• The Curious Expedition review by Rick Moscatello

    Stressful Fun

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    The 19th century was probably the best time to be an explorer. Science and technology had advanced well enough that most any place in the world could be reached, while still there was much of the world that was relatively unexplored. Such explorations were risky, of course, but the brave could do it without necessarily being suicidal. The places that remained might be too small for empire-builders, but they were still large enough to be of interest to a group of explorers. Having just the right person, with just the right skill in the right place at the right time, might yield a wagonload of gold…and lack of any of those things might lead to complete disaster.

    So, I’m always interested in games that try to capture the last age of exploration. The Curious Expedition is the latest game for me to look at, and while it does a pretty good job, a few failings mean the ultimate game in this niche genre has yet to be made.

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    The game starts with you picking an explorer. You generally pick a loose approximation of an actual luminary, from Amelia Earhart to Nicolai Tesla, among other choices. Each has a special ability or two, and also comes with some equipment and followers.

    Then you pick your first expedition. Every expedition is to find a golden pyramid (apparently Earth is filled with the things), but there are side quests worth doing as well. You are sort of in competition with other explorers, and get a bonus if you find the pyramid first.

    And right way, you’re pressured by the game system. You’ll have many followers offered to you, but you’ll have to refuse them. You can only have four, see, and you start with three. It’s such a drag, because there are many follower types: soldier, sailor, trader, diplomat, native guides, and even animals like raptors (the dinosaur) and gorillas, and you’re offered a new follower at the beginning of every expedition, as well as have many opportunities to get more. But…you’ll have to pass it all by, as you’ll get all the followers you can have within seconds of starting the game. There’s a leveling system, and you’re not about to throw away a higher level character for a low level guy.

    There’s also a strict, very strict, baggage limit. You can carry one or two items per character. You can get a pack animal…but those count as followers. You’ll pretty much have to have one pack animal, making it that much more difficult to experiment with followers (there’s even a character that improves pack animals…good luck getting any use of him, as he can carry but little himself).

    A good expedition is really going to need food. Medicine’s a good idea, and you might want water. Combat is very brutal, so perhaps a gun? Bullets take up a slot as well. You might want to bring something to trade with the natives as they won’t take money. Hey look, you’re just about out of inventory space, although there are a dozen other items you’d like to carry, too (like machetes, climbing gear, ropes, shovels, and other things). Find any treasure, and you’ll have to dump something…a single ruby takes up as much space as 20 pounds of food, and an animal’s tooth apparently weighs as much as a shotgun, doubling down on the annoyance-factor.

    Combat is pretty brutal. Any injuries at all have a high chance of leading to infection, which can be fatal. When a character dies, well there goes what little inventory you can carry, leading to a death spiral that ends all too quickly because your expedition is forced to be so small. Combat gets forced on you quite often (unless you devote inventory space to iffy combat avoiding gear), so you’d better bring at least one soldier.

    There really is a great variety in inventory and followers, but the system is so restrictive that you really won’t get to use much past the critical things: soldier, pack animal, medicine, food, weapon…over half of your “options” are mandated by this. Just one more follower would open up so many possibilities, but as it is you’re constantly scrambling to decide what to throw away so that you can actually carry something back home, and ignoring every opportunity to get more followers…honest, “pack bearers” were a common enough hire on expeditions like this (granted, they’d run away at times, but your followers in the game devolve into cannibalism or have other issues regularly enough that I’d be ok with this option).

    It’s just too tight to allow much fun, especially on the higher skill levels, where you’ll also have to carry “gate stones” around to be allowed access to the golden pyramid. It’s not a question of planning and preparing, because you don’t have nearly enough space to do that…you just hope for the best. It’s like playing a fantasy RPG with thousands of weapon types, but if you use anything besides a dagger your hit points are set to 1. Considering that you have to pay for your equipment, and what equipment is available is pretty random, it’s a real mystery why there’s such a chokehold on the player’s options.

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    Exploring is quite fun.

    The random worlds are fun. You’ll find (and be forced to drop) all sorts of things in your search for the pyramids. You’ll encounter tribes (friendly or hostile, based on your actions in the area, like looting tombs…for some reason even killing hostile animals annoys the natives), and you can trigger traps that can cover the world in chasms or volcanos.

    Overall, there’s fun here, but the resource management is just so restrictive that it’s hard to really appreciate what would otherwise be a deep game.

    Overall: 78
    This article was originally published in forum thread: The Curious Expedition review by Rick Moscatello started by Doom View original post