“We came to serve God and to get rich, as all men wish to do.”
- Bernal Diaz del Castillo, Spanish conquistador-
If you, a young conquistador, were to board the ‘Santa Maria’, a Spanish vessel in the year 1518 headed for the New World, what would your motives of going be? Would you spread the word of God? Would you become rich and obtain glory? Expeditions: Conquistador leaves you to this choice. In my case, I decided to part on an adventure, and to ultimately discover the mysteries of the Americas and its natives. On a side-note *cough*, I also spread bibles around for money, and I filled my pockets with stolen gold.
Best described as a tactical role-playing game with strategic elements, Logic Artists’ Expeditions: Conquistador launched earlier this year after it was successfully crowd funded on Kickstarter. Reminiscent of game series such as Age of Empires, Sid Meier’s Civilization and Anno, I was keen to try out Conquistador, especially since it’s centered on a rather important period in history that’s not often explored in video games: the golden age of exploration and colonization.
Developer: Logic Artists
Genre: Tactical RPG
The game mechanics work as follows: when players arrive in the New World at Santo Domingo or in Mexico (depending on which campaign they pick), they advance in the game by following tasks and completing objectives given to them by characters in the game. The world itself is mainly composed of humid tropical forests and mountains, and scattered around the map, players will come across small native villages, ruins and treasures. Like many RPG’s Conquistador involves a pinch of ‘choose-your-own-adventure’, meaning that players roam around freely inside this world with a freedom to choose what quests they want to follow first and where they want to head off to. At the beginning, players are equally given the possibility to choose the members that will take part in the expedition from a wide selection of doctors, soldiers, hunters, scholars and scouts.
If ever, this sense of freedom is perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the game; and exploring becomes addicting to say the least. It gives players the motivation to simply wonder off into the wild to discover and to uncover all the different parts of the map, whilst hoping to stay alive and to find valuable resources in the process. Reckless as I was, I ran straight into a trap…
There are several factors one must keep in mind when heading out, and this is where a touch of strategic resource and member management becomes essential. As leader of an expedition, players must, after every turn, supply their party with sufficient food, protection, medicine and morale. In addition, each follower is given a task for the night, which ranges from hunting and guarding to curing other expedition members. Efficient management can, in a place like Central America, mean a difference between life and death. Fail to meet the needs of the men, and the expedition wholly fails. In my case, after being ambushed by a group of rebels, my party literally crumbled to bits. Plagued with fatal injuries and disease, my men quickly deteriorated in health due to an insufficient supply of medicine. I barely recovered from the attack, 4 brave gentlemen died, another 6 remained injured and I saw my money supply of 5000 drop down to 0. In other words, it was game over.
In my experience, the power of Expeditions: Conquistador lies within the fact that players are forced to pay attention to the decisions they make throughout the game; a bad decision can just as well mean the end for that matter. Conquistador is not simply an exploration game, but also a game where choice and consequence lay at its core and as leader you will come to face tough decisions about the use of your troops and your resources. Players must constantly ensure that the expedition does not run into trouble or run short of resources: they are required to pull out all of their leadership skills.
One of those skills tested is your ability to command in the heat of battle. If players lose a fight, they can face sour consequences on their followers’ health, and things start to go downhill from there onwards. Therefore they cannot afford to lose. Gameplay is turn-based, and players can move up to 6 units around on a hexagonal grid, using things such as cover, fishnets, and caltraps to outsmart the enemy. Due to a large variety of long-range and short-range units, special moves and differences in rank, the battle mode becomes intense without ever becoming complex and it definitely feels rewarding once the battle is won.
Whilst gameplay is solid and entertaining, the same cannot be said about Expeditions: Conquistador‘s story. What starts out looking like a promising storyline eventually weakens as players progress in the game, till it eventually loses much of its touch. The story of the inexperienced conquistador in the New World is rather disappointing; more could have been done to make it something that truly lived. This would have motivated me even more to continue playing after many hours into the game. Perhaps dialogues with other characters partially helped to give a bit of depth to the story as well as offer a break from repetitive gameplay, but they weren’t enough to convince me.