Expeditions: Conquistador is a game that really doesn’t want me to enjoy myself. Much of the game, especially the peripheral aspects such as the story and dialogue, is very well-written and works perfectly, but the core gameplay is (for me, at least) an ultimate game-breaker. Regrettably, this turn-based combat underpins the rest of the title, and while it does appear possible to play through the rest of the game without even bothering to fight, it does make the otherwise enjoyably immersive and complex adventure a bit of a depressing ordeal, with loss of morale, death and mutiny abound. Apart from that, Expeditions is actually an alright time.
Upon opening up Expeditions, I’ve suddenly become a conquistador; lucky me. Swamped by text describing the personal traits of potential crewmates with no idea for how the choice between them will impact my future situation, I pick all the options that are not Greedy or Racist – having a stereotypically recognizable name is advantageous. Mendoza, Lopez, Sanchez and Pedro, you’re with me. Named after my two biggest influences in life, Capitan Selena Castro and crew set sale for the rest of the game.
From this point, the day-by-day goal is to successfully manage resources to maintain your crew while travelling through the land of Hispaniola (for now). Each day, you’ll be able to move so many spaces, and I really like the tiny decision to have these movement-points (whatever they’re called) be used more rapidly on rough terrain, encouraging you to stick to roads as much as possible. Run out of points and you’ll need to set up camp, dish out duties to your crew, assign food rations and treat any wounded. For these reasons, rations and medicine are crucial resources, but can be scavenged and traded in a very smart and sensical bartering system. Then there are the fights you’ll get yourselves into, including some that seem to be random events. This is where I stop having fun.
The environment is now littered in hexagonal tiles and a handful of enemy soldiers, and at this point there’s not much difference between Expeditions and every other turn-based game; each of your troops has a certain amount of points to spend on their movement and actions (using a skill or more conventionally just hitting something), and once you click the END TURN button the enemy does the same until all the fighters of one side have fallen over. In this case, it always seemed to be my side…
I’m not sure if it’s just a matter of utter incompetence from my end or an issue with the AI’s difficulty level, but when pursuing victory in the turn-based combat encounters I’ve not once managed to get within sight of said goal; even when I’ve somehow pulled off a flank and ambush maneuver; even when I’ve stocked my troops up with upgrades, armour and weapons; hell, even in the damned tutorial. Loading previous saves to demand a rematch, I’ve employed various tactics, mixed all sorts of things up, and used all my barriers and traps and whatnot, but I’ve still never killed more than four of the enemy soldiers. It makes me sad.
More importantly, it makes my troops sad. Being unable to win a single battle means that any opportunity for the AI to roll up and pillage my carts for all valuables, equipment, medicine and rations is taken full advantage of, while any chance to make up for these losses results in dismal failure. No food means an angry crew, while no medicine means a dead crew and no valuables means that even if I do make it back to San Domingo, I have nothing to barter with – there really is no safe place.
Soon enough my starter crew of ten diminished to the point that once the final “battle” at San Domingo took place and I was allowed to leave such forsaken land, the ill Dr. Sanchez and Yruenes were my two remaining soldiers, and Yruenes joined during the expedition! If my count is accurate, I lost four troops to a mutiny, four to untreated battle-wounds (seriously, where the medicine at?) and one to a sacrifice at the hands of natives. I wish that last one was a joke.
There are some nice points to Expeditions I really should mention – my experience as outlined above doesn’t really cover every detail. The story is fabulously written, and though there is a huge amount of reading involved with accepting and carrying out quests, these at least tend to be intriguing events, that would probably make a better novel than video game. The random events that happen can be stripped to the essential information (e.g. + 10 meat and +100 EXP) if you’ve no interest in story, but each event is very intelligently placed in your expedition’s story. That these events involve the characters you’ve chosen (perhaps at random) gives them their own personality and helps you to connect with them. I found this to be the case especially when Lopez approached to confide in me secrets from his past. This made it feel real personal when he then led the mutiny against me one month later. *tear
Beyond the issues I’ve faced with the turn-based combat side of this title, I’ve no major gripes with Expeditions: Conquistador. It’s immersive and intriguing, and though there’s a tonne of text to work through to understand the seemingly very technical aspects of the game, the tutorial system is very clear and helpful. There seems to be a load of content beyond the disgraceful expedition I’ve led in Hispaniola, though even with a widely different crew, facing the same tasks again would be a bit of a drag, so replayability is set to nil. Nonetheless, I may try to face the rest of these expeditions another day.
Even if I have to find some damned cheat codes to do it. Do they still exist nowadays?
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Expeditions: Conquistador by Logic Artists.
Also, since the almighty Matt is a little pre-occupied at the moment, the header image here is a dismal mimicry of his usual format. Please excuse that.