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Renowned Explorers: More to Explore Review – See The World, They Said

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It was a long trek through the Andean wilderness, made even longer by Anna’s insistence on rambling on about her insane experiments. The other two explorers under her charge – Charles, the rough-and-tumble Manchester butler, and the gentle giant Ivan – patiently listened to her rambling (Ivan furiously flipping through his Russian-to-English dictionary) while secretly hoping that the end to their wanderings through the treacherous mountain trails would soon come to a fruitful end. 

One can only ride a llama for so long before becoming fed up with that particular method of locomotion.

It soon became apparent, however, that the trio – moderately renowned throughout the explorers circles as more than a bit violent – had become embroiled in more than an archaeological expedition; they had been caught up in a delicate political struggle between the peaceful Incan people and their oppressive dictator, a brutish man with a penchant for equally-brutish weaponry and cigars. It became clear that this would be no quick in-and-out trip. Their violent tendencies in a way mislabeled them in the eyes of the oppressed Incan masses as freedom fighters. If the group wanted the legendary emperor’s garb, they would have to deal with the tyrant.

And deal with him they did. With great prejudice.

For all the locals’ fear of the man, he seemed all too keen on letting his loyal guardsmen do the fighting for him, but they proved no match for Charles’ proficient fisticuffs and Ivan’s massive size and sheer brute strength. In the end, the foul man drew a fairly impressive weapon on the trio, but Anna’s mad cackle and promise of using him in one of her many infamous experiments caused his will to falter and, in the end, fall…just enough for her to deliver the final, shocking blow with her favorite, trusted mad scientist’s tool – which was ultimately little more than a super-charged cattle-prod.

With the Incan people (and the famous Emperor’s Garb) liberated from the bully tyrant, the equally renowned and feared adventuring trio made their way down the mountain with Anna stating: “That was quite the adventure, toppling a government and everything. I must admit, it was pretty fun. It wouldn’t surprise me if this became a trend someday.”

Charles could merely sigh while Ivan frantically paged through his dictionary in a futile attempt to understand his captain. In the end, he was fairly certain she said something about llama poo.

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The new expansion pack for Renowned Explorers is named More to Explore, but this is a bit of a misnomer. With only two new expeditions the game’s equivalents to “stages” as you progress through the story on your way to become the more renowned explorer the game doesn’t actually add that much to explore. However, the two new new expeditions compounded with a campfire mechanic that not only gives much-needed rewards but also glimpses into the minds and pasts of the game’s colorful and interesting cast, gives you more reasons to play, if not a plethora of new things to explore.

If you don’t know what Renowned Explorers is, check out my review here, or my interview with Creative Director Adriaan Jensen here.

It’s no secret that Abbey Games has heavily backed the continued development of Renowned Explorers since its launch in September of last year. They’ve already added new expeditions – most notably being the “Mali Madness” expedition, which charges you with charming (or pummeling) a very annoying witch doctor – and numerous new events within existing expeditions (including a very dangerous woolly threat in the Highlands), along with general balancing to keep the game fresh and fun.

However, More to Explore is the biggest addition the game has received yet. The new expeditions are welcome; in the “Andean Adventure” your team must win a treasure from an oppressive dictator, and the end-game “Lost Island” provides an opportunity to learn more about the anti-explorers that have been hinted at throughout the game thus far. But the real attention-getter in More to Explore is the addition of “campfire stories.”

After so many actions on any given map, your crew has an opportunity to set up camp complete with a campfire screen including unique idle animations for all of your crew members. On this screen, you have the option to play special story cards that provide bonuses for your expedition. At first, these bonuses are a bit mundane, simply giving your expedition more research or status or money. However, as you play the game, you acquire new booster packs with three cards apiece. These new cards add much more interesting reward opportunities most notably the ability to teach your crew members new skills and disciplines but most interestingly, they can also give special, character-specific stories that, when used, unlock unique missions and motivations for the varied and interesting cast of Renowned Explorers. This is absolutely a welcome addition to the game as the cast of Renowned Explorers is one of its high points, and the masterful writing lends so much more characterization to the unique and fun cast.

