I’ve found a soft spot in my heart for games about exploration- not so much for sandbox games that are about finding things in big, open worlds (as much as I love those), but for games which are more akin to treasure hunting RPGs. My latest episode of 2 Minutes 2 Love (on the Roku channel 9 Bit at the moment and eventually coming to Youtube) is about Renowned Explorers: International Society, which is a game in which you pull together a crew of people with unique skill sets and go around the world in search of adventure, treasure, fame, and fortune- it’s one of my favorite games.
Curious Expedition 2, now available on Steam and in Early Access, is pretty similar in a lot of ways, but sets itself apart in many other ways. CE2 seems to have less of a focus, thus far, on juggling resources than RE:IS– it’s more streamlined, but in exchange for complexity, it seems that there’s more content. At least, that’s my initial impression.
Set in a fantastical late 19th century, in Curious Expedition 2, you start off with a small party that lands on a mysterious island, and in your hunt for treasure, you discover that the island and its inhabitants have more secrets than you initially bargained for. As it turns out, mysterious islands have begun to appear in the Atlantic, and as you explore, you bring home treasure and intrigue to show off at the upcoming 1889 Paris World’s Fair.
As your party explores the island, your sanity slowly drains, as indicated by a meter atop the screen. Is the place driving you mad? Nope, that’s just a side effect of exploration, nothing to be worried about- your sanity is restored by finding a safe place to rest, eating chocolate, or drinking whiskey. Be careful about that last one, though, as it occasionally backfires, creating alcoholic crew members who function worse without booze. If your party manages to lose its sanity, every step you take puts you at increasing risk for a catastrophe. One of your party members might get fed up with your ceaseless wandering and straight up quit, or somebody could get injured and you’ll need to use your finite medical supplies to heal them.
Something I really love about Curious Expedition 2 is that your party members have personalities that extend beyond their roles. For instance, I hired a translator who turned out to be a real sexist; sometimes when my party was resting to restore their sanity, this would cause rifts between him and other party members. Sometimes, characters would start hating each other, and this would put the unity of the party at risk- meaning that things could go really wrong if you manage to lose enough sanity.
A lot of things in the game are decided by dice rolls and random chance; for instance, if you activate a trap at an archaeological site Indiana Jones-style, you’ll need to roll a set of dice that’s determined by who’s in your party. Each character has three attributes- for now, let’s call them strength, agility, and wisdom, in varying measure- and each is linked to a different skill. So if your party’s full of agile characters, you’ll probably be okay, since the dice roll for agility has good odds of helping you escape the trap. But, if you picked a party full of beefcakes, your trapped character might get injured.
Combat works sort of similarly- suppose you’re fighting a bunch of hyenas- when it’s your turn to attack, you roll the dice and they’re all blue, for understanding- whatever healers are in your party will be able to take advantage of this, but vigor and cunning- red and green- are missing, meaning that attacks or buffs that depend on those abilities will be unavailable unless you re-roll the dice, which will be necessary in order to actually attack.
One of the most interesting facets of the game, in my opinion, is that you’ve got a reputation that follows you around on your expedition. To illustrate, if you start your expedition by blasting through mountains and destroying local wildlife, it has a negative impact on the way the people on the island see you. You can improve your reputation through favorable trade, by having the right characters in your party, and by taking certain opportunities to learn about the culture of the people on the island. I am curious as to if the game’s writers will, in-game, broach the topic of imperialism and showing up to somebody’s island, taking their stuff, and leaving. I get it- Curious Explorers is a video game set in the late 1800s, and it’s not super serious. I do appreciate that it treats its characters with respect; while they’re all pretty simple by design, they have depth and motivations- the natives of the islands you encounter on each island aren’t amorphous primitives but little societies- the game’s writers have done well in this regard. I just think it’d be neat if the game offered some sort of commentary on the long term consequences of taking somebody’s stuff and putting it in a museum.
Then again, the game isn’t quite complete yet- it’s in Early Access for a reason- besides the fact that the developers are still adding content, they’re also in the process of adding features. I do wish that the game would warn me before I made certain decisions- for instance, after one particularly successful mission, I paid a couple extra new characters to join my next expedition- after my ship landed, however, I discovered that there was no way to embark on the expedition without first dismissing those new characters from my party. I couldn’t just leave them on the boat- which would’ve made sense- I had to straight up fire them. Besides this, however, I don’t really have any gripes with the game as I played it, and I’m looking forward to playing more Curious Expedition 2 as it’s developed further. As I was writing this piece, in fact, the developers dropped an update full of dinosaurs, with new locations, events, and some quality-of-life fixes.
Overall, I recommend checking out Curious Expedition 2; I confess to not having yet played the original game, that said, it doesn’t seem that you need to be familiar with the rest of the series to jump into this one. If you’re looking for a laid back adventure that lets you explore at your own pace, you’ll want to take a look at this one.