Curious Expedition 2 has finally left Steam Early Access. This rogue-like challenges players to dive into wild and fantastical lands with their merry band of explorers in hopes of finding valuable treasure to bring back to Paris. Along they way, they will help the famed adventurer Victoria Malin discover the secret behind the purple fog encroaching the islands.
Stories in rogue-likes are always a bit tricky. The gameplay’s cyclical nature usually means the story is a little slow or completely non-existent. While Curious Expedition 2 is unable to completely escape the gameplay-related restrictions, the game does an excellent job keeping the game rich with story content. The decision to add story-based missions every three levels keeps the story reasonably fresh in the mind. The well written native groups and random events do an excellent job filling in the expected gaps.
The dev’s approach to the world itself is interesting considering the game’s understandably tricky subject of colonial-era exploration. For Curious Expedition 2, the writers imagine the world with a more modern lens. There’s a lot of scenarios that would have been extremely rare or completely impossible; however, the approach works because the game’s fantasy elements allow players to suspend their disbelief.
Curious Expedition 2 combines resource management with turn based combat in a rogue-like format. To start, players choose a party leader that will guide their group of five. Each potential leader has their own special objectives to fulfill. This allows players to choose a playstyle that suits them, whether they want to hunt every animal on sight or map out the entire island. The remaining four slots in the party are filled up by characters that can be recruited at the local bar in Paris, out in the wilds, or through a sponsor’s store. There are animals and humanoids to recruit, each with their own pros and cons. Animals are socially easier to deal with but have a lower power cap and less equipment slots compared to their humanoid counterparts. Each character has their own dice pool consisting of abilities and blank dice. Each die is one of three colours.
Party management is one of Curious Expedition 2’s strong suits. Trying to create that perfectly balanced party is challenging and a never-ending pursuit. There are so many randomly generated variables that have the potential to synergize in wonderful ways. On one hand, losing a party to a bad run is utterly crushing, yet on the other hand it provides some relief as players can finally start with a fresh slate.
Once players have their party, they will choose one of three sponsors for their expeditions. Each sponsor has their own reputation-based store and potent upgrades that will make future runs easier. I really like the special real-time sponsor events where players choose a sponsor to support and race to the top of the leaderboards. While it does not change the gameplay significantly, the race for treasure in exchange for extra prizes is a nice bonus.
The random expeditions are generated with their own set of goals, locations, inhabitants, events, and enemies. Moving around the island costs sanity. Players can use items or rest to regain sanity, but the price is often high. On the other hand, the consequence of traveling around without any sanity are punishing events that can seriously cripple or destroy the party. Insanity events aren’t completely unfair though. Players are usually given two or three warnings or low consequence events before the really painful ones start, creating some desperate scenarios when expeditions go wrong.
The fourth expedition is always a story mission that usually runs over multiple maps. These missions stay the same for the most part, but locations may change from time to time. Mechanically speaking, these are probably some of my least favourite missions simply because of the length. Expeditions that drag into 3 or more maps often cross the line between masochism and agony. The mission length is way too different from normal expeditions, making the experience a bit overwhelming. To make matters worse, failing a story mission means starting from the beginning of the long expeditions at bare minimum.
Combat is turn based where players roll their entire dice pool to determine what abilities each character will have access to that turn. The concept is deceptively simple but is surprisingly challenging due to the emphasis on figuring out the correct skill order to maximize efficiency. To compound the challenge, the consequence of small errors really adds up over time as healing items are limited and very expensive. The only concern is turn based combat can get a little repetitive once the ideal ability priority list is established, as enemy ability use tends to be predictable.
The game’s difficulty settings are excellent. There is a lot of flexibility for players to decide how challenging the expeditions are and how serious are the consequences are for failure. As a result, the game provides a very good learning curve for new players.
The controls are simple point and click mechanics. Everything works well except for a minor issue when cancelling abilities in combat. Depending on where players click, the game will either cancel the ability or show all sides of the die. I rarely needed the information about the die sides, so I would have preferred a less intrusive way to access that data.
Overall, Curious Expedition 2 offers really addictive gameplay. The highly random nature of the encounters feels challenging, but never completely unfair. The game is pretty generous about giving players a couple of strikes to make mistakes, but the consequences afterwards are equally brutal and entertaining.
Curious Expedition 2 offers a solid visual style. The 2D art reminds me of older story books like Curious George with it’s slightly comical and bright take on the world.
The audio experience is enjoyable. The sound effects are good. The soundtrack is excellent but is hindered slightly by the low number of tracks.
Curious Expedition 2 is a very good game. While combat can be a little repetitive at times, the resource management and party system is fantastic. The story is nice for a rogue-like, even if the story missions can wear on a little too long. Combined with the strong audio/visual presentation, Curious Expedition 2 is an excellent choice for the gamer looking for a creative take on an eclectic set of genres.
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