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Why Renowned Explorers and Alternative Conflict Resolutions are So Important



Ok, so I have to admit, I may have gotten a little carried away in my praise for Abbey Games’ new turn-based tactical game, Renowned Explorers: International Society, out now on Steam. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a good game. A great game, even, especially considering it’s less than $20. But revolutionary?

To be perfectly honest, I do believe this adjective can be applied to Renowned Explorers, even considering how ultimately simplistic the game is. I think Abbey Games made something truly revolutionary here in a relatively unassuming package.

On the surface, you have a competent, perhaps even great, hexagonal tactics game in the same vein as Final Fantasy Tactics and its ilk. Even simply within that framework, Renowned Explorers does pretty much everything right, though perhaps not exceptionally. The characters are all slightly varied mechanically and bring different things to the table, enough so that you really have to think about who to bring along on your expeditions. And their visual design – everything from their art to their animations to the sounds they make – all really make them pop far more than it seems like they should. It makes it easy to, if not relate to, then at least pick favorites. I quickly began to try and plan ways that I could work Hildegard and Delores into a team together simply because I enjoyed both characters – not necessarily for what they provided to the team, but for who they are.

And then there’s the fact that this game scratches one of my favorite itches: emergent narrative. I touched on this in my editorial here, and I’m finding that as I grow older, I have less and less time (perhaps even patience) for a game that forces a story down my throat and more and more for games that let me tell my own story.

Sure, Darkest Dungeon and Renowned Explorers tell their own stories. In Darkest Dungeon it’s up to you to reclaim your family estate from unnamable, faceless, Lovecraftian horrors. In Renowned Explorers you’re trying to become the best explorer and overcome your rival, the aptly but not-so-cleverly named Rivaleaux, in the Society Standings by performing ever-greater feats of daring do. But a story is told in many parts, and while Darkest Dungeon and Renowned Explorers each give you the beginning and the ending, much of what the middle is different levels of random (especially in Darkest Dungeon, though Renowned Explorers has its own levels of random) with enough ambiguity in its mechanics to let you fill in the blanks.

But it’s not only this either. Plenty of games let me tell my own story. No, what Renowned Explorers does that few, if any, games have ever done before – and what I think is truly revolutionary – is make rhetorical conflict more than just a bunch of boring reading and selecting options the right option.

In short, they have successfully combatized arguments.

As I mentioned in my review, the game treats your words as a weapon as potent towards getting your way as any punch or sword slash. Ultimately the idea is a bit simplistic and could stand to be a bit more fleshed out, but the implications of this innovation are immense. Traditionally, video games have focused very heavily on actual physical violence to resolve conflict. Now, I’m not going to sit here and say that we should all hug and get along and that violence is bad. I love me some gratuitous violence as I think many of us do (in video games, of course). But the difference between violence to dialogue has always been so glaringly contrasting and has created a clear preference in gamers:

Shooty-shooty-bang-bang violence = fun.

Talky-talky word stuff = boring.

But anyone who’s been in high school forensics knows that argument and debate is far from boring and it can be as thrilling as any boxing match. The idea of attacking or defending with your words should come as no surprise to anyone who’s been in any real intellectual debate, and Renowned Explorers manages to capture this idea in an elegantly simple way…though I would like to see some more implementation of rhetorical defenses rather than a blanket speech defense, but hey, it’s still relatively untested waters.

But what’s really important about this isn’t necessarily that it disinsentivizes violence so much as it shows that there is a legitimate and, more importantly, enjoyable alternative to it. I’m not suggesting that “rhetorical combat” mechanics should replace shooting/punching/slashing as the primary means of conflict resolution in games, but more variety is always good. I mean, think of the possibilities. Imagine a game where you must plea for your life against an unfeeling government authority, whittling away their bias of your guilt with your own impassioned pleas. Think of a lawyer game where you verbally spar – literally – with opposing council to determine the fate of the accused, with your attacks being parried by their logical defenses.

I know the Pheonix Wright Ace Attorney games are along these lines but I don’t really think that they really come close to making the actual debate fun, being more along the line of visual novels, adventure games, and missing object games. They’re really more about the discovery and following the path of clues to uncover the truth.

As fun and entertaining as the Ace Attorney games are, they don’t really capitalize on this idea as well as they could.

I like to talk about “important” games. Right now, some of what I believe are the most “important” games in our collective history are things like Pac Man and Mario Brothers and Minecraft, games that truly did something to transform the industry as we know it. Revolutionary games. I don’t know if Renowned Explorers will ever be considered “important” in this regard. I think it’s an exceptional game, even without my high-brow interpretation of the effect its mechanics will have on the industry, but in the grand scheme of things – in that regard at least – it is just another game and will likely be quickly forgotten in the torrent of other good-to-excellent titles we will play over the next few days, weeks, months and years.

But I hope that someday, thanks to Renowned Explorers, we can play a game where we can choose to end any conflict with a well-reasoned and impassioned argument…or a bullet to the face. And at that time, I think that we can look back on Renowned Explorers and call it just that. I hope we can look back and say “this is the game that changed video game combat and conflict resolution forever.”

What about you, rhetorical reader? Have you played Renowned Explorers? It’s great, you should play it. Do you think this sort of thing should be done more? Do you think debate in a game could be made as entertaining as violence? Or am I, as always, too in love with words? Sound off in the comments below.

