The Curious Expedition review (Early Access)

Curious Expedition

The expedition is going well. Gerald Lafond has begun talking to no one, Theodore-Chauncey Hurst starts screaming anytime a butterfly gets too close to him, and we dropped our precious supply of torches while fleeing an angry gorilla. As far as the leader of the expedition, Marie Curie, she's set half the forest alight due to a careless campfire, and caused the other half to erupt with volcanoes after stealing a forbidden idol from an ancient shrine. After we narrowly escape fire on one side and lava on the other, a tiger attacks, sinking his fangs into Madame Curie's neck. The nerve! Don't you know she's the first woman to win the Nobel prize, you uncouth tiger?

So it goes—sometimes—in The Curious Expedition, a roguelike exploration game where you choose from a number of notable figures such as Nicola Tesla, Amelia Earhart, Charles Darwin, Aleister Crowley, and Richard Francis Burton, then set off on a series of 19th century expeditions around the world to find legendary golden pyramids. Your most precious resource is sanity, and the further you explore the less you have, leading to party members abandoning you, killing each other, or, as above, screaming at butterflies. You also have to consider your standing in the lands you visit. The natives don't really like it if you raid their shrines or turn their country into a giant forest fire drenched in lava. Tick off the tribesmen too much, and they'll start hunting you down.

Curious Expedition

Sorry about all the fire, unspoiled nature never before touched by man. My bad.

Periodic rest at friendly villages or campsites, and a little luck with discoveries along the way, and you just might live long enough to discover the golden pyramid and make it home to fame and acclaim. It's pretty great when everything goes terribly wrong and you still make it back. For instance, despite these issues I mentioned above, Madame Curie and her party did discover the golden pyramid and the game was forced to conclude that our horribly violent and destructive adventure was a success.

You'll occasionally encounter a hostile animal or person on your journey. Combat, if you choose to undertake it, is accomplished with die rolls based on your party's attributes and gear which lead to offensive attacks, defensive bonuses, or special combos. You'll also be able to trade with villagers and merchants you meet for useful items like weapons and ammo, ropes and shovels, treasure maps, sanity-replenishing food and booze, and even dynamite that allows you to destroy a pesky mountain standing in your way. Plunder ruins, caves, and even the remains of other explorers for loot, which you can auction off or donate to a museum if you return alive.

Not every expedition will treat you with high adventure, fantastic discoveries, and vengeful temple gods. As it goes with procedurally generated worlds and random events, much of your success (and fun) will come down to simple luck. Roll up a favorable world where the pyramid isn't too hard to find or there are enough helpful villages and fewer wild animals, and you'll breeze through without much trouble, bringing home enough treasure to fund your next expedition.

Curious Expedition

What am I bid for the book of the dead. Anyone? Book of the dead.

Sometimes you're not so lucky and the world will be overly hostile or relatively barren of discoveries. Other time you won't even be lucky enough to die entertainingly. I've had games end with me just slowing losing sanity and wandering uninteresting patches of map, no food, nothing to trade, nowhere to rest, with very little of interest ever happening and with virtually no chance of an amazing comeback. It's amusing to think about a wizened Charles Darwin walking for weeks in the wrong direction and then having to eat his party members one at a time on the way back, but it's not necessarily fun. That said, it's a roguelike and the games are quick, so even the dull ones don't last too long.

As far as Early Access games go, The Curious Expedition is more playable than most, and feels more or less complete except for the occasional placeholder art asset and the lack of a robust tutorial, especially for combat. A bit of tweaking might be in order to increase inventory space a smidge, and I feel like sanity drains just a little too quickly. I did encounter one nasty bug: after liberating an idol from a cave, the game informed me I was overburdened, and I had to drop every single one of my possessions before I was allowed to move again. This included the idol, which it would turn out I'd later need to enter the golden pyramid. Needless to say, Tesla's bones are lying alone in a jungle somewhere.

Verdict

As with many games that rely on procedural generation, much of the enjoyment is contingent on getting a favorable (or at least entertainingly unfavorable) seed, and in certain games you just roll up bad luck or a dull world. When it works, though, it's a fun and charming exploration game, and at its most enjoyable when everything goes terribly wrong but you somehow still make it back alive.

Curious Expedition

That's the spirit.

Curious Expedition

Curious Expedition

Curious Expedition

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The first PC game Chris owned was Choplifter in 1982, and since then our staff writer has played at least three other games. He has a love/hate relationship with Early Access survival games and an odd fascination with the lives of NPCs.
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