Expedition Vikings Beta Preview
Expaeditions: Conquistador was my game of the year for 2013. After a long drought of good turn-based RPGs, Expeditions provided a pretty unique experience as a historically-based game in an unusual period (for a PC game). The gameplay was also pretty unique, with the mixture of King's Bounty-like travel with survival elements and troop management where each of your decisions about events could solidify the loyalty of your followers or alienate them. It was a nice mix of strategy, resource management, tactical combat, and story. I had the privilege of getting to play the beta version of Expeditions: Viking for a few hours, and would like to share my first impressions of the game.
Not Commander, but First Among Many
In Expeditions:Conquistador your main character was a commander. His stats and skills generally influenced the outcome of many of the random events which occurred in the game, as well as helping with surviving hunger, preventing ambushes, negotiating with the natives, and so on. That's not the case with your character in Expeditions: Viking. Your thane is just another warrior. On the other hand, you can customize your thane in many, many directions. In Expeditions: Conquistador, characters had classes with fixed skills. A lot of these skills, and in fact the combat in general, will feel familiar to anyone who has played Expeditions: Viking's predecessor. The big difference is that your commander has no class per se, and can invest his points in an extremely large array of skills. You can build an archer, a spear fighter, a sword and board tank, a strong character wielding a massive two handed Dane axe or a mobile killer armed with two hand weapons. Or you could, like I did, build a weak fighter who is skilled at buffing and healing his comrades. There are also skills to negotiate, detect traps, and to craft weapons, armour, and traps. Most of these were elements in Expeditions: Conquistador, but they weren't tied into such a flexible RPG system. One thing to note here is that the same point pool is used for weapon skills, combat talents, non-weapon skills, and perks, but non-weapon skills are fairly cheap to buy, while weapon skills are quite expensive. I like this system, because in games where everything costs the same, it's rarely an advantage to invest in non-combat skills.
There are a ton of different skills. Some of them are combat-oriented, while others give both combat and noncombat bonuses, like leadership.
In the tutorial mission, where you prepare for a duel, your skills make quite a bit of difference. My weakling warlord wouldn't have stood a chance in a straight-up fight, but I was able to convince a hunter to set a trap on the battlefield, and then convince the smith to give me some armour. I didn't need the armour either, since I convinced my friend to fight in my place. I got all these things through various skill and attribute checks, and so was able to see that even in a combat-oriented mission you are given some options as a non-combat-oriented character.
Also, you don't get to pick your party at the beginning of your game like you did in the predecessor. Rather, you start out with two loyal friends, and depending on your actions can recruit more followers later. Part of the strength of the first game was that each of your characters had certain personality traits like religious, aggressive, or open-minded. You knew what these traits were and, when making a choice, you could balance the consequences of your decisions on your followers' morale. In Vikings your initial followers also have such traits, but you have little choice early on who you can recruit, and usually add in anyone you can. Just like with your main character, you can level up your followers any way you like, though they do have starting templates. One is built as a spear fighter, and the other is an archer. Still, if you want to branch out with one of these characters into healing or crafting, then you can do that.
At the end of the first part of the game (which took me about 9 hours to complete) you can fill out your group with characters you generate yourself. This helps you fill in gaps in your group and experiment with certain builds. These characters gain random personality traits. While on the one hand filling out your party with custom characters is cool, I missed picking my followers initially like I did in Conquistador, which let me take a group focused on a play style, such as being intolerant and aggressive, or open-minded and pacifist. This allowed me to roleplay a certain style without worrying to much about pissing off my followers. In Vikings, personality conflicts are much more inevitable, though the leadership skill allows you to placate characters unhappy with your decisions on occasion. There is a way to get around this by continually generating new characters and dumping old ones, but that's not really much fun later in the game. This is made up, to a certain degree, by you having much more freedom with customizing your group's skills.
There's no question that he's a competent fighter, but can you trust him?
