By 2020, it’s entirely possible that we’ll have an entire calendar devoted to roguelikes, but this year, what was our favourite in the ever-expanding genre? The RPS Advent Calendar highlights our favourite games of the year, daily, and behind today’s door is…
Pack your bags – it’s The Curious Expedition!
Graham: “Roguelike” is an off-putting phrase to many people. It’s the genre that best captures The Curious Expedition, which is about moving across a hex map, dealing with random encounters, kitting your party out with tools, and permadeath. But it’s the best roguelike of 2016 because it can be, and ought to be, played by everyone.
That’s because The Curious Expedition is also a party-based RPG. You don’t control a single hero, but an explorer and their motley crew. You need to keep everyone happy and getting along and healthy if you’re to reach your destination and make it home to fame and glory.
The Curious Expedition is also storygame. Some of your encounters involve simple dice-roll combat, but you’re just as likely to get a few paragraphs of text and a decision to make. Those decisions might lead to one of your party being turned into a walking abomination, or prompt mountains to sprout from the ground, or cause the natives to chase you out of their village and hate you forevermore.
It’s a game you can pick up and play immediately. You don’t need to play a tutorial, it has crisp graphics and a simple UI, and a single session can be brought to a satisfying conclusion in 15 minutes.
All of which would merely make it admirable if it didn’t also turn out to be packed with exciting events, dramatic decisions, and the kinds of consequences to your actions that you’ll want to run around and share with everyone you know. The Curious Expedition is a game that anyone can play. It’s also a great game. You should play it.
Adam: The Curious Expedition feels like it’s been part of my life for a very long time. I first wrote about it in 2013 and finally reviewed the release version earlier this year. It’s been a reassuring presence; even though many of my explorers lose their minds, their lives or both, I find it a cosy game. One to sit down with at the end of a hard day for a little bit of escapism.
That’s the key word, ‘escapism’. Lots of games could have it applied to them, of course, but The Curious Expedition is such a lovely blend of things that I like that it feels like somebody made it just for me. There’s the setting, part historical part make-believe, but always grounded in the ideas of its chosen period. Where fantastical elements are incorporated, they are borrowed from the fiction of the time – lost valleys and rustling horrors beneath the sands feel like as much a natural part of the world as the procedurally generated butterflies that you can gather.
In some ways, it’s similar to an Inkle or Failbetter game, with the focus on the journey rather than the destination. Where Curious Expedition differs is in the actual challenge. It’s a game with strict, clear victory conditions, and some of the environmental changes that your meddling can cause create dynamic scenarios that are almost puzzle-like in what they ask of you.
If Spelunky were a slow-paced top-down exploration game, it’d be The Curious Expedition. It’s a game about adventure that knows how to make you long for the next turn in the road, the next continent or the next horizon, and, as the title suggests, it’s curiosity that’ll keep me coming back again and again and again.
Three years since I first encountered it, I’m looking forward to another three years of expeditions.