Reviews

Renowned Explorers – Steam Review

FruitsNDoggie reviews Renowned Explorers, a strategic 19th century explorer roguelike.

I remember Renowned Explorers showing up in an early Humble Bundle monthly, and was pretty interested by it. However, with my horrendous habits, I played the game for a few hours before taking a short break and wound up not playing it for another five years. All things considered, RE should consider itself lucky it wasn’t a decade. Coming back to it all this time later, I started a new adventure with characters I hadn’t played with before. Have I found a long-forgotten treasure, or was this better left undisturbed?

Gameplay

There are three main components of the game, after you’ve chosen what three characters you want to play as. First involves preparing for the journey. This won’t be so meaningful at the beginning of a campaign, but as you acquire research, status, insight, and gold you’ll be able to spend these resources on equipment for your party and effects that’ll boost your gains from completing adventures. With how often you’ll do this, the UI could have been better lain out, since research is in the upper-left corner, whereas the others are on a bar at the bottom.

Secondly, you’ll choose which unexplored area to investigate and attempt to obtain the main artifact believed to be there. You’ll have a limited amount of supplies and resolve available to reclaim this treasure, and along the way you might be able to complete additional, hidden tasks too. Expending your supplies to traverse the island, you’ll make your way through the terrain, encountering different opportunities and obstacles to overcome. Depending on how you respond to them, you can be rewarded with a variety of boons, or take an ill effect from failing to accomplish a task. Fail too many times and you can lose the resolve needed to keep adventuring.

The last area of gameplay comes from combat. While exploring you’ll encounter hostile forces, and this introduces a slightly more advanced rock, paper, scissors mechanic. Each character will specialize in either one or two styles: aggressive, friendly, and devious, with aggressive beating friendly, friendly beating devious, and devious beating aggressive. As the battle starts, you’ll keep in mind the mood and combat style of your opponent, and try to attack them in a way that’ll do the most “harm,” which sometimes means being really friendly, “Hey man, have you been working out?” This part of the game has taken me off guard at times, as the mini-boss and boss encounters can be surprisingly hard, even on easier difficulties. One that stood out for me is a friendly witch doctor, which beat the hell out of my party with kindness. Seems Gandhi was onto something after all.

Controls

With the way Renowned Explorer is set-up, it winds up being controlled with the mouse only. The game is designed around this control scheme so it works pretty well most of the time. However, you’ll want to ensure that the mouse icon has selected the correct enemy or location you want to go, because it’s easy for the game to misconstrue your intentions and cause you to make the wrong move, “My victory is assured, for all I have to do now is… wait, why did you go there?!”

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Story

You’re a member of an explorers guild, who for whatever reason has made life-threatening excursions into a competition, as opposed to celebrating all involved and what they’re contributing to society as a whole. Though this isn’t character specific, your primary rival for top spot is Rivaleux, giving you incentive to sacrifice your own well-being for the sake of getting the best stuff. Will you take the call and be a renowned explorer? All of this material is merely a framework for the gameplay; there’s very little plot, let alone anything that’d pertain to any of the specific explorers you can play as.

Visuals

Typically, I wouldn’t associate a cartoony image with a grand adventure, but the art style of RE is enjoyable. The characters are unique and expressive, such that you get a pretty good idea of their combat style just by looking at them. Probably due to a smaller budget, many events are shown with pictures or simplified renditions of the characters, such as when they succeed on the wheel spin. More animation would have been welcome, but having images of the characters’ reactions still gets the point across.

Sound Design

Each of the exotic locales you’ll be exploring have a unique song to help build on its atmosphere. The styles of the songs were quite different from one another, so it helps them from getting mixed up or feeling like slight alterations of a core composition. I can’t attest to the authenticity of a Transylvanian tune, but I don’t think Count Chocula would topple his cereal bowl over in protest. There’re some humorous sound effects due to the unique combat, such as people gasping in shock or sheep baaing. Too bad nobody went for a Yosemite Sam swearing session.

Pros

🌟 Even though mixing compliments in with the same combat system where people stab one another is strange, I rather like how it works.
🌟 The base game has a reasonable amount of content to play through for the asking price. It gets repetitive after a while though.

Cons

❌ Although intentional, coming across situations where your current party has no reliable chance of success due to their skill-set is disappointing. You’ll want to wait until you come back with a different group.
❌ Many outcomes will depend on dumb luck, which is annoying when you’ve otherwise done so much to prepare for the journey.

Tips

🔍 In normal fights, you have to defeat every opponent in order to win. When going against the boss guarding the treasure though, beating them is the clear condition. Clearing away some peons might be helpful, but I managed to win a desperate fight against a very tough boss by blitzing him, and leaving the peons alone.
🔍 Zig-zagging across the map tends to provide the best overview of your options, and I tend to start on one of the edges. Keep in mind that some locations can only be accessed from certain directions though, so plan your route carefully.
🔍 Having a broad range of abilities is key to being successful across your campaign. Knowing which to invest into isn’t always clear, so checking the guides in advance can be helpful.

Final Thoughts

It was nice coming back to Renowned Explorer after not playing it for so long, and I remember why I enjoyed it for that stretch of time I was steadily playing it. I’ve not played an exploration game with such mechanics before, and the creative combat system is a real novelty. However, I also see what eventually put me off the game, most of which is its unforgiving nature. The developers wanted to incorporate the treacherous nature of exploring uncharted areas. They accomplished this in Adventure Mode by forcing players to endure the cruel outcomes of RNG, without the back-up of save-scumming.

Discovery Mode lets you save at any time, so it’s much more lenient. Even though that can be harsh, I’d say the boss battles are where the greatest challenges lie, as the AI can be brutal. Sometimes, it seems like they really want to focus on one character, and with all the back-up bosses get, you can’t withstand that many attacks. Overall, I’d still recommend Renowned Explorer, but be prepared for a challenge.

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