My Steam career lives and breathes roguelikes. I never played Rogue, but the current sea of indie titles leveraging the content-efficiency and replayability of roguelike structure has washed up some truly brilliant RNG experiences for me. No big-budget, cinematic setpiece could possibly compare to my last crusader, at -100 Sanity and teetering on Death's Door just steps from the finish line, finally succumbing to dysentery. I love roguelikes.
The Curious Expedition seems to take its main inspiration from early 20th-century Mighty Whitey colonial adventure pulp, and then pumps it through the low-res but high-quality filter of SCUMM-engine point-and-click adventures many players of this game will have grown up on. Manage your inventory space and your party's loyalty in order to unlock each Expedition's MacGuffin, in hopes of getting home before your 4 rivals to claim high-score glory in your homeland. Curious Expedition is naively charming, seemingly just cartoonishly aware of the grotesque historical violence most colonial explorers inflicted on the lands they explored -- the game has you abducting aboriginals and rending landscapes in the jingoistic pursuit of plundered artifacts and desecrated altars. I don't expect every little game to make bold statements about social justice, but the rich fictional writing is there, and it seems a swell opportunity to satirically examine the mighty whitey paradigm has been missed entirely.
The game plays rather sloppily, in terms of player decision impact. Fail states are extremely predictable and can rarely be avoided. This is common in roguelikes, where tragic failure is presumed. But in Curious Expedition, there is little stress in watching your party slowly decay. The different characters (including JIM FUCKING STERLING, SON) feel samey, talk samey, and it is hard to feel attached to them. Expedition failure happens suddenly; usually one catastrophe will chain-react into others until your leader is left alone and eventually succumbs to a final insanity event. Maybe content updates can alleviate this, but it seems baked into the game that taking a wrong turn on an empty map can screw you so badly you'd never have had the resources to backtrack to the other side before losing your party. I like that the diary narration actually contains game-relevant information rather than just flavour. But losses in this game are quite rarely a learning experience.
Curious Expedition was beginning to excite me in its first 2 hours, but I rapidly smashed into its skill and content ceilings after that, and at 5 hours of play, I do not expect to return to the game without significant design or content updates. After a few hours of experience, it is plain to see that the player doesn't have too much to contribute to Curious Expedition's quaint systems. This game rides on its aesthetic excellence, its quirky humour, and a general, high-school D&D "See what happens" approach, but as a more serious diversion, I found it lacking.