Onward, to adventure!
Sometimes an adventure doesn’t need a lengthy story. Sometimes exploring just for the sake of exploring is good enough. Sure, setting off to save the world is great and all but is it really so bad to want to travel the world in the name of research or, dare I say it, the chance to strike it rich? I’d like to take a gamble and say that no, it really isn’t. Exploration is what being an explorer is really all about, and that’s just what Renowned Explorers: International Society aims to prove.
The main focus of Renowned Explorers, as you have probably guessed, is exploration. Before you can begin that, however, you need to pick a crew. The roster of characters within the game is an impressive 20 characters however each party only consists of three members, so deciding who to take along is incredibly important. The 20 members are divided into four different groups, Scientists, Scouts, Fighters, and Speakers, with each group having specific strengths and weaknesses. While the game has suggested parties that are more beginner-friendly, it’s ultimately up to the players themselves to put together a perfect party. The good thing about having so many characters to choose from is that the diversity in both moves and stats make it both easy and enjoyable to fine-tune parties. It should go without saying, however, that your first few parties probably won’t work as well in-game as they do on paper. Most party members also have personality traits that are not covered in their character bios as well. These traits, such as being greedy, nice, religious, etc., tend to pop up during some of the most unexpected times and can potentially have some pretty big impacts on event outcomes. Each exploration party will also need to have a designated leader. The party leader will not only receive a boost in his or her health (known as Spirit in this game), but will also bring along something known as a Leader Perk. Leader Perks provide the party with additional bonuses which can benefit your run greatly, but can also become relatively useless if the chosen party doesn’t mesh together well.
Okay, so now we can talk about the exploration. Exploring is, of course, is really the meat and potatoes of the game. Now, let me clarify something; Renowned Explorers isn’t a continuous game. Rather it is played in runs (if you’re not sure what that means, think The Binding of Isaac), allowing for a multitude of adventures with different parties, events, and outcomes. There are quite a few areas to explore within the world of Renowned Explorers, but I can promise you that you won’t get to all of them in your first run. This is because of the fact that each run within the game consists of six explorations made up of a pre-determined “beginner” area, and five areas chosen by the player. Travel within each area takes place on that area’s overworld map, with players clicking on locations within the area (signified by circles on the map) in order to move there. Now I know it’s tempting to just start blindly clicking away in an attempt to stumble across treasure, but let me tell you that you really need to think things through when exploring the map. Nearly every location within each area triggers some sort of event and let me tell you, there are a lot of different events. Like with most games featuring randomly-generated elements, events can range from anywhere from the fantastic to the devastating and everything in between. While the map gives you a broad generalization as to what could happen there (such as letting you know if you could potentially find treasure or end up in an encounter), it’s still best to be prepared for anything. Learning the strengths and weaknesses of your current crew is, once again, very important here as you can more easily navigate a proper exploration strategy if you know what you can and can’t do.
While a large number of the events that occur during your expeditions around the world are text-based, there will still be times where you find that fighting is your only option. Upon taking a bare-bones look at the combat system within Renowned Explorers, you’ll find that it’s essentially turn-based tactical combat. Battles always begin with your team of three moving first, deciding one-by-one where to move them and what actions they will take. While the essentials of combat are very easy to grasp, obtaining complete mastery over the battle mechanics is a bit decidedly less easy. There are two highly important, and rather unique, mechanics that comprise much of the flow of combat; the emotional state of characters on the field, and the overall mood of the engagement. Emotions, not surprisingly, can range anywhere from positive to negative, with each individual mood resulting in specific buffs or debuffs for characters such as Confident characters dealing more physical damage or Saddened characters dealing less damage with speaking-based attacks. Nearly every single action that a character can take will impact their target’s mood, so both understanding how moods work and what each emotion does. Nearly every action that a character can make not only can effect the emotional state of other characters, but the overall mood of the battle as well. Actions are divided into Aggressive, Friendly, and Devious categories, and are a display of how you are handling the battle. While it may not seem important at first, it becomes quite obvious that how you win is just as important as winning itself. For example, winning a battle with some rowdy villagers in a friendly manner may result in them helping you after the battle while, on the other hand, attempting to play nice with a pack of wolves won’t really do you much good. The in-game tutorial does a pretty decent job explaining how battles work, even providing several practice battles for you to engage in before actually starting your journey, but practice is the only way that you’ll ever get it down. Combat actually becomes pretty enjoyable once you start to understand how things work, but the fact that the learning process is generally quite complex can be a bit on the discouraging side to those who don’t have time to learn a special set of detailed rules for a single game.
