Who knew explorers had statistics points in the 16th Century?
We’ve role-played fantasy worlds to death. Been there, slain that. What we haven’t done nearly as much is explore real life settings, which can be plenty compelling in their own right. Expeditions: Conquistador by Logic Artists is here to help us rectify that, by allowing players to head up voyages to the New World of the 16th Century. Adventure, turn-based combat, intrigue, and a chance at fame and fortune are waiting.
As an inspiring explorer in the service of the Spanish crown, you’ve got your work cut out for you. The first order of business is to pick a name and allocate points into six character stats. These are things like Tactics, Diplomacy and Scouting, which have very real effects on how you’ll end up playing the game.
You’ll also need a crew, since going it alone in the New World frankly isn’t a good idea. There are five classes from which to construct your 10-person party, and picking a good mix is critical. Not only do the NPCs add their specific skills to non-combat tasks like hunting and guarding camps, but they also have different roles to play once the inevitable fighting starts. Depending on your dealings with the indigenous peoples, you may gain native followers who have their own five classes.
On top of that, each party member has three personality traits that define how they view things like religion, ethnicity and violence. It’s impossible (and wouldn’t be much fun if it was) to get a whole party that feels the same way about everything, which makes morale a delicate balancing act. Every decision made can please some followers and anger others, and Expeditions: Conquistador does a better job than most games with much bigger budgets at making your choices feel like they have very real consequences.
Along with taking on the standard RPG quests, just keeping everyone alive out in the wilderness is an important part of your job. The party can only travel so far each day, after which it needs to set up camp for the night. Followers can be assigned to the roles they fit best, and the better to ensure that food is scrounged up and no one makes off with your supplies. Any injured party members need to be tended to by healers, lest they worsen (and eventually, die), and leftover meat needs to be preserved or it will spoil. Assuming you have anyone left, you can have people research new technologies or cobble together equipment.
Morale isn’t a problem as long as everyone is alive and well fed. If the rations run out, though, it’s possible for the followers to start considering a mutiny. Logic Artists also prevents the whole thing from feeling like an exercise in numbers by giving the NPCs unique backstories, most of which come out during random conversations along the way.
No matter how diplomatically your approach is to dealing with restless natives and traitorous rebels, your explorers will eventually need to get their hands dirty with some combat. As luck would have it, 16th-century skirmishes translate perfectly to turn-based tactical battles. A hex system makes movement and attacks simple to carry out, though there are occasions where it can be confusing as to which party member is queued up to act. Fights are bloody and unforgiving, just as the developers promised they would be, and wounds have to be dealt with in between encounters.
Expeditions: Conquistador uses an interesting advancement mechanic where experience is gained by the part as a whole, and then doled out as you see fit. Followers learn new abilities as they get promoted, in addition to getting better at what they already do. Loot falls into one generic “Equipment” category, where it can be spent as points to upgrade the weapons and armor of party members. That and the valuables you gain (which can be traded in towns for more supplies or equipment) are some of the few colorless parts of an otherwise imaginative game.
Since you don’t even get to the mainland of what we now like to call North America without proving your mettle by assisting the governor of Hispaniola, the campaign seems like it provides plenty of material to seek your RPG teeth into. Replay value comes in the form of multiple difficulty levels, and a multiplayer mode was recently added to allow players to match wits within the combat mode.
Though low end computers may struggle with the higher graphics settings, this isn’t a game that lives and dies on its visuals or sounds. Trees and other terrain features obscure the world map at times (though this may be by design), making it difficult to figure out where you can travel. The combat animations are fluid, though, and while you won’t find any voice acting here, the well-written dialogue and your imagination combine to ensure that you won’t miss it.
Considering it’s got fun, challenge, and a distinct flavor made possible by the historical setting, there’s really no reason not to give Expeditions: Conquistador a try if you like RPGs. Those sword-and-sorcery games will always be there waiting for you when you’re ready to go back. Promise.