Curious Expedition Switch Review

Lurking on the PC since 2016, Curious Expedition makes its way to consoles in this Switch review - a rogue-like exploration game set in the 19th century.

Exploration is the action of exploring an unfamiliar area. When you have procedurally generated maps and events, Curious Expedition guarantees that you are forever in unknown territories and it’s the epitome of an open world environment.

Thank you to Thunderful Games for the review code. At no point did they offer a bribe for a good review, but if they did offer me a tiger, I would have accepted.

Set in the 19th century, you play one of several explorers from London’s Explorers Club. It’s an exclusive members-only operation for the elite whose aim it is to venture forth into unchartered lands, befriend or enslave tribal populations and secure your return home with a plethora of valuables. In summary, Curious Expedition is a pissing contest on who can achieve the most fame or wealth – hell, why not both? On paper, this tale of colonialism shouldn’t work, nor should you root for these mostly upper-class twots, but you know what? It’s a ruddy marvellous game.

Curious Expedition - World 3
There’s more than three worlds?!

At the beginning of each expedition, you choose one of the infamous explorers ranging from mainstays like Charles Darwin to the less well known in exploration circles, but equally notorious Grigori Rasputin.

It was the latter historical figure that I had my best run: a sun dodging supposedly well-endowed individual with a hypnotic talent, slaying leopards and bartering with missionaries. Historically accurate? It doesn’t matter; Curious Expedition is a deceivingly simple-looking indie title that has a lot horsepower under the hood.

Around In The World In 80 Days

Back to the expedition. You choose your character, and three more are selected and controlled by the AI. The three AI’s will be allocated locations on the world map, and you then have the option to travel to one of two places; sometimes Australia or the Antarctic, the Amazon rainforests to the African deserts. Each area has its rewards and perils, but replicating real-life, I would seldom choose the colder places. 

Give me a tiger over a polar bear any day.

Before you embark, you’ll usually encounter a traveller or local that will make a request. Kill an elusive wild animal and bring back proof, deliver a letter to the chief of a village or locate and retrieve as many musical instruments as possible for a handsome reward are just some of the sub-quests.

These sequences in Curious Expedition usually feature a passage of text with the story detailing the surroundings, as well as dialogue and command options on the left side of the screen. To the right is an illustration of your ship, and later encounters will depict temples and shrines, villages, waterfalls and combat scenarios. This aesthetic resembles a journal of your expedition; the number of days you’ve been travelling shown at the top of the page.

After you choose your opening task (accept or refuse it), your ship sets sail into new territories to explore. The aim is to either find the golden pyramid located on each map before your rivals, or use your hot air balloon to retreat, but taking as much loot back with you as possible.

Once you and your entourage step off the ship with supplies in tow, you use the on-screen cursor to point to where you wish to go. Each area on the map is represented by a hexagon(?) that is greyed out. Venture forth, and the map reveals itself and features several question marks that are points of interest. There are also natural obstacles such as mountains and coastlines, and of course, predators. Usually big cats.

Curious Expedition - Impressive
It’s only a model.

Losing Sanity Through Movement

Curious Expedition isn’t a turn-based game when it comes to movement, but there is a restriction on how far you move without a penalty. The easiest and most effective way of travelling is in one straight route, but there will be times where you need to manoeuvre around mountains or avoid the locals, i.e. gorillas and vultures. Each time you move, it comes out of your energy gauge, a.k.a. sanity. When it gets to zero, you begin to incur injuries, become over-encumbered with inventory or worse, have your crew turn against you. 

To combat this, you need to plan your paths strategically, eat your supplies of chocolate and cooked meats, and take frequent breaks at local villages and missions. At these locations, you may or may not be able to stay overnight and replenish your energy – it all depends on how the locals perceive you.

Usually, you can with them over by trading items from your inventory with theirs, but there will be dialogue options too where you can inform them about the civilised world. If you give a good impression, there will be times when you can recruit NPCs to join the cause; great for combat situations but more importantly, another pair of hands to carry the loot.

The combat sections are probably my least favourite part of Curious Expedition. While they aren’t random encounters, it can be quite tricky to avoid a conflict as moving away from any threats uses up your energy. When you do get into a fight, you roll dice and mix up various combos.

In my experience, however, I was often overpowered (even when I switched to the easy mode), so my repeated strategy was always to flee by holding down the B button before rolling the dice. Each party member has a perk of sorts, but even with those that carried shotguns, I found that they weren’t as effective as I had hoped and quite hit and miss.

The World Is Your Oyster

A lot of the fun in Curious Expedition comes from exploration, for obvious reasons. Trampling around the map resembling a lower budget version of Cannon Fodder is a lot of fun – more so when you locate a hidden temple, looting it of goodies. You can, of course, fast track each expedition by finding the golden pyramid for the quick win, but that means exploring the world maps, and you don’t have the resources to go flat out. 

Curious Expedition - World 3
There’s more than three worlds?!

This is a strategy game, after all. Ideally, you’ll want to pick up as much treasure as you can carry (over-encumberment means that your sanity levels drop and your crew eventually go mad and turn against you). Even if you are unable to locate the golden pyramid, you can return to Blighty in a hot air balloon. In most circumstances, it’s best to return home with your tail between your legs as Curious Expedition is a rogue-like: die, and it’s game over, losing all the treasures, fame and what-not you achieved in your run.

Upon your return to the London Explorer’s Club, you’re welcomed with a bit of fanfare and get to choose one of three perks you can use in your next run; anything from increased ammo capacity to using less energy when traversing mountains.

Once decided, you enter the club and are presented with a league table on who’s the most famous. Uncover hidden temples and civilisations, and you’re catapulted into the big leagues. Even if you didn’t explore that much, you do have the decision on what to do with your loot. 

Donate To The Public Or Auction For Chocolate?

You can donate to the museums to increase your fame, or you can put into the auctions to earn more money for your next adventure. The benefit of the latter means you can start the next expedition with a higher chance of success, perhaps by stocking up on food, supplies such as torches to explore caves, rope to climb mountains or extra ammo for your shotgun. After you’ve made your choices, it’s on to the next expedition, and so on.

I’m usually 50/50 on rogue-like games: either I care about the protagonists and walk on eggshells to maintain their survival, or get frustrated and quit the game due to unreasonable gameplay mechanics. Curious Expedition falls into the first category as nobody wants to lose their character after making so much progress. A bit like Bad North, to some extent.

Should your character die, it’s game over, and you start from the beginning. Your explorer is not gone forever, but any perks you unlocked or the fame you’ve earned resets. It’s a harsh model, but not entirely unfair and adds to the appeal. Curious Expedition is a strategy game, after all.

Curious Expedition - Perk
Finally; recognition.

Curious Expedition is a challenging game for all the right reasons and rewards the inquisitive nature of exploration with in-game achievements. There’s a wealth of achievements to uncover such as collecting all the available treasures in a game or eating a certain number of rations.

Is it enough to keep you playing solely to earn these boasting rights? Perhaps not, but the game itself is a well thought out indie title that will have you living out a completely new adventure on each playthrough.