Writer, journalist, teacher, pedant. Reid's done just about anything and everything involving words and now he's hoping to use them for something he's passionate about: video games. He's been gaming since the onset of the NES era and has never looked back.


Three Single-Player Games to Watch Out for in July 2019



Three Single Player Games (July 2019) - Sea of Solitude, Fire Emblem Three Houses, Wolfenstein Youngblood

July, the middle of winter down here in Australia. Even in the bizarre New South Wales climate, the biting cold makes for a great excuse to stay inside and play games. 

Weirdly for single players, quite a few prestige games this month include additional co-op modes. With acclaimed designers behind them, such games will hopefully avoid the pitfalls of accommodating multiple players, as too many games have done in the past.

Sea of Solitude

Release Date: July 5, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One

At first blush, Sea of Solitude looks like yet another story of a young adult struggling with questions of identity and mental health while exploring a beautiful but harsh fantasy world.

Actually, that’s what it is. ‘Quirky, life affirming indie adventure’ is a whole cottage industry these days, but the fact that such games are now more prevalent should never dismay.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was a masterpiece of refined design and storytelling, and Sea of Solitude appears be something similar—this time dealing with a fantastical vision of depression that turns ordinary people into literal monsters.

Players take charge of Kay, who has sought out the eponymous Sea—or rather, a flooded city based on Berlin—in the hope that there is a cure for monstrosity. However, despite its name, she is not the only person in the Sea. Avoiding the other monsters of the Sea seems to be a major part of the gameplay. These tense encounters are likely to provide rhythm and variety to the adventure and keep it from being a just walking simulator. (Not that being a walking simulator is inherently a problem.)

Although published by EA Originals, one would do well to remember that EA the company does not actually profit off the Originals that they publish. With a focused story and themes that still are not often explored in bigger games, Sea of Solitude should be of great interest to single player fans in a month otherwise dominated by multiplayer titles.


Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Release Date: July 26, 2019
Platform: Nintendo Switch

Almost certainly the biggest single player release of the month, and tied with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 as another massive Switch exclusive, Fire Emblem: Three Houses might be exactly what single players need right now.

Lately the Fire Emblem franchise has exploded in both its popular profile and sales success, buoyed by a hunger for both deep anime RPGs and polished tactics games. Three Houses seems to have doubled down on exciting trends and features in both genres: particularly a Persona/Harry Potter inspired magic school setting and an even deeper tactical battle system that ditches the rock-paper-scissors for more nuanced character progression options. As with many Japanese RPGs, the story is also a major focus and hinges upon a time-jump.

The early part casts the player as a teacher at the Officer’s Academy, situated in the center of the game world and attended by students from the three most powerful nations. Five years later, the second and likely larger part concerns the drama between the player’s teacher and their former students, whose nations are now locked in a massive three-way conflict.

As is to be expected for a series finally coming back to consoles after a long time on the 3DS, Three Houses is a massive technical leap over its predecessors. The game boasts better realised battlefields, more detailed armies, and a slick animated style that appears much more consistent compared with the three or four different art styles on the 3DS.

With such improvements, as well as the overall pedigree of the Fire Emblem brand, Three Houses should have no trouble satisfying single player fans looking for a meaty middle-of-the-year RPG.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood

Release Date: July 26, 2019
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One

The recent Wolfenstein revival series is such a remarkable achievement in traditional shooter design and great, if goofy, sci-fi worldbuilding that the co-op focus of this latest instalment is somewhat disappointing.

Yes, as with F.E.A.R. 3 and Dead Space 3, following a well-received second chapter the Wolfenstein series now pivots to a co-operative focused chapter. Though the game is not a mandatory multiplayer experience, combat encounters and puzzles have been redesigned to accommodate the two player mode, giving single players an AI-controlled partner and bullet sponge enemies.

However, all hope is not lost for Wolfenstein: why else would it be the third game on the list? The narrative has been pushed forward in time, as B.J.’s twin daughters are now in their adolescence, now giving players a glimpse at the 1980s of Wolfenstein‘s skewed universe. Additionally, the level design itself is more freeform thanks to development assistance from Arkane, the developers of the Dishonored series.

Will Wolfenstein: Youngblood successfully deliver more of the series’s goofy charm and crazy alternate reality? Almost certainly. On the other hand, will the game be as fun to play alone as in multiplayer? That remains to be seen. Last month’s E3 demo that raised such concerns was naturally only a snapshot of a game in development, so MachineGames and Arkane have had plenty of time to resolve these potential downsides to a co-op focused game.

Those are our three big single player games to look out for this month. Other interesting titles coming soon include Stranger Things 3 on July 4 and Attack on Titan 2 on July 5, both games hitting Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

On July 12 we will see the sequel to an almost-fantastic Minecraft-like RPG spinoff, Dragon Quest Builders 2 on Switch and PlayStation 4, as well as the Switch port of “anime Monster Hunter”, God Eater 3

The week after, July 19 brings us Switch-exclusive Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order, and at an undetermined time during the month Klei Entertainment’s anticipated survival-sim Oxygen Not Included will finally leave early access on PC.

Have we missed anything that you’re looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below and be sure bookmark OnlySP and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. You can also join the discussion in our community Discord server.

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