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Expeditions: Conquistador Review

by GhanBuriGhan, 2013-06-06

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The meatiest part of the gameplay is the turn based combat system. Battles play out on battle maps, movement takes place on a hex grid (yay, hexes!) overlaid on the accessible parts of the terrain. The shape and design of these maps varies wildly, which keeps things interesting. Before you enter battle you choose up to 6 of your followers from your roster. Depending on the map, the choice of units may make a big difference already (more soldiers or more ranged units? Do I need a doctor?). A weird thing about combat is that your own character (the expedition leader) never appears on the battlefield. To me this is a bit of an unfortunate design decision, as it gets in the way of identifying with my avatar in the game.

Once the map loads, you enter a preparation phase where you can arrange your units, and if you have them you can place barricades or traps in "your" corner of the battlefield. During your turn you move and attack with all your units, and you can do so in any order including partial moves. E.g. you can move one of your followers out of the way to let another soldier pass a chokepoint, then move him back to block the passage, etc. Characters vary in their movement: Soldiers are slow, while scouts can move across long distances each turn, which makes them great for flanking. On lower AI settings the AI is deliberately dumb when it comes to movement and avoiding opportunity attacks, but acts smarter on higher settings. Overall however the AI is unfortunately not the best, even on insane. Your units have melee and ranged attacks at their disposal. Due to elements like attack of opportunity, the requirement for line of sight for ranged attacks, and a hefty damage bonus for flanking, movement and positioning is quite important.

Also at your disposal are various class specific combat skills that run the gamut from modified attacks (e.g. stun attacks; feint, which allows your scouts to move through an enemy hex and attack from the other side; a multi-shot ranged attack, etc.) over buffs, debuffs and healing, to skills that affect movement. Skills have a cooldown counter so you can't just spam them every turn. Indian opponents have their own set of classes and skills that go with them, and if you play your cards right, you may count some of them among your allies as you progress through the game. You may also use some crafted items during combat, e.g. throw torches to give your ranged units a better view on a target, or oil lamps which cause burn damage and set whole areas on fire.

Combat is brutal: while ranged attacks may miss, melee attacks always hit, though damage is variable. It's an interesting choice that works well: you'll get the nail-biting "please, please, hit!" effect when your hunter tries to take out an enemy that is bound to incapacitate one of your soldiers the next round. At the same time you get a considerable amount of predictability for the melee units, which supports tactical decision making: if a combatant gets surrounded and attacked by two or three opponents he will usually be incapacitated in the same round. An incapacitated follower has a chance of receiving a wound of varying degrees of severity, which after the battle will need to be treated in camp before the follower can be used again.

In most battles your goal is simply to eliminate the opposition, but some scenarios have you fight a defensive battle, where your objective is to survive a number of rounds, or where you have to get everyone to an escape zone instead. I found that a "victory" often meant having one or two doomed men left standing surrounded by enemies when the counter ran out and the opposition miraculously decided that I had beaten them after all. A bit too abstract for my liking, but the different win conditions force you to use different strategies, so from a gameplay perspective it does add variety.



Interestingly, losing a battle does not usually mean game over - you will have the option to continue the game with your carts full of wounded soldiers and the consequences of failing to reach an objective. There is also a retreat button that allows you the option to retreat from a battle at any time. Battles can take a considerable amount of time. In larger battles you may occasionally wish you could speed up the animation when 8 or more characters run around and do their moves on the enemies turn.


Finally I should mention that the game offers the option to play combat matches in multiplayer, either in hotseat mode or via TCP/IP. While I haven't really tested this, I can see the appeal - the combat system is deep and strategic enough to make a match against another human interesting.

In summary, Expeditions: Conquistador offers a satisfyingly detailed and complex combat system. I am happy to report that strategy really counts. Careful placement of my units and making the best possible use of my followers' abilities often made the difference between a humiliating defeat and a resounding victory. I started playing on normal difficulty and found that the encounters in the early game posed a nice challenge. However as my followers became more proficient and our expedition well stocked with provisions, I found myself adjusting the difficulty to give myself a bit of a challenge: The options screen allows you to choose one of 4 difficulty levels, or to fine tune several difficulty settings, e.g. for resource availability, damage modifiers, but also AI effectiveness. Hopefully the wealth of settings, including allowing instant death for followers and iron man mode will allow even hardcore players to find a level of challenge that suits them, but the way I played, it did seem a bit on the easy side, with only rare difficulty spikes.


Character progression

You gain experience points from winning battles and completing quest objectives. Experience is used for promoting (leveling) your followers. Followers can be promoted up to four times. However, the higher ranks are limited; you can only have two sergeants and a single Lieutenant. When promoted, the follower gets a general attack and defense bonus, a new active combat skill and you get to choose a new passive skill (these mostly amount to combat modifiers and some special abilities like being able to ignore the effect of certain traps). This was actually originally a stretch goal they included despite not receiving the funds, and it's a good addition as it significantly improves your ability to customize your followers for specific combat roles. However, as you promote only a few times, the amount of customization remains limited. Finally you also get to decide which of your followers "camp skills" to raise.


Quests and text adventures

The game's story is largely told through what you may initially identify as the dialog interface. However in addition to branched dialogs this interface is also used for text adventures in "choose your own adventure book" style. Apart from a few typos here and there the text is generally well written and the scenes and dialogs are well thought out.

The early parts of the story will have you run missions for the Governor of Hispaniola, but there are also various side quests to keep you busy. Later you will travel the mainland and try to deal with the mighty Aztec empire. The main missions are typically "deal with this situation" type missions that often allow you to choose your own approach: frontal assault, cunning tactics, or diplomacy may be some of the options. There usually (but not always) are consequences - some short term (e.g. your approach may decide how your followers are placed when you enter the battle map) some long term. Occasionally the text adventure mode will check your skills to determine the success of your chosen approach; sometimes you just get to make decisions freely. While the quests may first look like your standard "go kill" or "FedEx" affair, many of them will surprise you with an unexpected turn of events. You will also stumble upon random or not so random events in the wild and camping will occasionally trigger text adventures and conversations with your followers. This actually works really well, and makes your journey interesting and exciting. All decisions you make may affect the morale of your followers, which is important: not only may unsatisfied troops eventually mutiny, but morale directly affects effectiveness in combat.

Your opponents, e.g. opposing rebel leaders or Indians are also typically characterized briefly but skillfully in the text sections, and thus receive a remarkable presence, with understandable motivation and logical actions. It is fascinating how this game achieves this with such simple means, where many AAA games have struggled in vain. "Show, don't tell" is an often repeated mantra in the gaming industry. Well, @#!&8@ that, Expeditions: Conquistador proves that "tell" still works quite nicely. But clearly, if you dislike reading in games, this will be a problem for you.

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Box Art

Information about

Expeditions: Conquistador

Developer: Logic Artists

SP/MP: Single-player
Setting: Historical
Genre: Strategy-RPG
Combat: Turn-based
Play-time: 10-20 hours
Voice-acting: None

Regions & platforms
· Homepage
· Platform: PC
· Released: 2013-05-30
· Publisher: Logic Artists

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