I’ve always dreamed of joining Indiana Jones on an epic adventure for sacred treasure as a kid, which lead to my fascination for the adventure movie genre. Games like Uncharted are also a personal favorite of mine, successfully allowing me to partake in crazy expeditions that I wouldn’t dare attempt in real life due to my boring and predictable existence. When Renowned Explorers: International Society by Abbey Games found it’s way into my hands, I was skeptical since I was having trouble figuring out how they would ever pull off a rouge-like adventure game properly. The whole concept of an adventure game is to travel to multiple locations across the world, narrowly escaping death all while somehow arising victorious even though all the cards are stacked up against you. How could you capture that larger than life feeling when you would have to constantly restart from the beginning of the game every time you failed? Abbey Games took up this challenge and ended up crafting a gaming experience that is packed full of cheesy goodness, which left me utterly impressed. If you have read my previous reviews of rouge-like titles on SteamFirst, you will understand the gravity of this statement; I’ve never played a rouge-like that is even marginally similar to Renowned Explorers, and I mean that in the best way possible.
Renowned Explorers is a prefect mix of choose your own adventure, RPG and turned based strategy. I always admire games that refuse to be chained down into one genre, deciding to carve their own paths into the gaming industry. With no other games to follow behind, these rebellious elites decide to figure it out as they go, hoping their uniqueness and inability to follow the trends of modern times raises eyebrows. The premise of Renowned Explorers is simple; you are part of an International Society of Renowned Explorers. Your job is to create a party of three explorers who will set out on many expeditions on the quest for rare treasures and un-parallel fame. The way to the top of this international society is to obtain the most renown points; the amount of treasure you acquire and the rarity of the finds determine the amount of points your team receives. It’s a basic plot device that is utilized to hold together a game with so much depth that it boggles the mind of simpletons throughout the globe.
A play-through starts with the creation of your team. You get to choose two members from a pool of 20 characters, and a captain from a limited list using the same group of characters. Each character has a unique bonus if they are the captain, and more candidates for this role are unlocked the more you play the game. We will discuss the importance of this decision in a bit. Once your team is chosen, it’s time to begin your first expedition. The majority of each mission is played on a map similar to a game board. With each turn you get to choose where you want your party to travel, only being allowed to move one space from your current location. Each move takes up a certain amount of supplies. Once your party runs out of supplies, your party members start to lose random stat points. Now, this may not seem like a big deal at first, but once you reach the final boss of the mission, these stat imperfections can mean the difference between life and death.
Whenever you move to a new space on the map, a new event is triggered, and you must decide the best method to resolve these events with minimal repercussions while reaping the largest amount of benefits possible. A lot of factors can go into navigating through these events efficiently, and the immense quantity of possible scenarios makes it nearly impossible to predict what lays in store for your team before making a decision on the best move to make. Some of these scenarios can escalate into a confrontation, which propels you into combat, transitioning into another style of gameplay. In these encounters, battles are played out using a turned based combat system like Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics. Your team has a base amount of Resolve points, which can be increased later. Once your team reaches zero resolve during an encounter or event, or if your party is wiped out, your entire adventure is over. I don’t mean the select expedition, but the whole adventure with the crew you created. Once you successfully uncover the rare treasure and defeat the boss, you return from your expedition to a map of the world. From here you can visit various shops and buildings across the globe in order to improve your party’s equipment, stats, and overall standing within the Society. When your team is ready, you can choose from a list of different expeditions in order to find another rare treasure in a different part of the world. Once you complete four expeditions, your season is over, and the annual Explorer competition begins. Now that you have a basic understanding on how the game is played, let’s dissect all the main aspects to determine what makes this game so special.
Battle Mechanics 5/5
Looking at my personal opinion regarding confrontation, I strongly believe that avoiding physical altercation through the use of speech is always an option, and I have lived up to that belief my entire life by avoiding my face being rearranged with the power of language. When a game allows me the option to defeat my foes using speech instead of violence, I have to grant it extra brownie points. Renowned Explorers not only utilized a battle system with verbal attacks as an option, they integrated it as a core mechanic for all battles in the game. If you have played Fire Emblem, you are familiar with the triangle system. For FE, spears beat swords, swords beat axes and axes beat spears. This same type of triangle system was used in Renowned Explorers, but it determines which method of attacks are stronger than the other, instead of using it to only determine the superior weapon in each fight. These three methods of engagement are Aggressive, Devious and Friendly.
