In response to a few recent games that appear to be lacking in the criteria. This is a short list and thoughts on some stand out game mechanics that developers seem to be ignoring and need to build upon.
Expeditions: Conquistador Review: One Unforgettable Journey
In the dark recesses of the neglected indie strategy corner, developer Logic Artists took it upon themselves to defy the unforgiving gods of game development by attempting something truly different. Constructing a historical, yet fictional, turn-based strategy title based around the ancient Spanish era of the Conquistadors, Expeditions: Conquistador explores a setting rarely used by contemporary video games. Astonishingly refreshing and overly infectious, Logic Artists’ seminal title provides the depth, replayability and excitement of a triple-A game without actually being one. Surprising as it may seem, Expeditions: Conquistador is something very special.
Ostensibly, Expeditions: Conquistador doesn’t show much for itself. If you’re the kind of person who glances at trailers and screenshots to get those Steam purchasing juices flowing, you’ll more than likely never give this game a second thought. However, given the opportunity to dive into this new world, your perspective shifts instantaneously. Expeditions: Conquistador is a game about micromanagement, personality, narrative and formidable decisions. Combat does play an important role as well, but if you’re only along for the bloodshed, well, you’re playing the wrong game.
As the game opens, you’re asked to create your Conquistador. It’s a statistical affair more than a cosmetic one, choosing tactics, scouting prowess and other, possibly, more diplomatic attributes; the choice is entirely up to you. You’re then thrust into the intimidating position of choosing your followers, who all possess different personalities, professions and various attributes; most importantly, they all come with their own name. Why is this important? These aren’t randomly generated characters that act as puppets for your future conquests, as I initially thought. Every single character you choose has an elaborate backstory, complete with dialogue and character interactions.
No matter where you are in the world, what you do, how the people are spoken to, the decisions that you make, everything affects each and every person in your crew. Have a few aggressive followers? They won’t hesitate to assert their feelings on the natives, but don’t be too hasty! The more open-minded, peaceful folk might take offense to purging a town full of women and children. Do enough to upset specific followers and they could leave your expedition altogether or, even worse, rise up in attempted mutiny. Character interaction on this level hasn’t been done this well since Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn – which, to those in the know, understand how large of a feat that is.
Since you don’t openly speak to your crew by clicking a button whenever you want, random events constantly pop-up as you move about the world. These events contain everything from your scout locating a watering hole full of beasts to hunt to a midnight ambush from the natives. There’s also special events that spring up which deal specifically with certain characters. Anything can happen during these moments and what you say, including the decisions you make could have beneficial or adverse effects on the entire expedition. For example, my scout, Ana Vidal was being a bit promiscuous and she offended one of my more loyal followers. I could choose to confront them both, take out my frustrations on a single person or blow the whole thing off as nothing. The sheer amount of choice and variation within every confrontation is simply staggering.
Speaking of moving about the world, your Conquistador is a single unit on an expansive map that has a limited amount of moves a day – think of it as an overworld of sorts. Once your limit has been reached, you and your followers must set camp for the night. This mechanic could have easily been misused, but instead of feeling like a chore, Logic Artists managed to turn this potential tedium into one of the most important and engaging parts of the game.
What makes camping fantastic is the fact that you have complete control over each and every job your followers perform. Guarding, patrolling and hunting are your main concerns each night, but other important roles are also present such as crafting medicine, preserving meat, healing injured followers and even whipping up some fine traps. There’s autopilot functionality for this micromanagement aspect of the game, if you so choose, but neglecting to personally orchestrate your team’s evening duties proves more of a detriment to your expedition. It’s tricky at first, but once you begin to understand how the job system pulls through, camping suddenly becomes an opportunity instead of an errand.
Fantastic as the story and characters are, any turn-based strategy game worth investing in has a robust, detailed and overly fun combat system. Fortunately, Expeditions: Conquistador contains a deceptively deep and strategic system that will punish you for playing dumb and reward you for having patience and foresight. Hex-based, movement and attack actions can be done in any order for any unit, whenever you want. This allows for some excellent combos, flanking attacks and ambushes, depending on how creative you are.
To add more variety to the mix, you can also apply experience to level up a specific follower’s rank. With each rank comes increased abilities as well as your choice of a permanent passive. Equipment can also be applied to strengthen the attack power or bolster defenses to reduce all that incoming damage. The biggest issue I had at first, was really deciding on who to bring into each fight. Your expedition is large and each encounter typically allows for a maximum of six members to clash with the enemy. Whether you take ranged hunters, to pepper foes from a distance, scholars to act as utility whilst debuffing your enemies, or my favorite, scouts to flank from all angles, you’ll find what works for you, but probably after you get murdered in your first few fights.
Much as I enjoy the idea of finality, Expeditions: Conquistador explores this area but with tact. Just because your doctor falls in battle doesn’t mean he’ll be vanquished for eternity. More than likely, he/she will suffer from a debilitating injury that you’ll have to nurse back to health. Don’t think you’ll be safe from permanent death either, because you never know when the reaper will strike. It’s also worth noting that failure in a combat scenario doesn’t immediately mean you have to restart. In fact, with a loss, you still gain experience, suffer certain consequences, but can remain playing the game as you normally would. The situation will play out in a less than desirable manner, obviously, but more importantly, failure acts as an educational tool instead of a forced restart.
Graphically, Expeditions: Conquistador looks acceptable. The environments are well crafted, but don’t do anything that truly stands out. Rising temples, dense jungles and cobbled together villages look pleasing enough, but it’s nothing to rave about; although, the hand-painted character portraits and cinematic scenes certainly are incredibly striking. Musically, the score of Expeditions: Conquistador is fantastic. Leonardo Badinella’s melodies fit perfectly with the time period and have a way of seamlessly bringing you deeply into the moment.
Easily running beyond 35 hours, Expeditions: Conquistador will ceaselessly bombard you with moment after unforgettable moment. With two campaigns tucked away, multiple endings to gain and the ability to lead your expedition on an aggressive or more peaceful path, Expeditions: Conquistador has tremendous replay value. Toss in the potential to craft your own fortress, find the fountain of youth and possibly discover the mythical El Dorado and you have more on your hands than you could possibly realize.
Expeditions: Conquistador is an absolute must play for any turn-based strategy fan. Not only does it explore a seminal time period that’s neglected in contemporary game culture, but it delivers a detailed and entertaining combat system with a professional narrative anyone can enjoy. With relatable characters that haven’t been this good since the titan that is Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn shipped back in 1999, if you call yourself a turn-based strategy fan you owe it to yourself to play Expeditions: Conquistador.