Expeditions: Conquistador Review
Kickstarter's success as a funding platform for game developers has kindled hope in many a CRPG fan's heart, partly for two reasons: it has ushered in a renaissance of the long-neglected turn-based combat systems, and we have seen a number of projects that depart from the tried and true realm of classic fantasy that has long dominated the RPG genre (with a sparse sprinkling of post-apocalyptic and a pinch of space opera) and embrace different settings. Dubbed a "story-driven tactical roleplaying game", Expeditions: Conquistador is the first development of Logic Artists, an independent Danish studio. It is also the first of this new crop of Kickstarted RPGs to make it to release. The Kickstarter campaign collected a modest $77.000, failing to fund any of the announced stretch goals. The game also experienced a little turmoil on the way to the finish line: the official website went offline for extended periods of time, the developer announced a delay and that they had signed with publisher Bitcomposer. Tongue wagging ensued. So it was both with considerable excitement and some worries that I seized the opportunity to review this title. Will the game be an early vindication for the idea of Kickstarting CRPGs? Or are the modest funding and delay signs that the game will not be able to match its ambitions? Let's see!
Expeditions: Conquistador combines several gameplay elements into a unique whole. I would maybe describe it as a "Management RPG", since the crossover elements in this title derives less from classic strategy or squad tactics games. The game rather combines exploration on the world map, management of the people and resources for your expedition, turn-based combat, and a narrative delivered through dialog and text adventures.
The game casts you as a Hidalgo, a member of the lower Spanish nobility. Much like Hernán Cortés, you set sail for the New World to pursue your fortune there. The year is 1518, a year before Cortés would set out on his famous expedition, and with courage, shrewd diplomacy, tenacity and ruthlessness would manage to conquer the mighty Aztec empire for the Spanish Crown. In the alternate universe of Expeditions: Conquistador of course that will never happen. Instead, you and the men and women of your expedition arrive in Hispaniola and fate is put in your hands. Unfortunately the welcome is less than friendly, as the Governor confiscates both your cargo and your men upon your arrival and will not release them until you have helped him solve some problems in his colony. Thus begins the first of the two linked campaigns that ship with the game.
As you might expect, the game first puts you through the familiar paces of character generation. You select your name, gender (yes, you can be a female conquistador), and distribute your skillpoints. The six available skills betray the tactical focus of the game: they are tactics, diplomacy, healing, survival, scouting, and leadership. Next you select the 10 initial members of your expedition from a large roster of premade characters. All followers belong to one of 5 classes: soldier, hunter, scout, doctor, or scholar with different stats and combat abilities. Each character has a unique portrait, a name, and a short but nicely written background. Each character also comes with a distinct selection of three traits that will determine how their morale is affected by your decisions in the game. For example, an adventurous character will gain a morale bonus if you seek out the unknown, but his morale will decrease if you shy away from adventure. Clearly a lot of care has gone into making your companions fleshed out characters instead of faceless units.
In the world map you move around and interact with clearly marked elements spread across the world. In towns you will have options like visiting the market, or talking to quest givers or triggering contextual text adventures. When traveling in the wilderness you only get a limited number of moves per day before you have to make camp. You explore the terrain by traveling quickly along roads, occasionally also along smaller forest or mountain paths and open terrain, while steep mountains and dense forest are not traversable. Maybe surprisingly in a game called "Expeditions", exploration isn't really the game's strong point: Most of the time your only interaction is in towns and other quest locations and with the various resources that are strewn about on the map: chests with crafting resources and plants yielding medical herbs. Unfortunately even some quest locations are inactive unless you have already started the requisite quest. Only rarely will you encounter dynamic elements, e.g. a moving opposing war band that will trigger an event (and likely a battle) when they catch up with you. Since getting to resources you spot out in the wilderness will cost you extra moves, doing so requires careful consideration whether, e.g. you have enough food (or enough good hunters) to make it worthwhile. If you are not careful and get lost in the maze of corridors and dead ends of the wilderness without food and medicine, your expedition may be in trouble! So overall there is not a big incentive to just go exploring. There is a set of quests that consist of visiting a number of (unmarked on the map) landmarks in each area and provide an experience reward for exploring that area thoroughly.
Resource management is a major strategic aspect of the game. After every day of exploration your troops have to eat, so you need to buy and carry enough food or send people hunting. The more people you assign to a task, the higher the chance of a good outcome. However there are many important tasks competing for your attention: Guarding the camp (failure does not mean combat, but resources will be lost or stolen), healing the wounded, researching improvements or building traps from the resources you gathered, or scouting the area for valuables. You can use auto-assign options to quickly set everyone to a useful task based on their class and to give them food, but you may find yourself micromanaging the system when resources start to run scarce. Especially when you have many wounded followers things can get difficult - not only will they need the attention of your doctor if you don't want them to get worse and die, they also can't help with camp duties while wounded.
There is no RPG-like weapon and armor equipment system in the game, instead "equipment" is just another universal resource. The weapons and armor a follower can use are determined only by their class and by having the requisite skill and their effectiveness can be improved by assigning the "equipment" resource to the corresponding slots for weapon or armor of each follower. The maximum number of equipment resources that can be assigned to each weapon category and armor is defined by class and rank. While the system works well enough in gameplay terms, you may long for a more detailed system, if loot and inventory management are an important RPG element for you.
I am not sure everybody will like this menu-driven somewhat abstract resource system. Personally I think it is well integrated with other gameplay systems and reinforces the "expedition" character of the adventure. It certainly sets Expeditions: Conquistador apart from most traditional RPGs.
Information aboutExpeditions: Conquistador
Developer: Logic Artists
Play-time: 10-20 hours
Regions & platforms
· Platform: PC
· Released: 2013-05-30
· Publisher: Logic Artists