Curious Expedition 2, to explain briefly, is a turn-based narrative set in the 19th century set on exploration and discovery. The game is set in 1889 within Paris’ World Fair. Exploring clubs are funding treks and travels to ‘strange islands’ to explore the landscape, meet the residents or pilfer the jewels and treasure the island holds.
I am no history buff by any means, but this actually happened and appears to have been one of the most popular and most successful world fairs of our (their?) time.
Players arrive in Paris where they have areas of the map available to explore. You’ve not yet headed on an exhibition as you need to pick your mighty main traveller and who will be accompanying them. After that it’s time to go to the bank. The metaphorical bank which is really a bunch of societies that are funding your lucrative trip around islands. You will have different missions depending on what society you pick to support you. They rob you of all your fruits post mission but as you continue to do missions for them you will increase your ranking within the society and achieve perks that will help you in future explorations.
Choose Your Explorer!
Character choice does not initially appear to be a big deal at first, but you soon come to learn that the strengths in a person you initially thought gave you a one up, will falter you in some missions on the island. Each character has an allotted amount of dice to them, each with a set amount of abilities. Choose a healer, you will have abilities that heal or shield your team. Choose an attacker your dice will be that of spears and shots. The characters all come with their pros and their cons, some will be able to rest in certain places, whilst others may be able to add more capacity to your trekking backpack. Choose wisely.
Welcome to the Jungle
Remember the Where’s Wally books? The outlook and graphics of Curious Expedition 2 almost remind me of 20th century Where’s Wally prints. Once you’re on your way, you pick your resources. You, of course, have NO idea what you are about to encounter, so take a wild guess and hope for the best. My best tactic was to try and pick one of each thing offered to me, as then no matter what I ran into, at least I had a bleak lifeline.
Seems easy right? Pick a mission, explore an island.
Wrong. This turn-based island turned roguelike adventure makes you think about every single move you make. Once setting sail and reaching your destination the perspective changes. You can see the game from the top down perspective, with biomes and crevices of the island. Think, Settlers of Catan, with an array of colours, objects and different aspects to explore.
You can’t see the whole island just yet, that would be too easy. Your team is given 100 Sanity, sometimes more if you pick the right crew. With every ‘move’ taken on the island, you lose a Sanity counter. Sanity will depend on the terrain, the state your crew are in and what you are potentially trudging through. Sometimes, the shorter moves will save the sanity as opposed to hiphopping all over the Island.
This is where strategy comes into play, and you must plan your route meticulously. Lose all your Sanity when a particular event occurs, where you will be willed into a fight, or a crew member leaves. You have your main mission, but it’s also fun to see what the island is about and what other adventure awaits.
As the mist settles and you start to view your surroundings, interactable features will become apparent. This could be visiting an abandoned shipwreck, bartering with a solo trekker, or encountering enemy combat.
The Lion’s Den
If you recall, I mentioned earlier about dice rolling? Well gather your favourite D&D friend, because dice rolls are now your new best friend. Live or Die, it’s a throw of the dice. This can either be endorphin driven, or a painful mood killer. You throw your team’s dice to see what your selection may be from their pocket. Only so many dice are chosen from each character. This is now your move. If you’ve picked a character with 3 coloured die, and 3 blank die, you could end up with a character completely out of the battle because all blank dice were rolled into the move. Not all is lost though, You can join dice together, re-roll the blank ones once, use items to buff your die or cross your fingers, clench your butt cheeks and flee for your life.
It very much is a cross your fingers and hope to live situation. There were times where I attacked what seemingly seemed like an easy win only to lose and other times where what seemed like an impossible feat ended with me as a champion. As I upped the difficulty on my expeditions, I found myself with the RNG against me way more than I appreciated. Rather than tactics it felt like I could just do anything or press anything and hope for the best.
Credit to the game, however, it never stopped me from giving it a good go despite my lack of resources I may have had at the time.
Attacks can also leave your crew with ailments that will linger as you travel throughout the island. If a nasty animal poisoned your fellow crewmate, he may just continue to be until he get seriously ill. So make sure you take your resources into account carefully if your going to choose to go all guns blazing at every opportunity.
