Broken Roads Review – The Clue Is In The Name

We, as gamers, are witnessing a renaissance of sorts when it comes to top-down isometric RPG, and there is a newfound hunger for point-and-click worlds, text-based encounters, and intricate RPG systems. We have seen games like Disco Elysium, Baldur’s Gate 3, Wasteland, and Pillars of Eternity spark a new wave of modern players. But, not to sound all hipster, I was there the first time this happened.

I was around in the era of Black Isle Studios, Spiderweb Software, and Interplay. I was around in the golden era of isometric RPGs in the 90’s and having lived through it once, I am loving this newfound interest the gaming community has found in games of this ilk.

This rekindled love of these games has led to a very exciting project finally hitting the digital shelves in the form of Broken Roads, an aborigine-fuelled, Apololyptic Australian Outback adventure, that has all the trappings of a 90’s classic RPG, but with the promise of the modern polish we have come to expect from new releases.

Is this game a blast from the past in the best way possible? Or is it a woeful imitation of past successes? We find out in our Broken Roads Review, conducted on PS5.

Lots of Traffic On These Roads…

It’s rare that I ever start a review with a section on performance, but in the case of Broken Roads, the experience was so badly affected by the poor optimization and user experience that I couldn’t rightly push it down the running order.

Two words. Loading Screens.

As mentioned at the top of this review, I am someone who was around in the era when loading screens was an accepted and necessary evil to play the games we loved, and I feel that I’m more patient than most when it comes to waiting for the next area to load.

However, Broken Roads broke my resolve, and I have come away from the experience and the most powerful takeaway from this narrative-driven adventure is that the load times were a joke.

It’s an unfair comparison, but we are in an era where games like Marvel’s Spiderman 2 can completely eradicate loading times entirely, dropping you into the map seamlessly in fractions of a second.

So why is it that this game, which mirrors formats that were present thirty years ago will have me wait upwards of a minute just to get to the next area to explore?

I can only speak for the PS5 version of this game, but the user experience is enough to put even the most determined player off this title. In my first ten hours of playtime, I would wager anywhere from 3-4 hours was the time spent staring at a static load screen, and in 2024, that’s simply not okay.

But that’s not all, as the game would freeze for extended periods during combat sequences, start random conversations across the map with no prompts, fail to register inputs, a lot of Points of Interest simply didn’t work, and the menuing, UI and various other systems worked in principle, but were such a pain to use.

Again, this may not be as much of a problem on PC, but for console players, this lack of polish will ruin your experience, so I would urge you to wait for extensive patches and updates.

Fair Dinkum, Mate?

Now that we have taken care of the damning performance, I can now talk about the actual content of this game, which at times, threatens to make trudging through these clear design issues worthwhile.

Focusing on the story of the game, you play as one of four different character types, and will be placed in the town of Brookton, where you will take on the role of a farmhand to show your worth and become a member of the Brookton community.

However, before long, you’ll be thrown into a political powderkeg headfirst as Brookton is attacked, and you, along with the surviving members of the settlement, will need to explore the Aussie Outback, form alliances, and ultimately find a new place to settle down and call home.

On paper, it’s a sound premise, and the early chapters truly do show a lot of promise as you get to know the folks that you will be traveling with for the rest of the adventure, but as you go beyond the initial chapters, and the game opens up, you suddenly see just how threadbare the narrative and the branching systems supporting it are.

I could hyper-fixate on several finer details, such as the morality pinwheel system type-casting characters far too early in the game with little opportunity to change or make meaningful decisions.

I could highlight the fact that there were no meaningful rewards for completing quests, and the quests themselves were rather dull. Or, I could mention that you never really grow closer to your party members as the adventure develops.

However, the biggest issue I had with the game is that the story feels so disjointed and poorly constructed. Don’t get it twisted; the writing is actually pretty strong, but the story often felt poorly paced, rushed, and disjointed to the point that characters would often be blissfully unaware of major events that just happened.

Or you would get narrative whiplash as the game throws you from one calamity to another with no explanation.