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I was a bit worried when I first heard and then saw the Hearthstone-like addition to the game (seriously, even the act of opening the packs you receive is very reminiscent of Blizzard’s TCG giant), but without the option for micro-transactions, your only way to gain more cards is to play more games. This provides a true incentive to continue to play the game and in doing so, experiment with different crew compositions and playstyles and though the randomness factor of what cards you receive can be a little irritating, it’s a fun little reward that comes regularly enough that you never feel like you’re grinding.

The other addition in More to Explore allows you to choose specific bonuses every time you find a treasure. Some of these bonuses are quite nice, adding a great deal of extra research/status/money to your expedition, but for the most part this is a purely mechanical and number-based change that adds little to the game’s replayability. Still, given how difficult the game can be, this, along with the bonuses gained from the campfire stories, can go a long way to making the medium and high-difficulty expeditions somewhat more manageable…though never quite easy.

While I wouldn’t say that More to Explore revolutionizes Renowned Explorers, it does give you more incentive to play the game multiple times rather than putting on blinders and blazing from start to finish. While I never had much trouble motivating myself to binge the game over and over again, the promise of learning more about the game’s colorful cast, and even the tweaks to some of the game’s loot and reward systems, certainly make it even easier. I would have liked a few more expeditions and maybe a new character or five, but More to Explore ultimately delivers where it counts.

Renowned Explorers: More to Explore was reviewed on PC with a copy provided by Abbey Games

Developer: Abbey Games | Genre: Strategy RPG | Platforms: PC (Steam) | Release Date: May 31, 2016 | Controls: Mouse / Keyboard

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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.

Review

Stranger Things 3: The Game Review — Mindflayingly Average

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Stranger Things 3: The Game logo

The Stranger Things series has been a big success for Netflix. A love letter to ‘80s pop culture, with a focus on the science fiction and horror movies of the time, the show has been hugely popular, with the latest season screened on over 40 million accounts in its first four days. Accompanying the launch of the television season is Stranger Things 3: The Game. Developed by BonusXP Inc, which previously created Stranger Things: The Game for mobile devices, the game is an isometric brawler which competently retells the story of Stranger Things 3, but has little of its own to say. Mild spoilers for Stranger Things 3 ahead.  

The game opens one year after the events of Stranger Things season two. While trying to contact his camp girlfriend with a high-tech ham radio, Dustin overhears a strange recording spoken in Russian. Determined to figure out what it means, he teams up with Steve and his coworker Robin to try and decode the message. Meanwhile, strange occurrences have been happening around Hawkins, with rats devouring fertiliser and chemicals. Max’s brother Billy is looking decidedly unwell, thickly wrapped in jumpers while he works as a lifeguard. A tingle at the back of Will’s neck tells him the mindflayer’s presence still lingers around the town. As events progress, a group of average kids must save the world from an otherworldly monstrous threat once again.  

Stranger Things 3: The Game takes place in a semi-open world, with more locations unlocked as players progress. The player starts out in control of Mike and Lucas, who wield a bat and slingshot respectively. Two characters are always on screen, with the other person controlled by AI. Local co-op is available and seems to be the intended way to play—the AI for the second player is not very smart. When in single-player mode, the player can switch between the two characters on the fly, and any unlocked characters can be swapped to as well. The other characters unlock over the course of the story, with a total of 12 to choose from. Each character can attack and block and has a unique special move, such as Max’s healing hearts or Jonathan’s stunning camera flash. Special moves cost energy, which can be replenished by drinking New Coke or picked up from defeated enemies. With each character playing so differently, the game would benefit from restricting which characters can be used in each scenario, as finding a favourite combination and sticking to it is far too easy. This lack of restriction also caused some weird story occurrences, like Nancy wandering around the void or Hopper hanging out with Mike while he mopes about breaking up with Eleven.

