Renowned Explorers: International Society

From the makers of Reus: REIS!

My usual reaction to roguelikes is, “Well that was some BS.” This one I am really enjoying.

The theme of Renowned Explorers is adventure and discovery, under the banner of lighthearded Victorian imperialism. You are gentleman adventurers, heading to darkest Africa, the voodoo islands of the Caribbean, or mysterious lost lands. It plays tropes of the era straight with a joyful lack of modern sensibilities. Occasionally someone tells you off for plundering their cultural treasures, but mostly you are pacifying the natives, making off with the treasures, and working on a good story to tell upon your return. The artwork feeds into all this.

Like Reus, REIS enjoys sets of three. You have a team of three explorers. You can be aggressive, devious, or friendly. Some situations are better solved with charm, others with fisticuffs. There is a rock-paper-scissors relationship among the three, and some enemies will turn that on you. The less violent approaches are each tied to three emotions, which yield buffs and debuffs. You seek fame, fortune, or science, and there is a second tier of those in treasure, discoveries, and secrets.

There are some interesting mechanics and engine-building. Science leads to research, gold buys you equipment, and fame gets you followers. These are all assorted types of bonuses, along with bonuses you get from treasures and during your adventures. You can create synergy and get a lot of bonuses that work well together. The choices you make are meaningful and will affect your performance, as well as your rewards. And remember, more rewards lead to more bonuses!

Each game consists of five expeditions. That is it. That is the whole thing. There is no extended campaign. If you complete all five campaigns, you see if you are the world’s most renowned explorer and then take a nap. If you fail early, you start over early. There is almost no accumulation across games, just unlocked team captains and “campfire stories” (bonus buff cards per expedition). You need to become better, because your characters only become better within each game.

You need not play at the highest difficulty to win. You need to play on adventure (permadeath) mode to get half the achievements, but there is a discovery mode that lets you reroll failures, and there are four difficulty levels you can pick. I have always played on the recommended level (next-to-highest difficulty, permadeath mode) as that is the intended game experience, but you are free to dial it down.

Most of the map is a “choose your own adventure” style, where your options and odds depend on your expedition team and their skills. There are some random rolls. Most of your time, however, will be spent on the tactical combat, because one combat takes longer than clicking and reading a few lines of text. That is where you deploy the rock-paper-scissors. It is mostly good, and this is where the learning curve of the game is. When you master combat, you win your expeditions consistently. When you fail combat, you lose and start the game over. That one loss equals “start over” makes learning combat somewhat difficult, although again you are free to do so in discovery mode, where you can try try again.

There are some balance issues, in that some options are clearly better than others. Some of the explorers have really great abilities, others not so much. The special ability on the first scientist you have access to is god tier — she is a one-person engine (in the tabletop game sense), a scientist whose bonus to research is to give you more bonuses to research when you research. That may be another part of softening the learning curve: your very first option is one of the best in the game. Some of the other team captains could be viewed as “challenge mode,” although I presume you can build around all of them.

The game has reasonable achievements. You are not encouraged to engage in perverse behavior. They are generally of the form “try everything” and “win in all the ways,” with a bit of story and challenge modes. I look to achievements as indicators of the developers’ expectations about the game. The developers have entirely sane expectations. The only quibble you might have is needing a playthrough for all the options the game has (notably “win with each of 20 captains”).

There are still some “well that was BS” moments. Let’s think about how REIS is like and unlike other roguelikes. The setting differs from the usual dungeon crawl. It has a tutorial, in fact a good one that is broken up across the game elements and available in case you need a refresher. The game leaves much to explore and stumble upon, but it explains all the basic mechanics and puts information on the screen, rather than leaving it between you and the wiki. Standard roguelike game elements are still there: the map varies each game, some things may randomly be present or not, and you face an unknown map as you start out. You are pointed towards the end but the path across the map varies between games.

One downside is that you often must commit early. There is usually no “back out” option; it is “get famous or die trying.” Once you say you are going for something, you will get it or lose the game. Remember, permadeath. Perhaps that is not so much a downside as a standard roguelike element. Given how the game is designed, that can be circumvented with save scumming, which is suboptimal but certainly not the most efficient way to cheat at a roguelike. And if you’re not willing to suffer some random blows to the head, why are you playing a roguelike?

The unit of gameplay (an expedition) is 30-60 minutes, with 5 expeditions composing an entire game. You can play through REIS in a time comparable to the fastest setting on Civilization. You will go more quickly if you are not obsessed with wringing maximum efficiency out of each option. I don’t know what that’s like. Every point on the map is a save point, so if you want to advance a few clicks before work, go for it, although watch for combat that might take more minutes than you have.

On the whole: entirely buyable and rather enjoyable. I picked it up during last month’s sale, and I have since added all the DLC for more options and adventures. That is an endorsement.

: Zubon