Renowned Explorers: International Society is a vindication of the indie games movement. It’s a unique take on several genres without indie gaming’s typical excesses and is completely outside the realm of what large publishers would go for. It’s fun, fresh, and, to my dismay, much too short. Still, it’s a worthy purchase for players with a little extra cash and a desire to see something new.
The game begins with the player choosing an exploration team. Each character is infused with Victorian era personality and unique charm. In the character screen and throughout the game, Renowned Explorers possesses a distinct artistic identity that adds much needed flavor. In addition to their backstory, characters have a mix of skills that encourages distinct playstyles. The player will need to think about the construction of their team if they want to get the most out of it. Sadly, the skills all pull from the same pool of talents. Not using the character’s backstory to create character specific attacks feels like a missed opportunity.
Once selected, the team of *ahem* renowned explorers embarks on a new adventure in an exotic land. Each map is broken into a series of locations separated by supplies consuming distances. The player ventures to a location and explores the surrounding areas. Sometimes the location is as simple as gathering a few resources, but often the explorers embark on a mini adventure that taps team skills to resolve conflicts and reap extra rewards. Each adventure introduces fun dialogue segments that add character and humor with solid writing to match the stylized exploration theme. Unfortunately, this clashes with the intended roguelike gameplay. Developer Abbey Games wants the player to replay the game repeatedly, but scripted content for the adventures is never new and quickly skipped. This speaks to the only real weakness of the game: using scripted events in a notionally roguelike game. Computer generated content is often used in roguelikes to ensure a fresh experience. Abbey Games’ decision to use scripted content means the challenge will remain the same throughout repeated playthroughs thereby limiting the amount of value the player gets from the content. Furthermore, the amount of unique content is fully accessed in a couple of runs through the game meaning the player will see everything in a few hours.
Upon completing the exploration of an area, the player is taken to a view of the globe and has a chance to use the resources they acquired to research power boosts, acquire support characters who grant benefits, and buy new equipment. The overworld map has a lot of options that allows players to customize their team and bolster their strategy. It also establishes a set of priorities during the exploration phase as the player must acquire specific resources to take advantage of this screen. The depth is considerable and the initial difficulty level is low enough to permit exploration without total loss.
For all of the strength of the other parts of the game, the battle system is where Renowned Explorers really stands out. Rather than confine the player to murder and killing, the game’s battle system uses a rock-paper-scissors style combat that includes speaking. The player may either act friendly, be devious, or stab their opponent. Each action in a combat style contributes points to the party’s disposition that, when combined with their opponent’s disposition, grants bonuses or debuffs. For example, if the player’s team acts friendly while their opponent is devious, the player’s team gets a bonus and the opponent becomes weaker. The same is true in reverse. It’s important to balance the party’s disposition to ensure the enemy doesn’t gain an advantage. In addition to disposition, individuals have moods which effect their strengths and weaknesses. Attacks influence moods which allows the player (and the opponent) to set up target vulnerabilities and then exploit those vulnerabilities. Matched with party disposition, the combat is incredibly deep. Players determined to plumb its depths should bump up the difficulty as understanding combat isn’t needed for victory at the default levels.
There’s a lot to love about Renowned Explorers: International Society. The combat is deep, the adventuring is fun, and the flavor is strong. There just needs to be more of it. This game is not a value purchase, but for those who can spend freely, it’s a lot of fun.