When it comes to RPGs on the PC we’re riding the Kickstarter high with Pillars of Eternity’s recent release, but that’s merely the cherry on the bakewell tart. Legend of Grimrock 2, Divinity: Original Sin, Mary-Kate and Ashley’s Dungeoneering College, Shadowrun: Dragonfall - all excellent games and future classics in their own right. Thing is, there isn't a lot out there to sate those with an appetite for historical fiction RPGs. So what if I told you about a slightly lesser known Kickstarter success set in 16th century Mexico replacing the footsteps of Spanish Conquistador Hernán Cortés, and unlike one of those other games, it actually exists?
Expeditions: Conquistador starts promisingly, supplying a vast host of companions to pick from and several more recruits to discover within the game proper. Classes are varied and the functions they serve are all important to the survival of the group, from hunters providing food and skill in ranged weaponry, to scholars researching camp improvements and buffing the party. Helpful tooltips assist in selecting a team whose personality traits mesh with the kind of leader you want to be. A racist isn't going to be too happy if you invite a native for tea, but they’ll receive a morale boost if you throw that tea at the native’s face. Open-minded characters behave oppositely, so putting these two character types in the same group leaves somebody cheesed off either way. If morale gets low enough, it's mutiny!
The gameplay is comprised of free-roaming Oregon Trail-flavoured exploration and turn-based combat. Basically the player controls a caravan on two large overland maps, exploring the jungles for quests and resources. Randomized events or events based on personality pop up often to inform you Lopez was bitten by a spider so making camp might be a good idea (unless… that’s exactly what the spiders are hoping for). It would be a crime to omit how well-written these are, along with all the other dialogue interactions which do a wonderful job fleshing out the setting. Ultimately the writing is the game’s greatest strength, romanticizing the discoveries to be found in a savage land by adventurers daring enough to seek them out.
[caption id="attachment_36874" align="aligncenter" width="618"] The horse represents the caravan. The green light either represents collectable herbs or an orbital bombardment. One or the other.[/caption]
Camping involves assigning everyone a task. Hunters hunt, soldiers guard, scholars argue over who the best Batman is. Some companions won’t be available temporarily due to injury, so someone else may need to take on their duties. Despite being important, camping can get very tiresome after a few hours, and it’s one of the more unforgiving parts of the game. Let’s say a tough fight leaves a few companions wounded and there’s no spare medicine on hand, their injuries have a chance to worsen every night. Couple that with a few randomized events triggering yet more injuries and sometimes a run of bad luck leaves one feeling like there’s no way back.
That combat I mentioned is a turn-based affair using classic hexagon movement to emphasize flanking, choke points, and line of sight. The player character is an omnipresent figure above the battlefield passing orders to a team selected for the dirty job. Losing the first time wasn't just common for me, it was a guarantee till I’d had some experience on that particular map. Fights can veer dangerously close to frustration when a string of 75% chances to hit aren't working out, triggering horrific X-Com flashbacks. Despite all that, I enjoyed the challenge. And in truth could've delved into the extensive options menu at any time to make things easier for everything from resource quantity to damage reductions. If I could live with the shame that is! There’s even a permadeath option.
The developers had a little over 1,500 backers and a modest 77,000 dollars to develop a game under an extremely demanding genre. It isn’t perfect, but I've yet to find an RPG that is. PC RPGs are too big, too rich, and try out so many ideas that you quickly learn to take an imperfect game or abandon the genre entirely. Yet they have the ability to immerse the player like nothing else. If there was a physical box of Expeditions: Conquistador available, I’d proudly slide it between Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines and Fallout New Vegas before pretentiously sipping a goblet of wine and basking in my collection like a vertical tanning bed.
Did you spot this RPG, fellow Raptors? Let me know what you thought in the comments!