the Outback, the game’s framing narrative will retain its shape. Beyond the moral quandaries, you’ll spend your time in the game exploring a dark vision of Western Australia, defined by the outcomes of war. The world is harsh and unforgiving, and as you travel through towns, you’ll face off against looming threats on all sides.

There’s roaming bands of irradiated spiders to contend with, and snapping dingos and drop bears – not to mention raiders and travellers who may attempt to derail your path. In these moments, you’ll have the choice to flee, or to face down your enemies in snappy turn-based combat segments.

Combat is used sparingly within Broken Roads, but it’s implemented very well, with an XCOM-like system requiring strategic use of cover, and spending action points well. Some battles are brutal, requiring you to level up or travel to new towns in search of better weapons and opportunities. In this path to gain new powers and allies, you might stumble onto another story thread, or another slice of life in the post-apocalypse.

You may discover a small child in need of a toy. You might find that toy in a far distant corner. Threads dangle wildly, and then they come together. Each area of your map seems disparate, but they’re connected by conflict, struggle, and the need to survive.

The road forward in this conflict isn’t always coherent – dangling plot threads about emerging magic powers and strange energies rumbling beneath Kalgoorlie feel underbaked, compared to the grittier realism found in most towns – but Drop Bear Bytes has created and managed a compelling mix of ideas in this bleak adventure.

>broken roads review
Image: Drop Bear Bytes

The game’s inspirations – Pillars of Eternity, Disco Elysium, Fallout, and Baldur’s Gate – are incredibly obvious, but no so much that Broken Roads feels like it’s treading the same paths. It’s an RPG brimming with cool, complex explorations about what it means to survive against all odds, and particularly in the arid terrain of Australia.

The folks of Broken Roads survive with a sense of stubbornness and humour that is a well-realised study of the stereotypically laid back Australian culture. There’s meat pies and lamingtons in stock in the game’s shops, and plenty of references to cricket and local pop culture – but it’s also worth noting the devotion to Australianisms and exploration of history isn’t just surface level.

Broken Roads should be recognised for its devotion to depicting Australian culture accurately, and for engaging with a slew of cultural consultants to depict its prominent Indigenous Australian characters well. As you travel through Broken Roads, you’ll learn more about Aboriginal culture, relationships, languages, and expertise.

Given many Australian-made games shy away from depicting Aboriginal culture entirely, out of fear of misrepresentation or inaccuracy, Drop Bear Bytes should be commended for its devotion to engaging with consultants, and for including Indigenous culture so prominently in the game. It’s in this level of detail and attention that Broken Roads shines.

Read: Bringing Indigenous cultural expertise to game development with Broken Roads

Where the game is only mildly let down, as of penning this review, is in its performance and loading times. The game was delayed a week prior to its former release date in November 2023, to address performance concerns and ensure that all player pathways were coherent – but there are still issues present in the game.

In my particular playthrough, I encountered long loading times between towns, stutters and pauses while loading combat, and one particularly odd issue where a knife I attempted to sell continually replicated, allowing me to sell it again and again for hundreds of dollars. In multiple instances, the game froze once I entered a town, and I could no longer control my companions. This transferred across saves and restarts, so I had to load an earlier autosave.

While these problems may be fixed in future, they’re worth noting on launch – only because they do somewhat dampen the adventure, and cause a lot of stress when entering and exiting towns.

Beyond this, I was stunned by my time with Broken Roads. Deft, deep storytelling can be found in every facet of the game, with its choice-based narrative feeling very well told. The consequences of your actions can be devastating, but even when the game delivers its final epilogue, you know that the choices you made were your own.

You may trample your own path through the post-apocalypse, but you must be ready to accept the consequences. In exploring this concept, and allowing human morals and values to shape each individual journey through the post-apocalypse, the tale of Broken Roads lands with a devastating impact.

Four stars: ★★★★

Broken Roads
PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
Drop Bear Bytes
Versus Evil
Release Date: 
10 April 2024

A copy of Broken Roads for PC was played on the Asus ROG Ally for the purposes of this review. GamesHub reviews are rated on a five-point scale.

Leah J. Williams is a gaming and entertainment journalist who's spent years writing about the games industry, her love for The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and every piece of weird history she knows. You can find her tweeting @legenette most days.