Oh the Places You’ll Go…
Resting will be an important part of your game to be able to regain sanity and explore more but can also change your game dramatically. I thought I was very smart in resting as long as I could but as I wanted the sandman to visit. But instead a traitor in my group reared their ugly head too tell me my nemesis had paid them off to join them. I could roll to try and save them, or let them go and leave my party in disarray.
Each Island comes with its own objective, and with that its own terrain and obstacles to overcome. This adds that extra pizzaz to the game. Each island doesn’t look too much different from the offset, but when you start to notice the detail in the differences in terrain you understand how this interweaves with the difficulty that will follow.
As an explorer you will wade through lava, fog, muddy goop, and streams to name a few. Some of them will come with effect costs to your party.
You will also encounter animals to stalk, and island tribes. This is where things can be get a bit yikes and I guess I could see the argument that there lies some stereotypes of ‘tribes and native people’ and people who live in isolated tribes among islands. I am nowhere near educated enough in this topic to have a solid grounding for an argument, and I think the game also tries to absolve some of this by making animal tribes, such as giant lizard-like tribes or dead skeleton pirates. But if you’re faint hearted, maybe watch out for that one.
The RPG in this game is fun, and the procedural storytelling makes your game a unique one. You have to really commend a game where you can play a game over and over and get so many different outcomes, good, bad or evil.
You can earn reputation on the island known as ‘standing’ and this can have a profound effect on the choices you make or how others will treat you. Even your own party can increase and lose loyalty for you so there is a lot to think about.
Paris, je t’aime.
Once finished on an expedition it is time to re-explore Paris! Here you can upgrade weapons, change characters and difficulty and even train to up the stats of your team. The societies that fund you aren’t typically well explained but you get the hang of each one eventually. Although to this day and hours and hours of gameplay later, I don’t really see the pro’s and con’s over picking the one when you can just pick another one for the next expedition. Once you’ve done all you can do and spent all your expo fair tickets (training, upgrading). It’s time to lift the anchor once again.
If you like what you just did, great! You will do it again, and again… and again. If you didn’t fancy rolling to your life or death, or don’t fancy the sound of strategically moving around, then this isn’t for you. Theres certainly a risk reward equation here.
Playing through this I couldn’t help but just want to quickly go and find what I was looking for and get back. Sometimes it felt the Islands were all the same, bar a few swaps and a lick of paint, but I did enjoy the events and the trek.
There is a lot of depth to this game, and you don’t have to be a goody two shoes missionary on a quest to discover the pyramids. In fact you can cause absolute chaos and see your destruction play out. There will be events and locations where you can choose to enter dark tombs. Whats in a dark tomb normally? Treasure I hear! Yes, and what normally happens when we steal said treasure?
We’ve seen it in every movie, and most games.
Yes – CHAOOOSSS.
Better start running once you’ve stolen that mystical gem or those beads of loveliness, because you’ve just erupted a volcano, scaring or killing the residents of the island, and now you have to run back to your ship and pretend it never happened!
Curiouser… and Curiouser!
In terms of quality, I ran into no hitches with the game itself. There’s no voice over but the dialogue makes it interesting to read the interactions you can create between characters. There is no in-your-face music that distracts from the task in hand.
The difficulty curve is fair, although when it comes to difficulty you also have to consider the random generator that is either on your side or against you. Stick with it and it will reward you. The game will give you a choice on how bad your consequences should be and you can change this at any time. If you just want to explore, you are able to not only make the consequences less, but only journey on expeditions that have a one skull difficulty. If you fancy your hand in a dense dangerous environment, dangerous fights, and resetting your whole team after you all die then that’s available too.
This game is more reminiscent of an interactive digital board game, and that is okay. Curious Expedition 2 had me at waxes and wanes. At times I just didn’t care if I died because I was already up against it, and at others I was fighting for my life knowing this big ol’ elephant would crush me and wanting to spend every last dice roll saving my team.
Each expedition likely comes in at around 30-45 minutes and there are many many islands to play through with DLC being added and worked upon.
Curious Expedition 2 is more of an interactive board game of level one D&D. A game that balances roguelike tactics, RPG, and procedural storytelling well. A delightful top down surprise with a great depth to explore, do and encounter, that’s if RNG is on your side! If not, it’s into the lion’s den you go. Although slightly repetitive visually, you will likely not get the same story twice.
Curious Expedition 2 is available now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch (reviewed) and PC.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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