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Exploring Broken Roads — A post-apocalyptic RPG where you forge your path through a collapsed Australia

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Making a role-playing video game has never been easier. The advent of crowdfunding, the Early Access model, readily accessible engines like Unity, as well as the advancements made in videogame development are helping smaller studios make their dream RPGs, the way they want. The past couple of years saw the release of excellent indie RPGs like Age of Decadence, Underrail, ATOM, Encased, and Disco Elysium that provided players with hours of entertainment or, in the case of some, defied the traditional RPG tropes to fulfill a far more cerebral experience.

Broken Roads, the debut title from Drop Bear Bytes (what an assortment of random cool words) aims to do the same for the RPG genre — standing on the shoulders of genre classics such as Fallout, Baldur’s Gate, and Planescape: Torment while challenging players with complex moral choices in an original setting. All the classic CRPG tropes such as overworld exploration, questing, combat, adventuring with companions, unexpected encounters, and a sense of discovery are present in the game, all the while featuring some gorgeous art by Kerstin Evans. Broken Roads is expected to launch for PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch in late 2021.

Recently, I got to pick the brain of Craig Ritchie, the founder and game director of Drop Bear Bytes regarding the game they have been making since early 2019. Here’s what I found out!

Trouble Down Under

Broken Roads, at its core, is a traditional isometric RPG that puts you in a criminally-underused Western Australian setting in the aftermath of the apocalypse. Now, if you say oh it’s set in Australia, so it must be like Mad Max, you couldn’t be further from the truth. Broken Roads – initially conceptualized as a post-nuclear Heroes of Might and Magic style game, ditched the strategy and resource management elements in favor of a narrative-driven isometric RPG early on. While the game tips its hat to classic films like Mad Max, A Boy, and His Dog, Threads, and Stalker, it’s heavily inspired by Cold War and post-Cold War era movies in which the threat of nuclear annihilation is really front and center, as well as post-Plato philosophical ideologies.

For example, the Outback wasteland in Broken Roads is ominously called the Never Never, as described in Barcroft Boake’s poemWhere the Dead Men Lie“. The developers are taking this opportunity to not just tell a post-nuclear tale but also explore its numerous myths and legends while constantly teasing and testing the player’s ideals and moral threshold. I’ve been told that the team is consulting with aboriginal cultural experts to make the indigenous content as authentic and respectful as possible. While the lore and references will be instantly recognizable to Australian residents, the team assured me that real locations, places, and stories indigenous to the Never Never will be presented to newcomers in a welcoming manner, much like AtomTeam’s ATOM RPG.

When you have to talk, talk, don’t shoot

One of the biggest pitfalls when making an RPG, or any game for that matter is failing to realize the scope and limitations of the project. If 30 years of RPG history has taught us one thing, it’s that things have a habit of going overboard even for the most promising project – resulting in a troubled development cycle and in turn, a messy game. Drop Bear Bytes acknowledges this universal truth and hopes to make a game that’s well within their scope, but one that also maximizes their full potential. Broken Roads will primarily be a narrative-driven game with a handcrafted world that encourages the player to set out on adventures and experience their fresh take on the apocalypse.

Being a narrative-heavy game, Broken Roads puts less emphasis on all-out combat scenarios unlike some of its peers. But that isn’t to say that combat is not a part of the experience. Craig, like most players, loves combat in his RPGs but feels the need for a balance between the two. While the game plans to feature fewer combat encounters than let’s say, Wasteland 3, it won’t be like Disco Elysium where combat is practically non-existent. For this, Broken Roads uses an X-COM inspired turn and party-based combat system much like the recent Shadowrun RPGs. There will be lots of questlines entirely devoid of combat and many situations where combat is skippable, provided you pass the required skillchecks. But since it’s the apocalypse, you will have to fight your way out of messy situations every once in a while. I got to know that each combat encounter will be handcrafted and will add something to the game bold claims from a debutant studio but it’s evident that Drop Bear Bytes are pretty confident in their design philosophy.

The developers are adamant about respecting the player’s time and intelligence – as of now, there will be zero grind, no cookie-cutter random combat encounters, or scenarios where the player is sent back and forth between locations to artificially extend the length of the game. They want all the encounters on the world map to feel unique with the RNG only applied to their discovery chance. The majority of the loot is planned to be handcrafted as well. Enemies won’t respawn after clearing areas and the world map won’t be colossally huge just for the sake of it. Broken Roads aims to be a 25 to 35-hour experience with a lot of emphasis on replayability and multiple quest resolutions and outcomes. Suffice to say that you won’t experience everything the game has to offer in a single playthrough.

Buckets of grey

I made a passing mention above that Broken Roads challenges the player’s moral and philosophical ideologies. Morality systems have existed in RPGs for decades. The alignments from DnD games, the karma system from the Fallout, the black and white morality in Fable, and the struggle between the light and dark sides in KOTOR tried to give some more depth to the digital role-playing experience. But, morality as a concept in games has withered over time due to how easily the player can manipulate the systems and how inconsistent they are. You can go from being the spawn of satan to a messiah in a span of few hours if you balance your evil actions with random acts of goodness every now and then. New Vegas tried to get around this by focusing on faction and location-specific reputations rather than the outdated karma system.

