Review: Curious Expedition 2 (Nintendo Switch)

8 mins read

Review by Matt S.

I never did review the original Curious Expedition. But I did do a video on it. In that video, I called it a “cracking roguelike.” Given that Curious Expedition 2 is better than the original, I guess that makes this game “cracking+”.

It could have gone so wrong. This is a game in which you play as Europeans, exploring “uncharted” islands, with the intention of gathering loot and knowledge to take back to Europe. Historically, the people that did this kind of thing were somewhere south of good, and that loot was stuff that they shouldn’t have been taking back. Rather than hide behind the “we’re not trying to make a political game” nonsense, however, the developers have found ways to make sure that you can firstly, have the adventure by not be those Europeans (it is possible to respect the natives!) and, secondly, if you do decide to go conquistador on the locals, then bad things can happen in return. For example, half the island blowing up when you get just that little bit too greedy and stole a precious artifact from a shrine.

If you are nice to the natives and don’t steal their God-stones, they let you use their village as a base of operations, and even provide you with guides and assistance. If you’re not very nice you’ll probably starve out there in the wilderness. The point here is that Curious Expedition facilitates the wonders of exploration without letting you get away with genociding the locals as the real Europeans preferred to.

Each map in Curious Expedition 2 is a randomised map (it’s a roguelike, after all), but they all play out in the same way; you arrive on the island in your boat and need to complete a major objective, while also trying to check off some minor ones along the way. The map is drawn up in hexagons, and as you move from one hex to the next, some of your party’s “sanity” starts to decline. If that reaches zero before you’ve completed your objective, then horrible things (including death) start to occur.

Sanity can be preserved by consuming chocolate or alcohol, or resting in friendly villager towns. The loss of sanity can be further mitigated by having climbing equipment (to make navigating hilly areas), dynamite (for blasting through mountains) and water (to work through desert areas). However, there are only so many things your expedition can carry and most maps have a limit to how long you can hang around. The core gameplay experience, therefore, is resource management, and working out ways to traverse as much of each map in the most efficient way possible. Like The Oregon Trail. But with more depth. There are factions to appease, units to recruit into your party and level-up, and an overarching narrative with plenty of moral choices to make.

Finally, there is combat, which is dice-based, and really quite complex. Each character has a number of different dice, based on their abilities, and those dice can attack, defend, or use supporting abilities (such as healing). On each turn in combat, you roll all these character’s dice, and then arrange them based on the effects that you want to have play out. You can boost some abilities by “burning” excess dice, or re-roll dice once, if you’re not happy with the results. There’s a lot of randomisation in this combat system – too much, really – but it’s an exciting, dynamic system for a game that features a lot of difficult enemies and threats. Just make sure that you bring plenty of bandages into battle. You’ll need them out the other end, lest your wounded characters fade and eventually die.

The world of Curious Expedition 2 is hostile and the odds are very much stacked against you… but then that’s also the point, isn’t it? The unknown is dangerous, and because it’s unknown, it becomes very easy to make mistakes. The more familiar you become with Curious Expedition 2 (and though the maps are randomised you will become very familiar with the events and experiences) the better you’ll get at surviving it, but also the less of an edge it has. That’s perhaps the game’s greatest weakness, but the first couple of hours, where you’ll muddle through and most likely inflict catastrophic failures on your party is tonally perfect.

It’s also gorgeous. The map itself is pretty mundane, though carries a board game aesthetic that, as a board game nerd, I appreciated. In the various key scenes and encounters, however, the action cuts to comic book-like renditions that set breathtaking and exotic scenes. In combat, too, the vivid enemy and character designs paint quite the picture. It’s the visual engine that presents a wry sense of humour, too. Nothing about Curious Expedition 2 is trying to be laugh-out-loud humourous, but the visual aesthetic (plus dinosaurs and things) prevents it from becoming too self-serious for its own good. It’s also worth mentioning that it’s the visual engine where Curious Expedition 2 steps up the most from its predecessor – that game had smallish character designs and lost a lot of personality because it was hard to see details. This one has clearly been a more ambitious art project.

Curious Expedition 2 might not be too much of a step up from its predecessor, but then it also didn’t need to be. The original was already an excellent foundation in the way that it provided players with a challenging roguelike focused on exploring exotic lands and discovering incredible wonders. Now, with Curious Expedition 2, not only is that gameplay fine-tuned and refined, but the art matches the wonderous beauty that your characters are meant to be witnessing.

Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb

This is the bio under which all legacy articles are published (as in the 12,000-odd, before we moved to the new Website and platform). This is not a member of the DDNet Team. Please see the article's text for byline attribution.

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