While Renowned Explorers does come with a pretty hefty rule book and a near-limitless number of paths for you to choose, the overall goal is quite simple; to collect the most Renown (thus the game title “Renowned Explorers“). Fortunately nearly everything, from fighting off mobsters to studying local fauna, can net you Renown (as well as a bevy of other resources depending on how you play), making it easy to keep the overarching goal in mind regardless of how firm your grasp is on the finer mechanics. Because of this, it’s a bit easier to stay focused and become less discouraged overall. Maybe you couldn’t nab every treasure, but the ones you did will net you plenty of Renown! Maybe your characters weren’t charismatic enough to get some valuable information from the locals, but hey all of those skirmishes that you made it through will give you plenty of Renown! Sure, getting enough Renown to come out on top isn’t necessarily something that you’ll be able to do every single time, but the fact that it’s a resource that can be claimed through so much versatility makes it much easier to carve your own path (and have fun doing it)!
Renowned Explorers: International Society is already pretty well-stocked in terms of content, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any room for expansion! Much like a mysterious island rising up from the sea a new DLC add-on, Renowned Explorers: More to Explore, has recently surfaced. As the name has probably given away at this point, More to Explore adds even more content to the base game and does so in several ways. The first, and perhaps most obvious, content comes in the form of new explorable locations; the Andean Adventure and the Lost Island. The Andean Adventure sits at a nice medium difficulty level, and takes place within the Inca Mountains. Although all you really want to do is explore, it appears as though your party has gotten there at the wrong time; several cities are warring against the current Inca Emporer, and it has apparently become your job to stop him. The Andean Adventure’s key features generally revolve around the ongoing revolution, and provide players with an opportunity to befriend one (or perhaps more if you’re lucky) of the rebelling cities by performing various tasks, most of which are both incredibly dangerous and incredibly profitable. Once players defeat the current emperor (trust me, you won’t feel badly about doing it), they can also help elect a new emperor from any of the more notable citizens that they have befriended during the encounter within the Andean Adventure exploration. All-in-all, it’s a nice addition to the game and blends in very smoothly with the other locations that are already there.
The new added location, the Lost Island, is probably the most dangerous place to explore and serves as kind of a “final battle” area. Upon arrival, your crew is immediately greeted by a society known as the “Anti-Explorers”, and boy are they mad that you dared to step foot on their island. On top of the hostile crew living on the island, everything also seems to be covered in a dangerous and dense purple fog that isn’t safe to travel through. Exploration is incredibly risky, but also some of the most profitable around, and even ends with a face-to-face with the Anti-Explorer head if you play your cards right. The Lost island isn’t a place that you’ll get through, or even be granted the opportunity to visit, every playthrough, but it’s definitely one of the most exciting. Things do get difficult to the point of being a bit frustrating at times, but I suppose that it’s only fair seeing as how it’s the ultimate exploration challenge. Unlike with the Andean Adventure, the Lost Island is definitely only for those confident in their abilities.
The other two major additions within More to Explore aren’t new locations to explore, but expansions upon what has already been set in place. The newly-implemented Campfire mechanic allows your crew to gather around a warm campfire once per expedition. During each campfire scene, a player may chose from one of four cards that are randomly-drawn from their Campfire deck. Each card allows for something different, with initial cards only doing things such as letting players collect bonus resources (Encounter, Study, etc). Each exploration allows for the chance to unlock booster packs, containing cards with new Campfire stories, which are generally both more profitable and more amusing. Each character has a card pertaining to their own personal story, and can provide very unique bonuses when applied correctly. Personally, I enjoyed the Campfire story where one of your crew members fell in love with crew member Maria. Not only did it provide some much-needed Speech bonuses, but the dialogue was quite amusing and actually changed depending upon which character you picked to fall in love with Maria. The Campfire mechanic felt like a very natural addition to the game, and was certainly very helpful overall.