Broken Roads, on the other hand, wants to tackle the classic good vs bad, light vs dark systems and give it a bit more fluid and organic progression by introducing the moral compass. Moral compass is a group of systems that helps players connect with their character more by bridging the gap between the two. To be more specific, it lets players dictate the attitudes, values, and general outlook of their avatars in more meaningful and logical ways.

At the start of character creation, you will be asked a series of questions that dictate your starting position on the Moral Compass. The compass is divided into four quadrants- Utilitarian, Humanist, Nihilist, and Machiavellian. As you make decisions in the game, your philosophical leaning (the white dot) as well as your world view (represented by the golden arc) shift around the compass. You move around the golden arc but you are also able to expand your quadrants from the inside as well. Every decision in a moral quadrant expands a persisting moral ‘memory’ that allows players to then always choose options or traits that fall within that memory’s area. Your range of possible options is determined by your World View. The further a decision is from your character’s current location, the more the arc moves. But if you stick to a particular world view, the golden arc starts to get narrower, and its outer edge moves towards the edge of the compass. So you start to get narrow-minded. Thus, you go from having a broad range of options to more focused options that are on the edge of your morality.

As you expand or constrict your world view, there’s the possibility of unlocking certain moral traits. Moral traits generally provide bonuses and penalties that change up the gameplay significantly. The system rewards consistency of character and encourages you to not jump around the compass much. Balanced playthroughs are possible but you won’t get to see any of the extreme moral choices or get to unlock any of the traits. While all of this sounds very complex, the team wants to make sure that it doesn’t end up limiting player choice and that it all stays fun. Hence, they’re constantly tweaking and updating the systems for it to be more flexible while still keeping the depth.

You can check out the dev blogs here and here to get a more in-depth look into the moral compass.

Optimal vs Viable

Being a focused experience, Broken Roads wants to extensively tackle the bane of RPGs the balancing. The game features 4 character origin stories that give you a specific background which can result in different choices and quest solutions, but they also have stat advantages. It’s similar to a class but much more flexible as the game will not lock you out of content. The game, as of now, features 8 attributes and 9 skills, with each skill being accompanied by a skill tree with several unlockable talents.

Every character starts out with only one point in each skill – which means they’ll be very bad at it – but this way, every character can try every skill check. Like any standard RPG, you’ll be able to further enhance your desired skills when you level up. The developers don’t want you to regret your choices hours after creating a character; they want you to feel comfortable – situations will be approachable whoever you are, with varying degrees of success.

You can get a glimpse of the character progression system in the below showreel:

A legend has joined the party

The latest addition to the Broken Roads development team is RPG veteran Colin McComb. Colin, famed for his work in designing TSR’S Planescape setting as well as Black Isle’s classic RPG Planescape: Torment joined the team last February as Creative Lead and has been contributing to Broken Roads significantly. Paraphrasing Craig, getting Colin over to the team was as simple as looking up his current designation and presenting him with the Broken Roads pitch. The two apparently hit it right off due to their common educational background in Philosophy as well as their shared love of RPGs. Colin’s 25+ years in the industry have proven to be a valuable asset for development as he continues his part-time work for Drop Bear Bytes.

A modern old school RPG

We also talked in detail regarding the influence of modern RPGs on Broken Roads. The studio is thankful for the subtle quality-of-life touches brought forth to the classic formula by games like Wasteland 2, Pillars of Eternity, and Disco Elysium. Things like the party healing automatically after combat, the ability to respec characters, party-based skillchecks in dialogue options, and the game automatically picking the highest skill holder when applying skills to items, etc, serves to make the experience a bit more streamlined from the days of the Infinity Engine RPGs. The strides made by Divinity: Original Sin 2 in opening up new platforms for CRPGs and a small project like Disco Elysium coming out of nowhere to win multiple awards including GOTY have been highly morale-boosting for the team. Craig also mentioned the role of Steam in providing developers with the chance to grow and manage communities all in one place and firmly believes that the Broken Roads community will play a big role – both before and after they ship the game.

The game is still in early production and it will be at least a year before players get to walk the (Broken) roads. In Craig’s words, “we are in pre-alpha at the moment, with our definition of alpha being that you can play the entire critical path of the game, with all features, from end to end. We’ll be in beta once that is done, working on polishing and reaching a point that we would call feature complete.”

The pandemic has slowed down the development a bit with everyone working from home these days and unable to meet in person. The team is still brainstorming new ideas to implement as well as tweaking existing ones in accordance with internal feedback. Gamers interested in the game can go over to the official blog for regular updates regarding the game systems, team, etc.

I did get to chat Craig up and ask for his personal opinion on contemporary RPGs and all that jazz in a casual manner, but that’s best left saved for when Craig makes his appearance on our Press Start to Play podcast in the future. There’s a lot riding on the game’s reception, and we can’t wait to see what the team comes up with! While it’s still a pipedream, he also expressed his desire to revive a specific Steampunk RPG provided they can get the license. But Broken Roads is his priority right now and the team has had a busy week dealing with Gamescom as well as other marketing stuff.

We wish Craig and the studio all the best in realizing their vision and eagerly look forward to trying out Broken Roads!

Wishlist Broken Roads here:


Would you like to see similar in-depth coverage for other upcoming indie games? Let us know in the comments section below – we value your opinions immensely!

  1. Thanks for this article! I’ve been interested in this game since it was first announced. I very much like that they’re trying to make a more cerebral game. From what I’ve seen, they’re hitting all the notes I’ll enjoy!! Looking forward to seeing more as they get further into development!

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