Much more than meets the eye

User Rating: 8.5 | Expeditions: Conquistador PC
This game puts you in the shoes of a Spanish explorer who sets out on his journey with his band of followers to face a multitude of challenges ranging from battling natives and bandits to fighting hunger and disease.

The game is basically a tactical RPG on the surface, but when you dive deeper you will find it is an intriguing story driven survival simulator.

It is heavily dependent on text to tell you the story, and at first I was a bit put off by this, this is not exactly the age of Zork after all. However, as I started to actually read it more closely, I found it to be exceptionally well written. It is like a novel, where you choose the outcome of the story yourself. Once you start immersing yourself in the details put into the game, you will be amazed at just how much work has gone into every aspect of it.

The game is not for everyone though, it will take quite a lot of effort to learn how to play it well. The user interface is well presented, but crowded and a bit overwhelming at first. Although once you get the hang of it, it is immensely rewarding.

The game has several layers. The written story, where you often are faced with difficult questions you need to answer before the story branches off into a new direction influenced by your choices.

For example, do you let one of your highly valuable party members leave for a treasure hunt he desperately wants to be part of, leaving you lacking the manpower you need for a week, or do you force him to stay thus weakening his morale which might lead to mutiny later? Both choices might be right, but requires a different approach to be resolved in a good way.

You are continuously faced with various decisions like these, and the outcome might be very different depending on your characters abilities and how you follow up.

Another layer in the game is the tactical role playing part, triggered when you meet an enemy. Each character in your party has various strengths and weaknesses, and you need to tightly manage them through the battle to win. You can set traps, take cover, sneak behind the enemy and generally you have a multitude of options. The tactical combat is really hard, you will almost always face an enemy that outnumber you or is better equipped, and you will most likely see your party members injured a lot and also dying.

An injured game character is serious business in this game, you cant just throw him a potion to fix it. To heal him, you will need to carefully tend to his injuries over long time, spending precious resources to get medicine and assigning him a doctor in your party, which means not just the injured person, but also the doctor, will be incapacitated until recovery. Having multiple injured people in your team while lost in the jungle makes it hard to survive, as you constantly need to have men available for hunting, patrolling, guarding and making medicine. Resources are so scarce, you will be near the breaking point of survival almost constantly.

As a result of each member of your team being so valuable you will grow quite attached to each and every single person. As you travel together they will share parts of their life story with you, and if they die, you will feel you really lost something. You will even need to prepare a proper funeral for them, to maintain morale, and also to give yourself some closure after losing a close ally.

As you explore the land with your party in the turn based world map, you will encounter many things. There will be treasure, enemies, stories to be told and much more.

The world map is also where the greatest weakness of the game lies. The top down map camera is quite close to your party, and you are not allowed to scroll it around. This means it can be very hard to navigate around the world at times, especially if you do what the game is all about, exploring the uncharted land. It can be frustrating, especially as each single turn has to be carefully managed so that you will not run out of supplies and time. But due to the short view distance you will most likely find yourself going into dead ends more often than not.

Maybe this was done intentionally to emphasize on how explorers can get lost when roaming through unknown lands, you do indeed get the feeling you are taking great risks diving into the unknown when you stroll off the beaten path and spends some precious turns on exploring.

Rewards are plentiful in the game. All your hard efforts will pay off, by better equipment, better technology which you can research, tougher party members and generally a sense of accomplishment.

If you are in for a challenging, deep gameplay outside the mainstream, this is a jewel. Not for the faint at heart, but it will reward you tenfolds if you spend some time and efforts with it.