Expeditions: Conquistador Review
Graphically, Expeditions: Conquistador is a well-made budget indie game, no more, no less. To start on a high note, the character portraits and illustrations that are displayed in the text window are beautiful. The design of the user interface features a fitting subtle Inca-inspired style but remains unobtrusive and functional.
The overworld map in which you explore the world is a rather abstract, not to-scale affair, and I found the scenery it presents ranging from rather bland to occasionally quite nice. The Unity engine does a decent job of rendering the landscape, including trees moving in the breeze and shadows on the ground. However, there are no weather effects and only few animated sprites to enliven the atmosphere. Your field of view is a bit limited, and in the jungle large trees can get in the way of the camera, occasionally requiring you to do a bit of camera acrobatics to find your way.
The battle maps are more interesting in comparison: The environments are shown up close and in more detail. Sometimes there are even an animated stream or wisps of fog on the scene to create atmosphere. Combatants are rendered with appropriate level of detail and all attacks are nicely animated.
Sound and music
The music is interesting and quite pleasant, often using acoustic guitar and flute sounds as the dominant element. The battle music is more orchestral and thus contrasts nicely. It could have been interesting to cite period music, or Spanish and South American tunes, but while the composer has chosen a more modern approach, what is there is interesting and supports the mood of the game really well. In general combat and environmental sounds successfully add to the atmosphere without being particularly noteworthy. As you'd expect given the budget production values, there is no voice acting in the game.
I want to mention that the game has a number of nice little convenience features you might have missed in some recent AAA games: Saves can be named, and the active quest and time when you saved is displayed as well. The game autosaves frequently and smartly use three slots in rotation. You can save anywhere, except when in combat or during a text event. Helpful tutorial screens allowed me to quickly learn the game without feeling any need to consult a manual. However, a PDF manual is also available.
Stability and bugs
I encountered one rather unpleasant glitch with the medical treatment system though: While your group leader can also work as a doctor, there seems to be a bug that does not allow assigning yourself and your doctor to different wounded followers. If you are not careful that even results in no treatment being administered at all to either patient, although both show the "being treated" symbol. While not show-stopping this should be fixed, since treating wounded is critical. There was also an instance where an event script caused the resource system to go haywire, with rapidly flickering numbers and a quickly accumulating number of traps and barricades in my inventory. Other than that, the game was technically solid and I experienced no crashes.
The interactive fiction review
Looking through comments on our own forum as well as on comment sections on various previews, I noted that a few times concerns were raised whether a game should really tackle such a setting - an event that was pivotal to a period of genocide and cultural destruction and the onset of the age of colonialism with all the very real human suffering this has brought? Although Expeditions: Conquistador takes place in a historical setting, from our present day perspective the age of the Conquistadors may in many ways seem stranger than Middle-Earth: Customs, morals, beliefs, and knowledge were very different from today. The prospect of entire new lands, continents even, lying uncharted, offering unknown wonders and riches to those daring enough to take them - it must have been a tantalizing time and that feeling is unavailable to us today. The times were rife with colorful characters and Hernan Cortes himself has been depicted both as hero and genius as well as cruel villain. Does choosing such a setting glorify the deeds of the past? Well, my personal answer to that is: just as with any book or movie, it depends what you do with the subject.
So what does Expeditions: Conquistador do with it? Clearly the game strives to balance the simple fun of adventure, discovery and battle with giving a more in-depth glimpse of the period and what really happened back then. On Hispaniola, you will encounter subtle and less subtle hints on the damage done by the Europeans - you'll encounter evidence of the depopulation of Indian villages, you'll encounter slavery and those who oppose it. You'll have opportunities to define your own position on a number of societal issues, and the game doesn't shy away from revealing some pretty controversial things about characters you interact with. During the mainland campaign how you decide to interact with the natives is a major story element, and your options may range from "kill them all!" to trying to befriend them. You'll also discover that the Indians are quite capable of intrigue and cruelty even without your humble assistance. So how you want to fill your role is most definitely up to you. You can forge alliances and ultimately decide the fate of the Aztecs and their neighbors in a number of ways.
Some of your options as well as some of the commentary or actions of your followers and NPCs reflect the values of the historical time, and are thus wrought with overtones of racism, prejudice, and cruelty that probably somewhat realistically reflect convictions of the 16th century. If anything, the authors have probably introduced a historically unrealistic amount of characters with a rather modern view on the developments of the time and allow you to pursue a more enlightened approach than the real conquistadors ever considered. This is also evident in the fact that the game gives women an almost equal role, which as far as I know is far from the reality of the times.
Overall my impression is that the game sends a clear (but thankfully not overdone) message that the authors do not condone the treatment of the Indians at the time, but also seek not to just sugarcoat it for entertainment purposes. Whether one personally agrees with the interpretation of the historic situation as presented by the game or not, I think that's fine - in any narrative work of historical fiction you encounter its author as much as the times and characters he attempts to bring to life.
While the game is not a history lesson, many things nonetheless ring true. You will be threatened with the inquisition, you'll learn about the considerable independence of the colony governors from the far away Spanish crown, you'll interact with the politics of the Indian city states and many other things. It may make you curious to read up on the actual historic events yourself. The game even offers a "Codex" that will slowly fill with some information about the real places that correspond to the locations that you visit in the game. So while Expeditions: Conquistador is by no means edutainment, you may even (gasp!) learn something while playing it.
Expeditions: Conquistador and what hopefully will be known as the Expeditions franchise still has a lot of room to grow: some systems could use fleshing out, balancing could be improved and more exciting exploration would be a boon. But in spite of some weaknesses Expeditions: Conquistador delivers a solid and engaging experience thanks to a solid turn-based combat system and the mechanically simple yet effective text adventure narrative. And it's lifted above the norm thanks to taking some risks with its historic setting and some unusual game mechanics. In my opinion, this is an exemplary indie game. If what I wrote in this review sounds at all interesting to you, I encourage you to give Expeditions: Conquistador a try.
Information aboutExpeditions: Conquistador
Developer: Logic Artists
Play-time: 10-20 hours
Regions & platforms
· Platform: PC
· Released: 2013-05-30
· Publisher: Logic Artists
- Interesting historical setting
- Well developed tactical turn based combat
- Well written dialog and text adventures
- Expedition management as a new mechanic
- Believable characters
- Simplistic exploration
- No real inventory
- Balance rather on the easy side in the mid and late game