Every character in your party has three base attacks, one for each method. The skills a character learns from leveling up will fall into whatever method the character is proficient in. Any attack or skill under the aggressive manner deals physical damage to the opponent, and they typically inflict anger onto their target. Devious and Friendly attacks inflict Speech damage. This is when the uniqueness of each character becomes important. Devious and Friendly attacks typically deal damage, but they also inflict different emotions onto their target. For example, some Devious attacks can cause their target to become terrified, which can stun the enemy for a turn, or it can inflict them with intense sadness, lowering one of their stats. Friendly attacks inflict damage and emotions onto the enemy in the same way, but also can be used to heal your teammates instead of being used as a weapon.
At face value, this battle system was overwhelmingly cheesy, and most of my friends wouldn’t take it seriously based off my description of the emotion mechanics. However, once you start to break down and study how to create the best teams and contemplate the best strategies for every situation, you realize just how immersive and entertaining this mechanic truly is. Each battle also has victory conditions, which grant you bonuses depending on what method was used to conquer the fight. If you switch the entire mood of the fight to Devious, and your enemy is using a Friendly approach, then a new effect is added to the entire board. These effects are normally stat changes like -25 to Speech defense or +25 to all Devious attacks. Not only do you need to ensure the mood of the battle benefits your party, you also need to finish each battle with a certain mood in order to obtain the victory bonus you would like. When you add the rouge-like element, each battle is coupled with a sense of tension and concentration since any mistakes could be the end of your adventure. Renowned Explorer did a splendid job at creating an engaging battle system that I could see myself going back to in the future.
Choose your own adventure mechanic/ story- 5/5
I have been struggling trying to decide what is my favorite part of Renowned Explorer. I absolutely adore the battle system, but the choose your own adventure and story portion of the game is full of quirks which kept me entertained. As I mentioned at the start of the review a majority of the game is spent on the map screen where you are exploring the area looking for random treasure while slowly getting closer to your goal. Every tile sparks a mini adventure. Some are as simple as “there was nothing of interest here”, but most lead to exciting story arcs that can provide perks and/or wealth, or can be the ultimate demise of your entire play session. In most of these situations, you are given a list of choices on how to handle the trial before you, and every little choice matters. Like the battle system, there is a lot of factors that go into making the right choices, all the way down to the characters you choose and the way you level them up.
Every character not only has an affinity towards a certain method of combat, but they also have perks. Some examples of perks are quick thinker, Athlete, Naturalist, and Rogue. Each character starts with at least one perk, and they gain more as they level up. Each level up gives you two choices to pick from, so make sure you plan ahead and stop to think about what would benefit the team the most. Perks are important because they can help your party succeed and overcome an array of different situations you will be faced with. The first choice is when you’re choosing which expedition to embark on. They list off the perks and which method of fighting will work best with each mission. Make sure you pay attention to this text, because going into the desert with a diplomat, scientist and rogue when the mission notes clearly advised a different party type is a horrible idea. I suffered through it so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.
When choosing which tile to travel to during a mission, hover over each area, so you can get a general idea of what to expect. Perks give your character a higher chance of passing a test in that select skill. If you are dealing with a group of bandits, and you have a character with the diplomat perk, he may have a 40 percent higher chance to instill wisdom upon the bandits, which will hopefully lead to your triumph. If you succeed in passing a skill test, then you will receive a bonus. If you fail, then you may be subjected to a penalty. Some can be severe, so watch your step! Overall, the amount of choices and possibilities kept the game fresh, and I never went through a mission in the same exact way as I did before.
Replay Value 4.5/5
The biggest factor that determines the success of any rogue-like is the replay value. I already went over most of the deciding factors regarding this topic, and for the most part I enjoyed playing through the game multiple times. The only real issue I had was the reward system for playing through the game. Most rogue-likes allow you to unlock new skills, weapons or other useful items in order to make the game easier, or to add variety to the game. With Renowned Explorers, the only feature they added was the ability to unlock the same characters you can already choose from as a captain. Captains come with a special skill or passive ability. These abilities can help balance out a team and can become the upper hand you need to succeed. My issue is I wish there were more. I’m being slightly picky when it comes to this, but if they did not have every character unlocked from the start, or if they added a totally different perk system, I feel that would help add to the desire the player has when deciding on starting up another play-through.
There are not many games that are perfect, so finding at least one aspect that can be improved in any given title is normally a simple feat. When it came to Renowned Explorers, I had to actively search for a flaw, and had to ponder what could make the game better. Besides adding extra elements to increase the game’s replay value, I feel like this title is close to perfection. It accomplished everything it set out to achieve, and successfully provided me with an enjoyable gaming experience, filled with critical thinking and a bucket full of laughs. This game is worth every penny of the $19 asking price. If you agree, you can find it here. If you are an achievement fiend, the 136 this games provides will surely wet your pallet. If you decide to pick up the game, or already have before reading this review, leave a comment with your favorite team combination below. I would love to see how you guys succeeded or failed with certain team mash-ups.