Expeditions: Conquistador blended roleplaying and turn-based strategy to bring to life 16th century Mexico. Players trekked through lush spider-infested jungles with a dozen hardy companions (each more racist than the last) and clashed with native civilizations like the Aztecs. It was historical fiction packed with choices and a morality system that could lead to conflict within the group just as much as outside factions. This time the Danish developer Logic Artists are taking us to their cultural home turf with Expeditions: Viking.
Thrust into the leadership position of a weak Norse village after their father is killed, the player must summon their hairiest men and set out across the sea to explore the kingdoms of the British Isles. Gathering strength is key to the clan’s survival, so you’ll be raiding or forming political alliances to stave off plotting troublemakers looking to take advantage of the situation. Creative Director Jonas Wæver allowed me several questions on the subject, interpreting my attempt to pillage the coast of Denmark from a commandeered Ferry as misguided enthusiasm for his game. He’s not wrong.
TechRaptor: Conquistador leaned heavily towards historical fiction, I take it you’re committed to this approach for Expeditions: Viking and we won’t be seeing any horned helmets or such?
Jonas: We are using historical and archaeological references to bring the Viking world to life and that includes the armor and weaponry, so no - no horned helmets. At the same time, of course we want to be able to surprise players by bringing them into unexpected situations and taking the story in exciting directions. That creative tension is a big source of inspiration for us, we have to push ourselves a lot to make the story intriguing and surprising without compromising on the historical foundation.
TechRaptor: Based on screenshots, the character creator appears to have been extended from a mere portrait and stock gender-appropriate model to a fully customizable model complete with appearance and clothing options. How is this used to interact with the world of Expeditions: Viking? Is the player character expected to participate in combat rather than direct it from the sidelines?
Jonas: While in Expeditions: Conquistador the player character was only ever present on the world map, but never in battles, the player character in Expeditions: Viking will always be present and will indeed participate in all combat. One of the biggest fan requests was to have an avatar so players could feel like they were part of the action. We’ve taken that to heart and players will level and skill their player character just as they do with their followers. The player character is also the unit you control while exploring and adventuring with the entire party following your lead, standing shoulder to shoulder with them in combat.
The player character in Expeditions: Viking will always be present and will indeed participate in all combat.
TechRaptor: How does combat differ from the last game?
Jonas: The main difference really comes down to the weaponry. Vikings were adept with a variety of weapons, perhaps most famously the axe, but also sword and spear, bow and dagger - and shields of course. Each weapon comes with a set of associated skills that players can unlock and take as their characters level up. We’re keeping the underlying design philosophy of Conquistador’s combat, which is to keep the basic rule system simple, and then add variety with plenty of skills and abilities, and by changing the tactical situation as much as possible from battle to battle. In the last game, skills and abilities were tied to the character classes, which somewhat reduced the amount of variation we could get out of our enemy types - this time skills can be mixed and matched both by the player and the designers, so we have more freedom to shake things up. In addition to that, we’re working on implementing more ways to make each fight distinct - different environmental factors, more variety in victory conditions, and so on.
TechRaptor: How does the player’s starting village work exactly, is it a central upgradeable base that can be returned to periodically?
Jonas: The player’s village is the central hub of the game, it is filled with its own politics and intrigue and players must be prepared to deal with threats both to the village and from within it. Players can return to their homestead any time they like to rest their huscarls and to govern the village as its chieftain, but crossing the ocean takes several weeks of in-game time. Additionally, you must return to your village every winter as the weather makes seafaring too dangerous.
A number of structures are upgradeable when you have the resources and thralls to do so, and these upgrades provide benefits to the village and for the party, and will ultimately play a role in determining the outcome of the story.
TechRaptor: Does the companion approval system make its return and offer the possibility of mutiny?
Jonas: Oh yes. Each member of your “hird” has a number of personality traits which cause them to gain or lose morale depending on your choices and actions. Morale will play a small role in combat, but more importantly, high or low morale will unlock new content and trigger particular events - such as mutiny or even a duel for leadership of the group.
High or low morale will unlock new content and trigger particular events – such as mutiny or even a duel for leadership of the group.
TechRaptor: Can we have an example or two of some new traits or opinions party members can hold in Expeditions: Viking? The way they intermingled in Conquistador was really cool.
Jonas: The most important trait is each character’s attitude towards the concept of honour. Honour was a huge underpinning in Norse society, and whether a character is considered to be honourable or shifty (a nithing!) very often governs how they respond to your decisions. Another very important set of traits is whether the character is superstitious or skeptical, which determines how they perceive religion, folklore, and magic. A skeptical character may be less affected by seemingly supernatural occurrences, while a superstitious character would buy into that sort of thing much more. As a final example, where one of the major dichotomies in Conquistador was racism vs. open-mindedness, all the people you’ll be likely to encounter in Northern Europe in the late 700’s are various shades of pale, so in Viking, racism has been replaced by conceitedness - the character’s general attitude towards members of other clans or cultures.
Whether a character is considered to be honourable or shifty (a nithing!) very often governs how they respond to your decisions.
TechRaptor: After the release of Expeditions: Conquistador you added a free update called the Fabula event editor along with some online tutorials. Is the potential for modding something you’re considering exploring further?
Jonas: We’d love to support modding, especially now that Unity offers a full-featured free version of their editor for personal use. We didn’t see a whole lot of community-created content for Conquistador, but that may have been because our editor could only modify the text of the game, which was very limiting. Once Viking is released, if it looks like there’s a great interest in modding it, we’ll see what we can do.
TechRaptor: I have a friend who can’t actually grow a beard. Could he still be clan leader or would the Vikings cast him out as a mutant?
Jonas: The Vikings were known for their grooming, and use of combs and razors. Your “friend” should probably not expect to get any free reputation points based on appearance, but there were other ways to gain respect in Norse society. How good are you - I mean, your friend - with a spear?
TechRaptor: Javelin champion of Wombles kindergarten, class of 89. Thank you for your time, Jonas. May the Norns be kind to you.
And so we come to the end of our exchange. Jonas provided an armed escort to a ship bound for England, forcing me to return home without any plundered furs or spices, yet the new information on this remarkable game series seemed far more valuable. Given that comradery and infighting was a lynchpin of the party dynamic in the last game, it’s nice to see it return in spades. The focus on the village as a central hub also sounds promising, as if they've massively expanded on the neglected base obtained near the end of Expeditions: Conquistador and made it central to the story right from the start. Perhaps most interestingly of all is the prospect of seeing the player character in action on the battlefield. Not only is this something fans have been clamoring for, but it makes perfect sense for the time period where leaders were expected to fight in the front ranks.
Expeditions: Viking is due to land on your shores sometime in the Fall 2016 for PC. You can sit there and shout till you’re Norse in the throat, but it’s not getting here any faster.