If there’s anything that all RPGs have in common, it’s their sense of adventure. No matter whether you’re saving the world or just turning in some side quests, the one thing that drives an RPG is the need to explore – to discover exciting new locations and uncover the treasures within. It’s only natural then that Logic Artists’ Expeditions: Conquistador, a historical strategy RPG set in the 16th Century, is built around the theme of braving dangerous new frontiers. Playing as a Spanish explorer hunting for fame and riches in a newly discovered North America, you’ll set out on a fantastic non-linear journey that gives you the chance to shape history itself.
At first, Conquistador seems to have a fairly simple premise: you’re the leader of a new expedition to America, commissioned by the Spanish Crown to explore uncharted lands. It sounds similar to older strategy games like Sid Meier’s Colonization or Conquest of the New World, but Expeditions: Conquistador spices it up with something many modern RPGs promise, but never actually deliver: choices that matter. From your very first steps on the shores of the New World, you’re given a ton of different dialogue and role-playing options to define your character’s personality and goals, and almost every decision has consequences that can make each playthrough wildly different. It really does feel like your character’s actions are shaping history – aside from a slew of different endings to strive towards, your choices can make and break alliances between nations, cause empires to rise and fall and even change history completely. Want to beat Hernan Cortes to the punch and take down the Aztec empire a few years early? You can do it. How about joining up with them instead and helping them conquer all of Mexico? Go ahead. Conquistador‘s best element is easily its story, which happens because of you, and not to you.
A non-linear story wouldn’t mean much without engaging gameplay though, so it’s a good thing that Conquistador delivers on that front, too. Something that appealed to my inner D&D geek is that Logic Artists have managed to create a nostalgic feeling old-school feeling in Expeditions: Conquistador, with exploration and RPG mechanics that bring to mind older text based games like Ultima. You start the game by creating your character, choosing their name and gender and assigning values to their main stats, and then picking some party members to accompany you on your expedition. What’s interesting about Conquistador‘s gameplay is that your main character, as leader of the expedition, doesn’t fight or directly participate in special encounters. Instead, you rely on the men and women under your command to accomplish these tasks, with your main character’s attributes subtly influencing their effectiveness. A protagonist with a high Tactics stat, for example, gives his followers bonuses in combat, while someone with high Scouting is able to gather more useful information when he sends scouts out before combat.
For the most part, the game is divided equally into two halves, exploration and combat. In the exploration segment, you control your whole expedition and move them across the world map, seeking out treasure, settlements and other places of interest. Your party can only make a certain amount of moves across the map in each game day and at the end of each day, you have to set up camp, assigning tasks to your followers to perform during the night such as hunting or upgrading equipment. The main goal is to make sure that your expedition has enough food, medicine and weapons to keep exploring (obtained via hunting in the wilderness or trading in settlements) and that all of your followers remain loyal (accomplished via role playing encounters each night when you camp).
While exploring, you occasionally encounter hostiles, and you’re thrown into combat. The combat segment of the game is essentially a squad based TBS. You pick some of your soldiers to use, choose their starting locations on the map, and then take turns trying to defeat the AI. You can construct and set up traps to snare your enemies, or flank them from both sides, or rain death with ranged attacks from high ground and all sorts of other tactical maneuvers. It basically plays like a medieval version of XCOM, complete with perma-death for any followers unfortunate enough to bite the dust. It’s pretty tense, and there are some genuinely challenging engagements throughout the game. You don’t have to feel too bad if you lose, though – the non-linear story adapts to your losses, and rather than being a game over, losing a battle may even open up a brand new plotline to follow.
So, bottom line, is Expeditions: Conquistador worth your time? If you couldn’t tell from all my gushing, this is a gem of an RPG that any fan of choice driven games shouldn’t pass up. For $19.99 you’re getting a campaign that’s over 40 hours long, plus multiple endings and alternate storylines that will immediately entice you into taking another run as soon as you finish. I can’t wait for the sequel. Go and grab it here.