This game has all the building blocks of a classic RPG story, but it fails to add enough depth and structure to the narrative, with far too few branching paths, a lack of actual decisions to make, and an abundance of lukewarm encounters that wash over you.

I’m A 90’s Kid, Honest!

The story fails to deliver on a number of fronts, but with enough intricate RPG systems in place, the moment-to-moment gameplay could carry you through Broken Roads. That is, if there actually were any.

When I first encountered the waves of menus explaining the systems, it actually filled me with excitement when getting stuck into this Aussie-themed RPG. However, I have come to realize that this game’s aim is to flatter to deceive, as these systems present promise a lot, but actually don’t have a lot of substance.

For example, the game’s combat, in an era where Larian Studios have near-on perfected the isometric DND-style combat system, is laughably basic.

Players can run, attack, or use a handful of rather unhelpful skills to deal with enemies, and it all feels akin to drawing the New York Skyline from memory. You’ll include all the staples like the Empire State Building and Central Park, but you’ll forget all the intricate details that make it a fully realized piece of art, and that’s exactly how Broken Roads feels.

Then you have aspects of the game that are clearly added to appease the old guard like myself, such as the map system that is reminiscent of older Fallout titles. However, even this feels half-baked, as the encounters are dull and repetitive.

Every aspect of this game feels like a vague initiation of something straight from the Interplay era of RPGs. It feels like the developers understood why they liked the old systems, how they looked, and what their purpose was. But the key ingredient that is lacking in almost every area of this game, is how to make it nuanced enough to add value to the game.

Gimme That Retro Jank

It’s rare that I find things to praise when reviewing games as highly anticipated as this, but here I am scratching my head.

Credit where it is due, from an aesthetic point of view, I think Broken Roads finds a lovely balance between graphical modern polish, and retro chic, culminating in an isometric Aussie Outback setting that feels like you’re revealing the expansive map of an old Command and Conquer game, but with less construction and tanks, and more random chats with NPCs.

Thanks to the game’s focus on offering a story that is based around true-to-life Aborigine figures, and the focus on offering a real sense of place when visiting the more built-up areas of the game, you can’t help but feel excited when you step foot in a new settlement, as the map urges you to explore.

The only negative I can throw at the presentation of the game that isn’t performance-related is that the game chooses to offer voice-acted portions very sparingly and often at odd times.

I know this is a big ask in a game with this much dialogue, but this game would benefit massively from a majority voice-acted main storyline, as it would endear the player to the major characters and help lift the words of the page, so to speak.

Closest Alternatives

If you want to play something in the same cricket ground as Broken Roads, then you might want to check out these close alternatives below:

  • Fallout: A Post Nuclear Role Playing Game
  • Bladur’s Gate
  • Neverwinter
  • Pillars of Eternity
  • Tyranny
  • Wasteland
  • Planescape: Torment

Pros

  • An Interesting setting
  • Modern meets retro isometric visuals
  • competent writing in spells

Cons

  • Inexcusably long load times
  • Poor user experience and performance
  • disjointed story
  • Shallow RPG systems

The Verdict – 5/10

Overall, when it comes to Broken Roads, the clue is in the name. As it stands, this game is a broken hodgepodge of ideas, which threatens to shine in brief spells but, for the most part, underwhelms and serves as a vague and unflattering initiation of Golden-Era isometric RPGs.

While it does some interesting things with the Aborigine theme, and has some core building blocks needed to put together a standout RPG of this nature, I just can’t recommend this game in its current state.

Maybe when the game receives extensive patches to speed up load times, fix broken UI and narrative branches, and perhaps adds more voice acting, then I might be able to revise my position, but for now, Broken Roads might just be the most underwhelming and disappointing game I have played in 2024 so far.

Play Log

Callum played a total of 15 hours of Broken roads, with approximately a quarter of that time being eaten up by load screens. Which ultimately led to Callum giving up on this game before the story’s end. He may go back to this in years to come, but it will take some time to get this sour taste out of their mouth.

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