The third addition centered around treasures. Just as with real life, uncovering important treasures within Renowned Explorers is very difficult but leads to both fame and fortune. While treasure-hunting was already very lucrative within the standalone Renowned Explorers: International Society, More to Explore has continued to increase their worth. Treasures, on top of being worth plenty of Renown, now come with a bonus perk. Whenever a treasure is collected, players may select from one of four randomly-generated treasure bonuses. The bonuses are generally related to the area in which they were found (such as being particularly valuable or important for research), but are all still unique in their own way. Many of them are a bit more advanced, sometimes to the point of being confusing, but an option to let the game suggest a perk to you is available as well. While the suggested perks didn’t match up with what I felt was best 100% of the time, I can honestly say that quite a bit more often then not they did. While the More to Explore DLC isn’t absolutely necessary in order to enjoy the game it’s definitely a big boost to the already quite fun fun-factor, and is definitely something that I would recommend for both those who thoroughly enjoy the game, and those new to the world of Renowned Explorers as well.
Aside from the gameplay, there was one other aspect of Renowned Explorers that really caught my attention; its attempt to be as culturally diverse as possible. The society to which every character belongs is all about exploring the entire world, so it isn’t surprising that it would attract adventurers from every corner of the globe. While this may not seem like a big deal, in this day and age it seems as though you have to work pretty hard if you’re going to make a culturally diverse cast without offending anyone. While I personally wouldn’t consider myself the type to offended by a topic such as this, its current prevalence has made me rather aware as to what is and is not accepted in today’s gaming culture. Both the characters and explorable locations, in my opinion, represented a large portion of cultures form around the world and accurately represented them without resorting to worn-out or incorrect stereotypes. On the other side of the proverbial coin, nothing is taken so far away form the norm that it becomes disrespectful either. Games with diverse casts can be really neat if done correctly, and Renowned Explorers definitely fits into the “done correctly”.
Renowned Explorer‘s soundtrack is rather limited, and that’s okay; not every game has to have a killer soundtrack to be a good. With that being said, what it does have is pretty good, serving as subtle boosts to whatever environment you may be in. The encounter music consists of a single track, but that doesn’t mean that it gets boring; this is because it is reactive to its current situation. Both your party’s current location, as well as the current battle mood can have an effect on the music. It’s not the first time a game’s done something like this, but it’s always a feature that’s very much appreciated. While playing the game another, positive, audio quirk becomes apparent. As previously mentioned, the characters within the game hail from all around the globe. Naturally, that would mean that many of them would have different native tongues that differ from those of their crew members. While, in-game, your characters can always understand each other, it becomes apparent that while in-battle the crew members each speak what sounds to be the language from the country of origin. There isn’t any true spoken dialogue, your characters generally using grunts or speaking gibberish, but the way in which your characters “speak” seems to differ from person to person and is very obviously a reflection on their native tongue. While it may not be noticeable right away, it’s a pretty neat “ah-hah!” moment once you realize what’s going on.
The graphics are also nicely done as well, deserving a decent amount of props for design. Characters, even minor ones, are all designed uniquely and with a sense of style that provides an adequate amount of cultural reflection and gives general insight as to what kind of person they are as well without even reading up on them. The maps are well-designed also, containing a vivid amount of detail and coloring.
Renowned Explorers: International Society is definitely quite the adventure. While its tendency to readily throw in a vast amount of all-new mechanics can be a deterrent for those more in the mood for a casual experience, the adventures that you’ll have within the world of Renowned Explorers are really enjoyable overall. It definitely isn’t a game for everyone, but if you think that you have what it takes to become the most renowned explorer around then it’s more than worth a shot.
Final Verdict: 3.5 / 5
Available on: PC (Reviewed) ; Publisher: Abbey Games ; Developer: Abbey Games ; Players: 1-2 ; Released: May 31, 2016 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $7.49
Full disclosure: This review is based on a PC review code provided by the publisher.