Renowned Explorers: International Society

I’ve been playing a lot of these small independently produced games lately. I guess I should move back to AAA-games soon. This one ticks a lot of boxes for me: exploration theme, turn-based battles, text-based adventures and a deep upgrade system. It’s no wonder that this one was a hit on Broken Forum as well.

The theme is pretty morally reprehensible if you stop to think about it. You lead a team of explorers based out of London and your objective is to travel to exotic locations around the world and explore them. And by explore, I mean accumulate valuable goods, earn kudos, record scientific findings and most importantly of all, grab precious treasures whether by dint of deception, charm or violence. It’s so awful that I find myself bemused by how shocked the explorers are about the existence of an Anti-Explorers league dedicated to fighting them. The characters do have personalities and the nice ones do get upset if you resort to violence to grab treasures but overall it’s hard to think of them as the good guys.

Anyway, the game makes up for it with its excellent mechanics. You lead a team of three explorers out of a roster of twenty characters. Base classes and skills help to solve out of combat challenges presented in the text. Stats and special powers are used during combat encounters. The most unique aspect of the game is that there are three modes of attack. You have the usual physical attack of all games and you can two speech based attacks, taking either a friendly approach or a devious one. The choice of attacks changes the mood of the encounter and thus gives different bonuses or penalties. This means, for example, that naked hostility beats friendliness, while deviousness beats hostility. It takes some getting used too, since the speech based attacks also change the emotional state of the affected characters. Confident characters are better at violence for example while saddened ones lose some of their speech power.

Also confusing for newcomers are the tokens system and the resources they represent. Status can be spent to purchase followers, which improve the value of each token you earn. Study is used to research tech trees which unlock all kinds of neat effects. Gold is spent to buy better equipment. Insight is used to earn additional tokens in between expeditions on the world map. The objective of the game is to earn renown and getting a high score requires a fine understanding of how all these systems interact and how best to leverage the special advantages of your chosen team. The whole thing is surprisingly sophisticated and quite a lot of fun to work out.

The expeditions themselves are okay. They’re pretty straightforward and each has an obvious theme. I do like that there are all kinds of special interactions for the characters, which add surprises and replay value. The game’s weakest point might be that there are so few expeditions. Without any DLC, I think there are only about ten of them, and three of these are the small starter expeditions which you can’t pick anyway. If you play through the game a bunch of times with different teams, you’ll very quickly get tired of the same expeditions over and over again. Another quibble is that if you really care about getting a high score, you really must fuss over the exact treasures that you go for and the exact equipment available for sale in the various shops. Since you need to pay to unlock different tiers of equipment at shops, you’re really forced to look up guides on exactly what equipment is available to plan the best strategy.

Overall I found this to be a very rich and fun game. You can configure teams in all sorts of ways whether to excel in combat or to gather tokens as quickly as possible. All kinds of strategies are possible in combat as well, and my personal favorite one is going for a friendly team that just heals through all damage. Also noteworthy is the absolutely ridiculous number of achievements it has on Steam. If you care about this kind of stuff, it’s a good way to keep you motivated across multiple playthroughs.

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