The 19th Century was a time of great advancement and exploration. Expeditions were sailing from major European cities to explore the unknown regions of Africa and Asia and while all the continents of the world had been named and mapped a couple of centuries earlier, much of the land masses had still to be mapped and “discovered” by European explorers. This mystery led to the creation of myths and literary creations such as Tarzan lost in Africa as a baby and Mowgli, lost in India as a baby. More fantastical myths abounded around the world such as lost civilisations and untold treasures abandoned in the wilds and jungles of these “undiscovered” lands. Curious Expedition 2 uses this backdrop as the setting for a rogue-lite, run based game that encourages the player to explore and discover treasures and new lands to gain fame and fortune.
The game follows your team of explorers as they are tasked with exploring mysterious islands that appear in the world’s oceans for a limited time before being overtaken by a mysterious purple fog and disappearing. In your limited time on the islands, you have to explore as much as possible to uncover as many treasures and artifacts as you can in order to unravel the mystery of where these islands come from and just what the fog is.
Exploring is an expensive exercise, but luckily three factions (Societies) have set up shop in Paris in 1886 and in return for the knowledge you will bring back as well any treasures and resources they will sponsor your expeditions. In addition to the basic sponsorship, they will also sell you items and supplies as well as attract new explorers to join your crew. Each has a specific focus area, the Edison Society is as you would expect focused on technological advancement so balancing who sponsors each trip to maximise your reputation with them is vital for later in your run.
The game is based on repetition in that when you fail you get dropped to the beginning of your run with a new crew forcing you to repeat each island required to get that stage’s final island. This, unfortunately, is where the rogue-like repetition becomes monotonous. Unlike say Hades, where failure means a reset of the level, but not your skills and advancements, abandoning an island in the middle of exploration means that you abandon your entire crew, and you must start again from scratch. With the islands needed to get to the boss level resetting, you will replay the same objectives over and while the island may randomly generate, the overall goal is the same so that leads to some monotony.
Once you land on an island you are faced with an overhead view of the island with most of it obscured. You start with a Sanity Resource, basically, movement points that you must manage and nurse as you balance it against the need to explore. Moving along a hex grid you will find points of interest to discover which vary from abandoned temples to indigenous villages to lost previous explorers. Each offer trading opportunities as well as possibilities of learning more about the island. Choose your responses well and you may be able to uncover more of the map this way than by exploring. On your journey, you have to either rest or consume things like chocolate or other foodstuffs to replenish your sanity. Failure to do so will result in random Insanity events that could lead to the demise of your party.
Of course, no exploration is without risk and these islands bring their own dangers. From abandoned temples that may collapse if you explore them to wild animals and hostile people who will attack you. Combat is turn-based and based on explicit dice rolls. During your turn, you roll several dice that will land with one of three outcomes – attack options, healing or spell-like options or nothing at all. Unlike traditional party and turn-based games, you do not choose who does what, the dice determines that. This makes it a bit tough to determine who is attacking and who is healing, and spellcasting and I did not find a good way to reliably determine that. The dice rolls are an interesting mechanic, but I do think they need a bit more thought and development for the inevitable third game to be genuinely interesting and fun.
The dice also play a part in your diplomacy and skill checks and it is a simple case or success or failure. To succeed you need a certain number of dice to drop on the right colour (Green). Roll too many blanks or Reds and you fail. These checks are extremely important as they determine if members of your team increase or decrease their loyalty towards you as you try and mediate disputes or when you try to convince a team member that you should be robbing this tomb. This adds a bit of randomness and uncertainty to your interactions. While it could be just another thing that you have manage, it is a welcome distraction from the exploration.
Mechanically the game may be simple, but its strength lies in the opportunity it gives you to role-play. The choices you are faced with allow you to balance your desire for knowledge and treasure with the possibility of respect for indigenous cultures and custom. I chose to play this as a typical 19th-century explorer – arrogant and consumed by greed and a lust for fame as the first to discover already discovered lands and customs. When my party came to a village, I was asked to acknowledge their gods, being a good god-fearing Christian, but polite, I refused to anger the local shaman and losing some standing with the locals. Another instance angered a team member when I decided to loot a temple, so much so that he abandoned the party halfway through the exploration. I was there for the treasure because my sponsor demanded treasure and I wanted fame and fortune.
This chance to role-play is honestly the most surprising aspect of the game – pleasantly so. It allows you to build a whole metanarrative around the rogue-like elements of the game that can get repetitive. Being able to play out these 19th Century attitudes was a fun way to explore this game and the islands and in a slightly perverse way a fun way to act out those colonialist attitudes.
Graphically the game is colourful and bright but simple in execution almost like a low framerate cartoon show. This does not detract from the game at all but adds to the setting. Built-in Unity, the game runs flawlessly on PC and will release on consoles too.
Curious Expedition 2 is an interesting rogue-like taking its cues from a time when there was still much about this world that many did not know about. It hearkens back to the pulp era stories that Indiana Jones mined so successfully in the 80s. The rogue-like nature of the game makes it perfect for playing in small doses and is perfect for when you don’t have a bigger release to play and just want something quirky and fun to play.
Curious Expedition 2 is available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC
Curious Expedition 2 was Developed by Maschinen-Mensch and published by Thunderful Publishing
You can purchase this version of the game on steam here for £16.99.
This review is based on the PC version of the game.
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