Being British often fills me with a great sense of pride, yet a whole lot of shame. Back in the Victorian times the British Empire went out and conquered the four corners of the globe, colonising countries and ensuring they would embrace our ways, all while plundering some of their national assets. In Curious Expedition we have a game that explores those themes but also provides a very intriguing, rather ripping yarn that feels like it’s been stripped straight from the worlds of Rudyard Kipling. So are you ready to grab a cup of tea, a shotgun and some whiskey for trading with the indigenes? If so, come with me on a Curious Expedition.
Curious Expedition is a rogue-like experience that is all about survival against the odds. But you can also throw in some exploration, trading and worldwide fame and notoriety for good measure. You start each game by selecting a hero from a bunch of famous people from the past; Charles Darwin, Amelia Earhart or the mad Russian monk Rasputin – before choosing whereabouts in the world you want to go on a Curious Expedition. Will it be the Amazon jungle, the frozen wastes of Antarctica, or the desert plains of the Middle East? There is a sort of competition you see, like the wager in the book “Around the World in 80 Days”, whereby members of the adventurers club go on six Expeditions and the one who comes back with the biggest riches and acclaim gets a statue built in his or her honor.
You start the game on a boat, deciding what colleagues to take with you first. Each character has various stats or perks that will help you in the adventure ahead. For instance, someone might be a good fighter so they will have a high toughness level, or someone else will be able to carry more items or bring a loyalty bonus to the group. Alongside that you must also decide what to take with you on your trip; supplies from the ship for combat, health, and trading. With that all decided, then you are off.
The game then proceeds to randomly generate a map for you, producing a top-down tiled map view of your boat arriving at the shore. You can see where your adventures are, and a couple of objectives may appear like the first quest given to as you set sail. But the rest of the map is cast in a fog of war, greyed out and waiting for you to go out and explore it. And exploring is most certainly the overwhelming focus.
Initially, gameplay-wise, you start with a bar at the top of your screen detailing some 100 sanity points. Your job is to keep that number healthy and not drop to zero or all manner of hurt will hit your party. The problem is that nearly everything costs sanity points; travelling, any encounters you might stumble upon along the way, or every single one of the wrong choices that you will make. As you travel across the maps you will see question marks appear on specific tiles, and by going to these marks will find an area that you can enter. This is where the game changes things up, dropping you into an encounter arena. This could be a local village settlement where you can rest up, trade for goods or recruit more adventurers. It could even be a cave that you can explore for treasure, or perhaps encounter something nasty. Old camping sites that have been abandoned will be rich for exploration, holding supplies or dangerous wild animals within. Further, ruins could hold loot-loads of treasure – but if taken may trigger volcanoes or earthquakes that ensure you have to escape sharpish.
In these encounters you will have to make the most of some good old ‘choose your own adventure’ options, dictating what you will do; the results of these could have good or bad effects on your party. There is also a decent amount of combat, working as a combination of dice-based and turn-based affairs, as you might encounter a group of hyenas, a bunch of crocodiles, other people, mummies, bears or even dinosaurs. And when you do go into battle, success or failure relies on three rolls of your dice. Instead of numbers though these dice have face values like guns, knives, eyes, hands and many more, all of which cover different options. The eyes are observation, knives see you attack, guns fire off shots and the hands see you defend. It’s quite random and I have to be honest and admit I have never really got fully to grips with it – however board game fanatics will love the options they bring.
The overriding objective of Curious Expedition though is to find a golden pyramid that is hidden in each of the six Expeditions, allowing you to finish the journey and head back to London; met with jubilant crowds and fanfares. It doesn’t end there though and then you can decide whether to give up your plunder and treasure to the needy museums, or sell it all to fund your next expedition, allowing you to be better equipped. If you do the latter you can buy more supplies, level yourself and make the most of better stats going forward.
Curious Expedition looks good with its pixel-based design. The encounter screens have that magical old style look that I remember well from gaming from decades past. It’s helped along nicely via a great writing style that provides both narrative and tone reflecting that of both the era and those old adventure novels.
Curious Expedition on Xbox One is a unique, interesting and solid game. The ideas that mix choosing your own adventure with rogue-like gameplay are more intriguing than I thought they would be, and the survival hardships and elements when combined with a fantasy world that harks back to 1950’s adventure movies is a great tone to pick. I have found it to get a bit repetitive during the latter stages and the combat is absolutely baffling to a layman like me, but otherwise it provides a lovely manner of gaming that everyone should consider giving a go.