What We Think
As the captain of a Spanish expedition into 16th century Central America, every step you take will pose new challenges. Treachery awaits not only ensconced within the savage terrain, but also amongst the people that inhabit this new world.
As a tactics-style RPG, Expeditions: Conquistador is a triumph. Solid battle mechanics are paired with subtle party maintenance aspects, creating a thoroughly engaging and challenging trek through hostile lands.
Learning The Ropes
Initially, you are prompted to name the captain of the expedition, determine his or her starting attributes and hire a team of followers. Team members each represent a unit type (soldier, hunter, etc) and will also have their own personality traits. For each unit type selected, a bonus is applied to the associated attribute. All of these aspects contribute to your overall stats you will bring into the story.
Upon arriving at the settlement, you are stripped of your team, and forced to prove your worth by showing your “prowess” with battle tactics before you will be allowed to command them again. This tutorial level introduces the basic tenets of the turn-based combat portions, and is fairly easily completed.
With your team reunited, the governor explains the dire nature of the situation, and bids you out into the wilderness to fight back rebels and natives alike. Success will be determined by how well you handle yourself in the numerous battles that crop up, how you interact with your teammates on a personal level, and by how well you adapt to the cruel jungles of Central America as you travel between points of interest.
A Whole New World (Don’t You Dare Close Your Eyes)
Your team is represented by the captain and his horse on the world map. To travel, click on a part of the map away from the captain, and it will display the course to be taken. There there is a set amount of steps that can be taken in a day, and certain types of terrain may gobble up movement points more quickly. Herbs, wild boars and treasure chests can all be acquired by moving towards them, but getting there might also mean a greater draw on resources.
Once all movement points are depleted, you must set up camp for the night. By default, food and and rations will be distributed. Should you choose the default settings, you’ll quickly burn through supplies in a few short nights. While mere survival is crucial, just scraping by will eventually hack away at your team’s morale. To avoid this, take some time to divide up camp tasks.
One Time? At Band Camp?
Hunters will go off to search for meat, but with no one on preservation duty, whatever isn’t eaten is tossed away, having spoiled. Making rations of the rest ensures that all the meat is put to use. Similarly, should the days’ travels uncover a wealth of medicinal herbs, assigning a doctor to make them into medicine will ensure that there are plenty of poultices on hand, should one of your teammates fall ill or sustain battle injuries. Build traps to use against enemy hordes, and have scholars work on ways to improve your camp gear. Take care of your team, and their opinion of you will remain high.
During some evenings, events will occur at the campsite prompting a one-on-one interaction with a member of the party, often revealing some of the character’s backstory. Depending on how your play your cards, the individual’s attitude towards you can change, for good or ill. Are you the type of captain who identifies with his soldiers, or do you haughtily dismiss their problems as beneath you? And really…when you’re in a jungle thousands of miles from the nearest Spanish city, so you really want to be surrounded by a bunch of armed men and women who secretly hate your guts?
While it may feel like micro-management at first, I found the campsite activities to be one of the more alluring aspects of the game. Taking a minute to ensure that all the I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed can have a huge impact the outcome of the game and creates the impression that you aren’t just moving a horde of troops through the wildnerness; you are travelling alongside a real community.
Turn based battles will occur semi-frequently, and will determine the outcome of several missions. After selecting a number of units (typically 6, but there are exceptions), there is a preparation stage, allowing you to place traps or barricades, and to position your units within the initial range. Each team moves and selects actions for all of its units before handing control back to the other side. To win, defeat the enemy units before they can do the same to yours.
Hunters will primarily attack with bows or rifles, while soldiers and scouts can perform powerful melee assaults, and have better starting defense stats. Scholars can buff your units and debuff enemies, and doctors can provide on-the-fly medical applications such as boosting endurance, or reviving fallen units.
Promoting, Health and Wellness
Characters also gain special perks and abilities as they are promoted. These abilities may allow you to spot enemy traps, avoid Attacks of Opportunity (which allow an adjacent enemy to get in a swipe should you try to leave the tile next to him) or hide from sight, along with a slew of other actions. Other than the initial skills, these additional actions are selected by the player when a promotion is bestowed. Though the descriptions often sound less than impressive, using one in a pinch can often turn the tide of a skirmish.
Should a character fall in battle, he may require medical attention depending on the severity of the attack that brings him down. Reversing these injuries will require assigning a doctor to him at campsites, and the care will deplete medical stores. Failure to provide attention will mean the injuries worsen each day until the unit expires from his wounds. Unless you have a wealth of medicine and an entire doctor’s college in your entourage, it is wise to ensure that you don’t send individual units up against insurmountable odds.
Conquistador of Hearts and Minds
While battle is oftentimes inevitable, how you handle yourself in the moments that lead to battle can create distinct advantages. Diplomacy and patience can lower the guard of your foes, while rushing headlong into a conflict can land your troops in the middle of a losing contest.
Your stats and the types of troops you have on hand will determine the types of pre-battle strategies available to you, as well as the likelihood of success for any given action. Even if you succeed in a battle, your team will be here for a good long while: Take the time to determine what course of action is most likely to diminish the risks to your followers.
Woodwind Pipes and Spanish Guitar
The world of Expeditions: Conquistador is catapulted ever upward by the art and music design. Story events and load screens are punctuated by gorgeous hand-painted portraits and imagery that burst with color. The world map is also suitably lush and complex: moving too far from the main roads will often lead to areas overgrown with dense foliage. Clicking around to find an exit can take some time, and its possible to lose a couple of days due to an unexpected dead end. While it can feel a mite clunky, it also generates a genuine frustration for having lost your way.
The soundtrack manages to capture the adrenaline of exploration and battle, while still keeping a distinct Spanish theme at the forefront. City events leisurely administer licks of sultry Spanish guitar. While travelling or engaged in battle, woodwind pipes and tribal drums accompany the strings, subtly reminding the player that they aren’t in Madrid anymore.
Claim Your Spoils
There is a LOT of reading to endure in the game’s early moments. The introduction is highly informative, but can lean towards the overly wordy side. Should you stick with it, the game emerges as an epic quest that positively begs for your own personal nuances.
For those willing to make the trek and do some digging, Expeditions: Conquistador is a treasure chest bursting with narrative, action, and strategy elements just waiting to be cracked open.