Broken Roads is an upcoming “cerebral” narrative-driven RPG developed by the Australian-based studio Drop Bear Bytes. It’s inspired by classics such as Fallout and Baldur’s Gate, with a touch of Disco Elysium’s dialogue-heavy, intelligent edge.

Game Director and studio Co-Founder Craig Ritchie was kind enough to take us through a presentation and a short demo of the game, showing us its devastated world, traditional RPG mechanics, and deep morality system. 

The Post-apocalyptic Outback

Set in a post-apocalyptic Western Australia, Broken Roads takes place in a future where humanity made all the wrong decisions. Nuclear war, climate change, financial crises – every real-life society-ending scenario has come to pass.

The “real-life” part is important here. Drop Bear Bytes wants to make sure their game is authentic and grounded in reality where it can be. Locations are based on real-world places, and the studio is working with an aboriginal consultant to make sure everything is accurate and respectful. You won’t find zombies or laser weapons here – just people trying to survive the harsh reality.

You play as one of these people. You choose from four origin stories: Hired Gun, Barter Crew, Surveyor, or Jackaroo. If you’re wondering what a “Jackaroo” is, Ritchie describes it as an “Australian cowboy” – a jack of all trades. Your origins story will determine your first moments in the game, your initial skills, and dialogue options.

Broken Roads Gamescom 2020

When you create your character, you make the first steps down the moral path of your choice. That is where the game’s Moral Compass comes in.

The Moral Compass

The Moral Compass is perhaps what sets Broken Roads apart from many contemporary RPGs. It isn’t a system about right or wrong, but about what type of person you want to be (or play as). We’ve seen similar systems in RPGs like Disco Elysium and Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones, but Broken Roads’ is much more flexible.

The compass is divided into four philosophies: Utilitarian, Nihilist, Machiavellian, and Humanist, with an arc showing you where your character currently stands. Throughout the game, the choices you make will move this arc around the compass and even broaden or narrow it down. By making many Utilitarian choices, and that arc will narrow but go further out and unlock advanced character traits.

Broken Roads moral compass

Traits will give you bonuses, penalties, and dialogue options. These are not your character skills, but rather additional rewards for role-playing a certain way. However, Drop Bear Bytes don’t want you to commit to a specific philosophy if you change your mind, which is why they added a feature they call “Moral Memory.”

Moral Memory “remembers” the choices you make in a philosophical path, even if your character is now following a completely different one. Let’s say you play the first few hours as a Humanist, and you unlock certain traits and dialogue options. Maybe after a traumatic event, you want your character to lose hope and start down a Nihilistic path – you can do that without losing everything you already unlocked.

Game Director Craig Ritchie did say they are still tweaking this system and that you probably won’t keep high-level traits if you choose to pivot.

The moral compass is also visible during conversations

Since Broken Roads is a traditional RPG, you’ll have companions following you around, and they too have a Moral Compass. However, theirs is a lot more rigid. Since your companions all have their own world views, some might not agree with your actions and will voice their concern or outrage.

Don’t worry, though – a companion will never leave your party for good. They might refuse to accompany you on a mission, but they will always be available back at basecamp later.

Exploration and Investigation

The demo took place early on in the game after your hometown has been attacked. We have no idea who by, but Ritchie did mention a “bigger threat” out there and many mysteries to uncover in post-apocalyptic Western Australia.

A mysterious plane crash

We got to see one of those mysteries during our Broken Roads demo. While traveling to a town called Merredin (which is a real Australian town, by the way), we came across the wreckage of a large plane – one that just recently crashed. How it got there, and who had enough jet fuel to fly a commercial jet in a post-apocalyptic world is a mystery we can solve, if we take the time to investigate.

What you find around the world, who you talk to, and the moral choices you make will affect the outcome of quests and the story. If you don’t explore, investigate, and interrogate, you might miss out on specific content.

Here’s a small example from the demo: Our character was a Surveyor with high awareness skills. Thanks to those skills, we were able to notice a witness was clutching at his bag and discover he was hiding a gold nugget he found near the crash site. What you do with that information is up to you and the philosophy you prescribe to. Still, we were only able to uncover that information thanks to a combination of exploration and skill.

Broken Roads skills

The skills of your party members will help you with your skill checks – big or small. If you aren’t playing a particularly preceptive Surveyor, you might still be able to spot the man’s behavior if you have a companion with the right skill with you. Companions also have other uses, of course. If you have an engineer with you, they can upgrade your gear is you give them the right materials. Others can help you win drinking competitions thanks to their high constitution, or gain the upper hand in a gunfight.

Shooting Through Concept Art

We didn’t get to see any combat during the Gamescom demo. Ritchie explained that they are still working on it, and the studio isn’t ready to show it quite yet. You can catch a glimpse of the action in the video at the beginning of this piece, or check out a work-in-progress mock-up below.

Broken Roads combat mock-up

Just like the classic RPGs that inspire it, Broken Roads will feature tactical, turn-based combat. The battlefield is divided into an XCOM-like grid viewed through a fixed camera angle. Every object on the field is fully modeled in 3D, meaning they aren’t just blocks of unyielding cover. For example, if you stand near a vehicle, you can shoot (and get shot at) through its windows. Basically, if there’s a line of sight, you can use it.

The turns themselves are decided by a classic initiative roll, though the moral system plays a role even here. If you went against one of your companion wishes, they might be distracted or worried, and their initiative will take a hit. The opposite is also true, though, and a confident character will act faster.

Combat, and the game as a whole, takes place in beautifully hand-drawn landscapes. Drop Bear Bytes wants Broken Roads to feel like concept art, with plenty of meticulously crafted details. The art is done by the same team that worked on the Shadowrun games, which all look lovely (in a depressing, cyberpunk way).

Broken Roads features hand-drawn, detailed environments

Solid Ground

We only saw about 20 minutes of Broken Roads, but as you can tell, those 20 minutes were packed with so much. It really is no wonder a single playthrough should take you around 30 hours. The game is shaping out to be a deep, impactful RPG experience that gives you the freedom to play as you like. Personally, I’m leaning towards a Nihilistic Jackaroo.

Drop Bear Bytes is planning to release Broken Roads in late 2021 on PC, PlayStation 4, Switch, and Xbox One. A demo should drop early next year, so be sure to follow the game on Steam.

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