Renowned Explorers, by Abbey Games, is a turn-based strategy adventure game available on PC. Set in the 19th century, you are in charge of putting together a team of explorers each with their own skills and traits in a global search to seek out legendary treasures.
Following on from their successful launch back in September 2015, Abbey Games released their first expansion More to Explore in May 2016. This included for two new expeditions and introduced a new gameplay mechanic whereby resting the crew around a campfire revealed crew back stories and the chance to gain upgrades. The expansion had such a great response that a second expansion called The Emperor’s Challenge was introduced a year later.
The Emperor’s Challenge expansion takes you and your team of explorers to the Far East, where you can explore the Anagogic Archipelago, a set of scattered Indonesian islands. Included in the expansion are four new characters, each with their own unique personalities and skills, they are; Suh Min-Jeong, Hojo Fumiaki, Wang Yu and Phailin Boonyasak. A new game mode called The Emperor’s Challenge allows you to compete in time based expeditions against your nemesis Matthieu Rivaleux.
Diving straight into The Emperor’s Challenge, recommended to play once you have completed the main game, you are prompted to select between Discovery Mode or Adventure Mode. The difference between the two modes are whether you are a casual gamer preferring to retry scenarios should you fail them or if you are hardcore, accepting the expedition outcome with no chance of reloading a previous save. Within both modes are options to alter the difficulty level of the challenge, perfect to attract a wide range of players and adapt the game to the individual’s playing style.
Your crew is assembled firstly by selecting a captain from one of the 4 unlocked characters, others are later unlocked once expeditions are completed. There are 4 main classes; scientist, scout, fighter and speaker. It is important to select the correct crew for how you play to ensure that you have the correct skills and abilities to undertake the expeditions. Once you have selected 2 more crew members it is time to undertake the competition for the Emperor’s blessing.
The idea of the competition is to complete expeditions all across the world as set by Emperor Guangxu to obtain Porcelain points. To win the game you must gain more points than Rivaleux. The concept of the Emperor’s Challenge reminded me a little of The Settlers whereby a series of quests are happening all of the time during the game and it is up to you to pick which quests are achievable and conquer them before anyone else does.
With the challenges outlined on the right of the map, its time to start moving around the land to explore each location on the island. Travel costs you 1 of your food supplies for each move you make and as you begin only with 7, it is up to you to explore cautiously as once the food has depleted your crew suffer losses to their abilities, weakening them. If you are lucky you can find food as you explore however you cannot count on this as the rewards vary.
The game mechanics can take a bit of getting used to however there are tutorials to guide you if required. When exploring each location, crew members can find new items that reward in tokens such as study and campaign that aim to enhance your research, gold, renown and status stats once you have completed the campaign. As the stats increase so do your crew’s abilities and chances of earning more rewards on the next expedition.
Exploring for treasure does not come without its perils. Combat occurs when you come across hostiles such as barbarians, bandits and wolves. When entering the encounter you are reminded of your battle choices; friendly, devious or aggressive, here your crew abilities make all of the difference as to which choice is best. Bewarned, the explorers cannot continue until the battle is over and should you be defeated then the expedition is over.
Battle is a turn by turn affair whereby you can move a set number of sectors across a grid with your captain and crew while deciding what tactic to use. I came across a pack of wolves and decided to be devious. Two of my crew successfully taunted the wolves calling them a chicken and a mouse to which the wolves got so enraged that they ran off in a grump! Proof that hacking and slashing is not the only way to clear the enemy.
Once you have tactically reached your expedition’s main goal on the map, in my case a saxon burial ground, the challenge comes to an end if you wish. Any quests that you have not completed get automatically assigned to Rivaleux and should he of completed more than you then he will go forth and plunder the ruin for his own gain.
Having finished the expedition, tokens are converted into resources that will help you on the next expedition and off you go again!
The backgrounds and characters are all colourful and well drawn in a cartoon like manner. Animations such as the sea gently rippling around the island and the haziness of the clouds add some subtle but needed texture to the static display. Detail is basic but it seems to work well as it is consistent with all that is on the screen at any one time.
The music varies depending on which part of the world you are exploring which is a great touch and helps you get into the mood for the expedition. I did enjoy how the orchestral ensemble blends down into a nautical theme playing through and old radio while you sail to your next challenge.
Sound effects are subtle yet in keeping with the explorative theme, for example when text appears the sound of a pencil scribbling words down is heard, as places are uncovered a rumbling noise occurs and fanfares alert you to your rival achieving a porcelain point. At all times the music is in the forefront of the expedition but it is in no means overwhelming to listen to unlike some games.
The Emperor’s Challenge has a high replayability factor due to the varying daily and weekly challenges that are set. Having a large crew that you can pick and choose from allows you to experiment between their different abilities, altering the decisions that you make as you play each challenge.
That said it does say at the start of The Emperor’s Challenge that it is recommended that you have completed the main Renowned Explorers game before attempting this expansion. I would say this is a definite as for a noob like me I found the game very fast paced and I was without certain ability and skill levels that made the game very hard as I was mainly relying on luck during combat and when seeking treasure.
If you have the Renowned Explorers game then I would recommend The Emperor’s Challenge to add new characters to your crew and test your quick wits and decision making in a new environment and game mode. If you haven’t got the game then be prepared to put in some hours understanding the game mechanics before investing in the expansion packs.
I award The Emperor’s Challenge a Thumb Culture Silver Award with 6/10.