We were doing so well, and then you ruined it, Gerald. We’d just kept ahead of a murderous Sacagawea, before we were attacked by a gang of molemen that she had bankrolled to kill us. But our level-6 donkey nailed the last one with a hind kick and we were free. Our stamina was low, so we took refuge next to a bubbling spring, determined to make a move only once Sacagawea was close. It was then that you, Brother Gerald, the Christian missionary on our team, decided to steal some priceless framed butterflies and set fire to the camp in a bout of pyromania mixed with paranoia. We made a run for an alien portal, but we were too on fire to make it.
It might seem like a stream of consciousness, but it’s stories like this that make Curious Expedition 2 so special. At times Curious Expedition 2 feels like a storytelling generator, an algorithm for creating wacky combinations of moments. That’s absolutely the recommendation that it sounds like.
Curious Expedition 2 is a sequel to Curious Expedition, a curio that launched on Xbox back in 2020 that we liked but eventually sank into a swamp of repetition. But this is the biggest sequel glow-up in living memory: it’s a game that barely resembles the original, and you should be in no doubt that this is the one to play.
Where Curious Expedition 1 was a pixel-art, Curious Expeditions 2 owes a lot to Herge’s Tintin. Everyone looks drafted from a comic book serial, and it’s gorgeous. And it’s absolutely the right choice for the game: this is, after all, a series of high-concept adventures into the unknown, taking in ghostly pirate ships, golden pyramids and tribes of lizardmen. You could imagine Captain Haddock screaming “blistering barnacles” as he’s chased by a mummy through one of Curious Expedition 2’s tombs.
Being set in end-of-the-19th-Century France helps the comparison too. You’re courted by various guilds and dynasties, as they finance you in the hopes that you will return with something world-changing. Stretch those Tintin comparisons to cover Around the World in Eighty Days, 2021’s Treasures of the Aegean, and Giraud’s Moebius comic books, and you have Curious Expeditions 2.
It’s possible to describe Curious Expedition 2, but you’d need a fair few paragraphs, and it would come off as unfairly complicated. It is, in fact, remarkably simple, but so much can happen while you play it that you’d need several moleskine journals to record it all.
At its most basic, Curious Expedition is a board-game-like journey into some fog-of-war. The majority of the gameplay is set on a sprawling board of hexes, with your party on one of them. Those hexes are mostly obscured, however, as you can only see a certain distance at any time. Mountains block your view and poisonous purple smoke rings the world.
There’s nothing for it but to explore. Move one hex at a time or be brave and span several at once. As you step into the unknown, the map opens up and things begin to pop into existence. If you’ve ever enjoyed the opening steps of a Civilization game, then you will know why this is so satisfying: enemies and their sphere of influence appear; wandering allies do the same: and if you’re lucky, the hallowed question marks pop up, and it’s these that you should beeline to. They hide towns, resting places, significant events and – above all – the objectives for your expedition.
The tension here is the Sanity bar, shown as a spiral in the top-right of the screen. Moving causes the bar to go down, with more difficult terrain – mountains, swamps and the like – costing more sanity. It can be refilled with provisions (sanity being replenished by chocolate is a statement we can get behind) as well as resting at locations like waterfalls, villages and monasteries (often at a cost of temporary events or a diminished relationship with the faction in question), but almost everything else will come at a cost of sanity, and dropping down to zero can cause permanent trait ailments, as well as death.
The other stat you will want to keep an eye on is health, as each of your party has a life bar that dwindles in combat and through various illnesses and pitfalls. Combat itself is a simple affair where each character has a number of dice (changed through the collection of weaponry and gear) which, when rolled, give a number of attacks that you can call on. Some characters are heavy on healing dice, while others might be warriors, knocking chunks out of T-Rexes and cassowaries with a rifle.
Combat feels like the leading flaw in Curious Expedition 2. It presents itself as complicated and interesting, but mostly it’s reactionary. The dice will roll, you activate those you want to activate (which, in most cases, is all of them), with the main strategy being the order in which you do so. You might want to weaken an enemy before you fight it, for example, or you might want to take out the cleric in their group before hitting the main troops. There are reroll functions and some one-shot consumables, but mostly it’s a going through of the motions, and we never really cared for it.
The objectives per mission can be wildly different, making Curious Expedition 2 an ever-changing beast. We’ve still not quite worked out whether they are randomly generated or scripted – such is the quality of the mission creation here – but you might be hunting for an artefact, searching for a monument, recovering an ally or more.
But the glory is in the sub-objectives. You can find and keep trophies while exploring the world, and these trophies can often be traded mid-expedition for provisions, faction favour, or the possibility of something even better. But find room to take them home and they can be traded in for tickets with your chosen patron, and permanent benefits can be gained. Since your team persists from one journey to another, leveling up Gerald and giving him some key items, removing his traits and more could be pivotal. Until Gerald swans off with your butterfly collection, that is.
We are deeply in love with Curious Expedition 2, and there is a chance that love will not be shared with everyone. It may well be a bit complicated or stuffy for others, as it is – effectively – a board game exploded out to become a video game. Don’t get us wrong, it couldn’t have actually been a board game, as the maps are too large and the many, many happenings would make an encounter deck topple over. But it’s going to be a little static for some. The largely uninteractive combat won’t help.
But if you’ve got a nerdy bone in your body, and the Herge art of Curious Expedition 2 draws you in, then that’s a great first step. If you’ve ever found joy in the reveal of a game map, seeing what wonders might come from beneath a flipped game tile, then that’s a fantastic second step. And if you get satisfaction from watching stories develop, growing attached to a group of friends who evolve (or degrade) from mission to mission, before they bugger off like Gerald, then that’s the final step.
Congratulations, you have made it to your objective. Curious Expedition 2 should absolutely be your prize.
You can buy Curious Expedition 2 from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S