Exploring Hawkins involves lots of switch puzzles, and using characters’ special abilities, like Dustin hacking into a locked door or Joyce cutting the lock off of a gate with her bolt cutters. The puzzles are generally straightforward, with the Russians inexplicably leaving clues in English for the player to find, but more complicated riddles can be found by wandering off the beaten track. The creepy deserted pizza place has some based on pi, and exploring optional rooms in the Russian base will reward the player with rare crafting items.

Crafting in Stranger Things 3: The Game is poorly implemented. Items can only be made at workbenches, which makes sense for complicated contraptions, but is annoying at other times (for example, having to retreat out of the pool area because Eleven needs to put duct tape on her swimming goggles). When looking in a store, no indication appears on what items are already in the player’s inventory. Apart from plot items, the player can also make trinkets, which improve the party’s statistics. A wide variety of trinkets are available, from improving a single character’s attack to increasing the health of the whole party. Finding the missing items to create a trinket is tricky due to the poor shopping interface, and the sparse placement of workbenches gives the player few chances to actually craft the items. Fortunately, fighting enemies is easy enough that crafting can mostly go ignored.

Combat is simple, for the most part, with the player smashing everything on screen to progress. Hawkins is absolutely infested with rats and Russians, with even the library packed to the brim with bad guys. Though the excessive numbers of similar enemies is normal in the brawling genre, more variety would have been appreciated. The late game Russians become more interesting, with knife throwers, chemical spills, and grenades, but the first three-quarters of the game consists of the same baddies over and over.

An exception to this repetition is the challenging boss battles, which are far tougher than the average gameplay. Bosses will need extra conditions to be met before they can be damaged, like switching lights on, dodging charge attacks, or keeping several baddies away from each other. Some work better than others—for example, one battle relied on keeping two boss creatures apart to prevent them from healing each other, which simply did not work in single player since the AI fighter closely follows the main character. Instead, defeating the boss required exploiting Nancy’s critical hit ability to do enough damage to kill the monsters before they could heal, a strategy that required some luck to succeed. Other boss encounters fared better, with the trial of constantly repairing Hopper’s cottage as slimy creatures crawl through the windows proving tough and intense.  A dodge button would be a useful addition to the movement options, since the bosses run so much faster than the player does. The game is also a bit stingy on providing a place to stock up before a boss battle, which should be included considering the spike in difficulty they represent. Still, these battles are where the game shines brightest, showing creativity and variety that is sorely lacking in other areas.

Stranger Things 3: The Game is faithful to a fault, feeling like a very detailed recap of the season. A few sidequests tell their own story, like doing chores for the creepy Granny Perkins or exploring the abandoned electronics store, but for the most part, the player will be re-enacting scenes from the television series, with a bit of extra rat murder and crafting thrown in. Clinging so closely means the story has nowhere exciting to go since the player has presumably already watched the season. If the player has not seen the show, that would be even worse, as it is a non-scary adaptation of a horror show that completely loses the tone. The occasional dialogue choice is thrown in, but the response makes no difference either way. Adding in some choices alongside possibilities of events going differently would make things far more engaging. 

A highlight of Stranger Things 3: The Game is the art direction, with some beautiful 16-bit recreations of the cast and environments. With the exception of Jonathan, who looks like his pointy-chinned cousin, the sprites are a good resemblance of the cast. The monsters are appropriately fleshy and gross, with the final boss, in particular, looking foreboding. Environments can get a bit repetitive, with one sprite for all the beds, one for all the cupboards, etcetera. Sprite laying issues do occur on occasion—the ashtrays all hover in front of the characters, for example. The chiptune recreation of the show’s music, however, is spot on, and converting the title theme into a Zelda-like solved puzzle jingle is impressive indeed.    

Stranger Things 3: The Game gameplay

Stranger Things 3: The Game is only for really big fans of the show. Even then, the title is hard to recommend since it is an inferior version of the television season. While the gameplay is not bad, it is too repetitive to be enjoyable on its own. The game would perhaps be best played just before season four comes out, as a novel way of recapping the previous season.   

OnlySP Review Score 2 Pass

Reviewed on PC. Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, iOS and Android devices.

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