Curious Expedition 2 – Review

Curious Expedition 2, by Maschinen-Mensch, is a sequel to the 2016 roguelite exploration simulator Curious Expedition. In it you play one of several explorers searching newly revealed islands for the purpose of finding treasures and completing objectives at the behest of one of three explorer societies. 

Overview

Curious Expedition 2 starts with an introduction to the overall plot of the game. Victoria Malin leads a small team of explorers through an island that should not be there and is surrounded by a mysterious fog and equally mysterious natives. This discovery leads to a new age of exploration and you, the one who Malin has personally selected to help uncover the mystery of the islands, joins in. 

You begin with an option to  choose between two different explorers, the anthropologist and the big hunter, each of which has different abilities and initial followers. This combination of abilities and followers enables very different sorts of strategies that only expand as you unlock additional characters. 

Between missions you visit Paris. This lets you spend your primary intermission currency (tickets) on recruitment, permanent gear, and club bonuses which you can use to purchase gear upgrades, removal of negative traits, and additional experience points for characters. When you are done you select an expedition, choosing between three different difficulty levels, with the higher difficulty missions offering more fame (victory points) and tickets. You also pick a sponsor who provides you with gold you can use to purchase mission gear, which is a mix of some subset of a generic pool of gear as well as sponsor-specific gear you unlock through fame. 

Characters get one (or in some cases, two) dice, some equipment slots and a special ability. Their built in die defines their role, but their weapon can alter it slightly, giving you the ability to set characters up as healers, DPS, or support units. Additionally, the color of the dice matter for skill checks, and having all of one color on a die can make certain skill checks a lot easier. Body slot equipment tends to provide utility abilities. 

Maps are procedurally generated from one of several different available biomes. Each features its own particular challenges and special locations that can provide opportunity and/or danger. Many of them require special skill checks to get the best bonus, with character

The primary resource you need to manage on these maps is sanity. If it gets down to zero your team will start to receive “insanity events” which end up being pretty nasty. Hostile wildlife can also potentially threaten your expedition as can the natives, if you don’t properly manage your relationship with them. Natives can serve to help you or hinder you in your expedition. You can provide them with lopsided trades in their favor and accomplish tasks in order to improve your reputation, and engaging in actions like stealing loot from shrines and other holy sites will anger them and decrease your reputation. Getting it high enough allows you to ask for a boon from a chieftain, and potentially get other bonuses from special locations on the map. 

Each map has a different goal which strongly impacts how you interact with the map but they tend to follow specific patterns. Some require you to visit multiple locations, others require a specific location with a challenge at the end. While it may not seem like a lot of variety, the where and how of getting to these locations is reasonably varied and mostly just provides a means and motivation for exploring and interacting with what is on the maps.  

Combat is a dice-based system using a combination of the character’s innate die (or dice in the case of the dog) plus a die that comes from gear, if you have it. Additionally there are some items that provide special effects you can use in combat, either once or with a cooldown. Each die face offers some sort of effect, though the distribution of the effects is different for each die and will vary as the game progresses. Each round you roll all of your character and equipment dice, and get one chance to reroll. Earlier on when the number of non-blank spots on the dice is low you mostly just reroll to get something, anything to use. Later on with less blank faces you get a more push your luck aspect, where you have to decide whether getting a different, more appropriate, face is worth the risk of getting a worse one or a blank one. Enemy actions are displayed so you are able to plan around their next actions, making the only element of luck the results of the die rolls themselves. 

Failures and Limitations

One of the strengths of Curious Expedition 2 is also a weakness. For a game designed to be played multiple times the stronger central narrative serves as an anchor. It is entertaining and interesting the first time you play through it, but there is not enough variation in the overall arc or goals of these story missions for them not to feel a bit repetitive after a while.

This relatively low level of variation extends to other partsof the game. The original Curious Expedition had a truly large number of different characters and CE 2 pales a bit in comparison. It also featured more map types (most noticeably an ice biome), and its absence is felt. Just a little more variety in overall content would be nice and push the game up a notch. It seems like the developers plan to push out more content for the game and this will hopefully fade with time, but there is no guarantee this will happen. Until it does, the lack of content is definitely holding the game back. 