Story versus Exploration
Much of Expeditions: Conquistador involved exploring the jungle of the Carribean and Mexico and finding all sorts of interesting things on the way. Expeditions: Viking, on the other hand, starts out in a very linear way. You are elevated as thane and clan leader after your father's death in an unsuccesful raid in England. Your leadership is immediately tested from within and without and your character has to solidify their hold on their village. Here the story is really strong and you're sent from one story event to another. The advantage to this is that the story is quite interesting, you get offered many options on how to handle various problems, and a number of your companions become very well fleshed-out characters within the game's first few hours. The disadvantage is, at least early on, that there is little exploration and that you move across a campaign map like in Baldur's Gate 2, not through an open world. The first two hours are very linear, but once you get past them you're given multiple areas to visit. These open up once you've gotten certain quests. Each area map is fairly large and has multiple quests and encounters, as well as resources which you can collect.
Moving across the campaign map generates fatigue and that means you'll eventualy need to find a camp and rest. Like in Conquistador this allows characters with the appropriate skills to hunt, heal, scout, turn meat into rations, herbs into medicine, repair or craft equipment. However camping costs meat or rations and can lead to a surprise attack or theft. Also camping or travelling can result in a random encounter which usually involves you making decisions which will please some of your followers and annoy others and which gives the campaign world some character.
Also your travels will help you gain resources to build up your village, which is a new element in Vikings. The main story makes it clear that survival depends on building up your village's prestige and power. You do this buy choosing to build certain new buildings and fortifications. Many buildings can be built up in one of two ways, depending if you want to be focus more on trade, warfare, or diplomancy.
All in all Vikings sacrifices some of Conquistador's feeling of freedom of exploration for more focus on quests and story. In a way it feels like the difference between Baldur's Gate and Baldur's Gate 2, and whether one finds that good or not is probably a matter of taste.
This campaign map has replaced the free exploration of Expeditions: Conquistador.
Anyone who has played Expeditions: Conquistador will feel at home with Expeditions: Viking. The combat isn't easy; you move across hex-based grids, can use various obstacles to take cover or block enemies, and have to use your combat skills to your advantage while avoiding being flanked. Fallen comrades can also gain wounds, which hinder their performance until they have healed. The game advertised early on that losing a battle is not the end, but can open up new opportunities. I lost the game's third battle on my first try, which pushed me back to camp, wounded. When I returned to the location of the battle, I got to try again to win the same battle with a significantly weaker group. I had no chance with them, so I just reloaded. However, if you want to play sort of an iron man mode, see if you can't rest up and try again. The number of different weapon styles in the game feel different enough to make combat really interesting and give the player a lot of different tactical options. For example, you can jab with a spear one hex away, and the spear has a specific skill which lets you retreat a hex without drawing an opportunity attack. This can let you squeeze in a tough shield fighter or a deadly two-handed fighter to protect your spear fighter, if need be. That makes combat challenging and fun. Most of the battles are against human opponents who have the same skills as your characters, but occasionally you get to fight animals. I even ran into two fights which end in your group wondering whether they've just experienced a paranormal event. In the end, your main character is left to interpet whether this event was a meeting with supernatural creatures or whether there is a more logical explanation.
Cover, obstacles, and enviornmental hazards still play a big role in combat.
State of the Game
The beta I played had more than 10 hours of content. A number of portraits are still missing and are represented by placeholders. In its current state, random events become a bit too repetitive and I really hope more will be added. Conquistador did a good job with this, so if a similar number of random events are added, the game will feel good. I did run into a couple of bugs, such as a battle with wolves crashing multiple times and a group of opponents who I killed during a quest respawning even though the quest was succesfully completed. I also wasn't able to proceed to England (the second part of the game) after finishing the prerequisite quests. I've reported this to technical support, so hopefully this problem will also be solved before release. Other than the issues listed, the game ran smoothly.
My initial impressions of Expeditions: Viking were very positive and it reminded me of many things I liked about Expeditions: Conquistador, but with a more elaborate story, deeper and more developed NPCs, and just as many (if not more) important choices. On the other hand, I found that these come at the cost of exploration. I'd say this is neither bad nor good, and maybe unavoidable. It, along with the more flexible character building, makes Vikings feel much more like an RPG than its predecessor. That is despite the fact that all of Conquistador's strategy elements are still present, and a number of new ones have even been added. Logic Artists has created another interesting historical RPG and I'm really looking forward to how the finished product turns out.
Information aboutExpeditions: Viking
Developer: Logic Artists
Regions & platforms
· Platform: PC
· Expected at 2017-04-27
· Publisher: EuroVideo Medien