Curious Expedition 2
Developed By: Maschinen Mensch
Published By: Thunderful
Category: Indie, Strategy, Role-Playing
Release Date: 8.11.21
When the first Curious Expedition released on the Switch about a year ago, my feelings about it could best be described as mixed. I wasn’t sure I wanted to try the sequel, but there were enough good ideas in the original game that I decided I had to give Curious Expedition 2 a chance. I can’t even tell you how glad I am that I did. Curious Expedition 2 finds a way to address all of my complaints about the first game without losing the identity it established or any of the other elements I enjoyed. This game is an outstanding example of developers learning and implementing all the right lessons from their first release.
The Lost World
Curious Expedition 2 starts off right by introducing more of a storyline than the first game. I was mildly uncomfortable with the original’s setup revolving around imperialist explorers robbing cultural artifacts from indigenous populations for fame and profit, and CE2 pretty much throws that out the window in favor of a more structured narrative. In the sequel, players are assistants working under the guidance of professor Victoria Malin. On their way back from an anthropological expedition, Malin and her team encounter a mysterious portal on an island that shouldn’t exist. Malin tasks the player with helping her discover more of these mysterious islands and uncovering the powerful secrets they hold.
Players can engage in pretty much all of the activities that were available in the first game, including tomb raiding, but they’re now entirely optional and can carry heavy consequences. The game also offers more options for exploring and befriending the indigenous cultures players encounter, and rewards for doing so. And given that the game is driven by the narrative surrounding Malin and the islands instead of an artifact-gathering competition, there isn’t much incentive to engage in the theft of cultural treasures. While you still receive rewards for bringing artifacts back to the explorer’s club hub in Paris, there are now more ways to acquire them without engaging in uncomfortable behavior. I was far happier with this setup, and combined with the fact that the story was well-written and interesting, I was very impressed with the game’s narrative upgrade.
The basic gameplay of Curious Expedition 2 is pretty much unchanged from the original, but there are some welcome additions. First, every expedition begins at the hub city of Paris. Here, players can visit one of the three exploration guilds to claim rewards and use the guilds’ abilities to improve both equipment and characters. There’s a pub for recruiting new expedition members or trading resources for additional funding on expeditions, and a back-alley dealer who will sell you rare and useful equipment – provided you don’t ask where he got it. Once you’re ready to launch an expedition, you choose your destination and decide which of the three guilds to ask to sponsor your journey.
During an expedition, your sponsor doesn’t really make much of a difference. The budget is set by the difficulty level of the destination, not the guild, according to how many skulls (out of three) the destination is rated. You can spend your money on provisions and equipment you’ll need to get around the expedition area. Each area has a different biome, so buying equipment suited to it is key. You’ll always want to bring food to manage your sanity (more on that in a minute), but you’ll want to bring terrain-specific gear as well. For instance, if you’re going to a rocky area, you should bring climbing gear to climb hills and some dynamite to blast away impassable mountains and rocks. Your inventory space is pretty limited, though, so you’ll always have to decide what you think is truly the most vital equipment to bring in order to leave some room for your discoveries.
See The World
Setting up the expedition is a little more expansive in Curious Expedition 2, but moving around the game world is exactly the same. Every map is randomly generated, and they all contain various areas of interest in addition to whatever the objective is. Exploring the various shrines, caves, huts, villages, and ruins you’ll come across yields various rewards, including scouting information, ancient artifacts (which can be acquired through both ethical and unethical means), and equipment or provisions. Moving depletes your group’s sanity, and if the sanity bar empties out, it can result in mutinies, desertion, or worse. Sanity can be restored by resting in villages or campsites, or by using various provisions like eating chocolate or licking hallucinogenic toads. Be careful, though, because using things like booze or toads runs the risk of negative effects, many of which can be permanent – at least until you get back to Paris and use the guild ability to cure them.
Roll the Dice
The dice system from the original game also returns. Dice can be used to both pass narrative challenges and engage in combat. Each character has two dice. The faces of the die have either a red, blue, or green action on them or a blank face. Equipping weapons can alter a character’s dice face colors or actions. Narrative challenges just use the color of the faces; you roll all the dice, and if you get enough of the right color you pass.
In combat, each face represents a different action. Combat is turn-based; one side goes first, then the other side goes. You roll all of your character dice at once, and you pick one action as the main action and then you can choose to combine it with other rolls of the same color to power it up. By default you can reroll as many dice as you wish one time, but there are items you can use to gain additional rolls. This is useful if you roll a lot of blank dice or not enough dice of one color to buff your best action.
Combat feels much more balanced this time around. In the first game, it was conceivable that you could build a party that was incapable of attacking. Here in the sequel, that isn’t the case – you can certainly build a team that doesn’t have a lot of powerful attacks, but you’ll have more status-inflicting attacks that allow for a viable alternative strategy nonetheless. You’re still at the mercy of the dice, which I don’t love, but if you prepare properly you can give yourself plenty of opportunities for a reroll.
When you’ve finished tromping through the wilderness and returned to Paris, you get to bask in your rewards. Returning with trophies and unused provisions grants you fame, which is like experience points for the guild that sponsored the expedition. As the guild gains fame, they offer new characters to be recruited, equipment to be purchased at the guild, or provisions to be purchased at the start of each expedition. You also get guild tickets, which can be used to purchase goods and services in the various locations around Paris.
New Graphics For A New World
As much as I loved the retro look of Curious Expedition, Curious Expedition 2 looks even better. CE2 takes a more hand-drawn approach to its graphics, and while I miss the detailed pixel art of the original, the gorgeous illustrations more than justify the change. Character models are more detailed and possess more personality than their predecessors. Putting faces on the characters meshes well with CE2’s greater focus on its narrative by visually humanizing them to a greater degree than the faceless mass of pixels the first game used. And that’s really the recurring theme of Curious Expedition 2’s changes to the formula – everything just works better than the original.
If You’re Curious, Go On This Expedition
Curious Expedition 2 feels like it was made to address every shortcoming that plagued the first game. The gameplay contains mostly the same elements, but smoother where it needed to be smoother and expanded where it needed to be expanded. The graphics look better and fit the game’s new narrative focus. I couldn’t recruit a dinosaur in the first game, and I didn’t even realize that was something I needed. In the sequel, I recruited a velociraptor named Mr. Needham, and he was a very good velociraptor. I haven’t even talked about the game’s performance, because I don’t need to! The first game really struggled to run on the Switch, but Curious Expedition 2 ran without any issues. Curious Expedition 2 is an improvement over the original in every way that truly realizes the potential of the game’s premise. If you played the first, give CE2 a try to see what the game would be if its execution was perfected. If you didn’t play Curious Expedition, skip it and play CE2. It’s a really good time.
Buy Curious Expedition 2
Digital – $19.99
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The Switch Effect was graciously supplied a code for review purposes.