While the maps are cool I frequently had difficulty telling if a particular terrain feature was something you could interact with or if it was there just for flavor. I mostly found that items were there for flavor but there were some items that stood out. You can get clarification by rolling over a spot on the map with your mouse, but so much information is presented just by looking at it, that this felt clumsy in comparison.

The entire game has a strong push your luck framework. Locations on the map largely start out unknown, and while there are some that you can guess based on location (for example, a location on a mountain has a good chance to be a waterfall… or a cave) Gearing choices are about predicting what you are going to need based on unknown information. How much sanity refills will you need? Are you going to need help with skill checks? How much of a risk are injuries and infection? While you can get a feel for this as time goes on you never really know for sure. These “push your luck” elements extend to what can be found at map locations too. Resulting in an elaborate tapestry of potentially fatal decisions that leave you teetering on the edge of success or your entire run ending (if you are on iron man mode). Granted, this may actually be considered a positive feature, and I could have easily have placed this paragraph in the achievements section too. Whether this is a pro or con is really up to you, but it is worth noting as something that might turn one off from the game. 

Successes

Curious Expedition 2 describes itself as a procedural story generator, and it pulls it off. Your characters build and destroy relationships with each other, develop dependencies in the process of maintaining their sanity, and potentially develop phobias and other mental impairments in the face of the terrors and isolation that comes with travelling in vast uninhabited wilderness. While you may end up seeing through the seams at how the mechanics are constructed, the game is just so fun that it is easy to glide through it, taking the game as it comes and the narrative that the game creates. 

The art style and presentation only helps. The game has a bit of a European comic book style that is crisp and effectively presents the beauty and weirdness of the islands. The character generator and models are randomly generated (and regenerated) in a way that provides variety and makes the characters fun to look at, but I do wish they would allow some degree of customization choices rather than forcing you to regenerate the characters until you get one that looks something like what you would want. 

The mechanics are enjoyable too. I admit I was deeply skeptical of the combat system going in, and my first explorer choice was selected with that in mind, but I found the choices to be interesting, and the overall dice manipulation decision making to be real and worthwhile. Enemies are varied and frequently require you to explore different tactics in order to be successful. Weapons similarly offer a wide enough variety of capabilities that finding new ones can be special. I found an obsidian skull that particularly enthused me during one of my missions, and by the time I reached the end game of my first run I was regularly finding new weapons that excited me with their potential possibilities. 

Overall character build development arc is similarly polished and enjoyable. By the time you reach the end of the game your characters and weapons should be developed enough that you have gotten to explore their capabilities, both alone and in combination, while still leaving you wondering some more about the potential of going just a little bit further. 

Conclusion

Curious Expedition 2 is a very enjoyable game. It is deep without being complicated, and offers plenty of non-trivial decisions whether you are approaching it from a narrative perspective or have a taste for min-maxing. It also feels distinct. While there are other games that focus on exploration (such as Renowned Explorers) no other game, except the predecessor in the series, is doing anything remotely like Curious Expeditions 2. If the game or theme interests you at all, I definitely recommend getting it. 

Good
  • Push your luck elements are well implemented resulting in deep and interesting decision making
  • Procedural story generation is interconnected and well defined, with procedural story beats having effective follow up
  • Art style is excellent, effectively conveying a sense of the time and place
Bad
  • Central narrative can feel repetitive for a game that is intended to be played repeatedly with a focus on unlocks and meta-progression
  • Push your luck elements are omnipresent and may serve to be a detractor to people who do not appreciate this style of game
  • Art style of maps can sometimes conceal at a glance information absorption
8.5
Great
Written by
doubt specialized in tactical turn based role playing games, with his particular interest starting with Final Fantasy Tactics and extending from there. He is very opinionated about the subject, and will talk to you endlessly about them on the turnbasedlover's discord.

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