Expeditions: Conquistador is a turn-based RPG in which you control a group of Conquistadors exploring Central America during the 1500s. Jonas Wæver, developer of critically acclaimed Deus Ex mod The Nameless Mod, is one of the lead designers for the title which – thanks to a late flurry of pledges – has just passed its funding goal on Kickstarter. And based on what I’ve played of an early preview build, this is good news.
I should preface all this by saying that I’m not normally a fan of turn-based RPGs. Normally I like combat to be swift, free flowing and give me instant feedback on what I’m doing rather than be confined into a small static arena where moments that would be a brief formality elsewhere could be dragged out over the course of a few turns. With that in mind, going into Expeditions: Conquistador I didn’t expect to enjoy myself, but I have emerged a changed man.
You start off by creating your own character and selecting a team to travel with you to the New World. While creating your character you can increase certain attributes that define how you intend to approach the game: Tactics, Diplomacy, Leadership, Healing and Hunting. Following on from that you select your team from a batch of classes, with each class having different personalities to choose from. To maintain political balance, I thought it might be nice to take a racist soldier with me on my travels. As there are only ten spaces to fill in your squad and there are five classes to choose from, there didn’t seem to be much room to manoeuvre beyond the cookie cutter team that you’re provided with if you auto-select your party. However, as you become more familiar with each class and its nuances, this should become less of an issue.
Once you’ve selected your team, which is a quick and painless process, you land in the New World and are introduced to the dialogue and conversation system. It’s entirely text based, with no character animation or voice work involved, so a considerate approach to these situations will require some patience as you wade through all the writing.
It isn’t long before you’re thrown into your first combat situation: a training skirmish with one of the Generals in the city you’ve disembarked in. Before every fight you select which troops from your party you’d like to use. Balancing your squad is one of the great challenges early on in the campaign and its importance is hammered home as you struggle through the initial skirmishes. You might think, as I did, that healers would be unnecessary for such early game encounters but I was instead taught a harsh lesson for such complacency. You can have as many racist soldiers in your team as you like, but if you don’t have the means to keep them alive then you’ll always fail quickly. Luckily, all of your squad members are upgradable by assigning ‘equipment’ to them which increases their health and damage or healing output among other things.
There were a few unexplained issues that I experienced during some of the battles – given that this was an early build, there is no in-game tutorial – most notable among them was how some enemy units were able to attack twice in one turn, while I was never able to do that. That seemed to ruin what was otherwise a tactically balanced experience. Expeditions: Conquistador rewards players who are able to flank enemy units by making attacks performed from behind completely ignore defence stats. Another nice combat element is named ‘attack of opportunity’, which is used whenever an enemy unit in a neighbouring hex tries to escape from you or when an enemy ranger tries a ranged attack on you from an adjacent hex. While both of these might sound complicated – and they do require a tactical nous to pull off – they both feel satisfying when you manage to execute them.
When you’re released into the open world after the tutorial, more of Wæver’s game design inspirations become clear to you. You’re limited as to how much you can travel around the world map each day so you must set up camp before you can start the next day. Each time you set up camp you consume your limited supply of rations, during battles there’s a chance that any of your team members may be wounded or become ill and throughout the world there are drops that bolster any of your supplies. Exploration bears plenty of resemblance to The Oregon Trail and, from what I’ve played of it, strikes a delicate balance between random events keeping things interesting and preset rules for keeping things fair.
While there are obvious early build issues (many of which have been acknowledged by developer Logic Artists) that need to be resolved, there are more than enough working elements present to get excited about as Expeditions: Conquistador nears release. The combat is tactically deep and allowing character and team development through skill points stays true to the traditions of ‘choose your own adventure’ without feeling old fashioned. The fact that I was taken in by it surprised me somewhat and it leaves me with no hesitation in recommending it to fans of turn-based RPGs.