[Spoilers for the first 15 hours of Expeditions Conquistador. For a more focused look at the game read my review or my follow-up article on PopMatters]
Okay. Expeditions Conquistador, eh? Why do I get the feeling I’m walking into a real quagmire?
Starting menu music’s pretty. Here we go: new game. I can be a woman? And half the starting cast are women too? Without any gendered buffs or penalties? That’s a positive start. The pool of my potential starting crew each have their own bios too. That’ll make for some cool role-playing. I wonder if any of this will come back or if it’s just window dressing. Either way, pretty cool.
The opening cutscene seems to be a journal entry from a random crew member. I guess I’m a pretty okay gal by the sounds of it. I’m the only child of a lower noble family sent to find glory in the New World.
So the governor of Hispaniola has taken my ship and docked me before I could reach the New World. Time to tutorialize. Wow, that was cool. Really simple but elegant combat system filled with meaningful strategy. I’m impressed.
It looks like one of my soldiers was injured. That can’t be a big deal though. Alright, governor is pretty standard RPG gatekeeper fair. Yup, “I’m king here,” “rebel forces,” “get your ship back if you complete my quests,” sounds right.
WHAT? Did this game offer me slaves? Like, actual slaves that were kidnapped from Africa after the native slaves had been worked to death? Holy hell does that leave a bad taste in my mouth! Thank god it gives me the option to take paid servants. But this game seriously lets me simulate slave-owning. Just having the option is disgusting.
New party member: Isabela, a soldier and the mestizo daughter of a Taíno woman and a Spanish noble. It’s just occurring to me now that I don’t have anyone in my team that can speak with the natives. Kinda makes me wish somebody had thought of this before leaving Spain…
Ok, Governor Asshat needs me to chase off some natives from a nearby temple. Okay game, this is your chance to prove that I’m not just playing “Racism Tactics.” Good, I can leave them to their worship and let them leave on their own terms. I guess that wasn’t bad. Wait. Now a member from my crew is getting uppity. Well you can shut up. Pious members have lost morale!? C’mon!
So that soldier that was injured in the tutorial is still injured. I’ll assign a doctor to heal her. Aaaaaand it took almost all my medicine and I couldn’t even stabilize her.
There are two leaders of the Spanish rebellion, Esteban and somebody a Captain named Lilandra has been fighting. I’ll go wander around for a bit. The soldier from the tutorial still hasn’t fully recovered and I’m almost out of medicine.
Down goes my injured soldier. Everybody loses morale. I can perform a brief memorial in her honour. That mitigates some of the damage to morale.
Without that soldier I don’t think I can guard my camp all that well. All my rations keep disappearing over night. Now I can’t feed my troops. And now they’re losing morale. Maybe I should recover an earlier save.
Alright, I’ve restored an earlier point in the game and spent all my stupid worthless gold on sweet blessed medicine. The soldier is back. So now I just have to never, ever let anybody get injured again. That can’t be too hard.
I found an injured Spaniard. Attacked by the natives, eh? Well that sucks. No I will not go after them, the whole expedition went to hell the last time somebody got hurt. Oh yeah, and ethics. Did I just put the well-being of my invaders ahead of the sovereignty of the natives? Now my goddamn doctor’s starting to pipe up against me. Yeah, lose morale, see if I care…please don’t leave me.
A native village. I wonder if I can trade with them. Hammer out the details, Isabela. What do you mean they won’t talk to a half-breed? They’re attacking, you say?
Well I got good and murdered there. Let’s try again. Sit this one out, Isabela, I’ll talk to them. Okay, that went better. Trade away. Gold isn’t worth much to you compared with food, medicine and tools, eh? I can relate.
There’s Lilandra’s town. Wow! She’s a total badass. Go to the mountains? okay. Nice mountains, I guess. And now I’m being ambushed by the Spanish rebels. Can I talk my way out of this fight? Okay, I can, but only by appealing to our common race. Well if that’s the only way to make nice with these guys maybe I shouldn’t bother. Then again, I’m still nervous over the last time I got into a fight.
Well that was tough as all get-out but I did it. Lilandra’s the bad guy, she’s the leader of the rebellion against Governor Asshat. And she’s an abolitionist. Well this is awkward.
Ah, there’s another native village. They seem much more responsive than the last. There’s a shaman named Atl. He speaks Spanish. He’s actually pretty funny. He has a very witty and sarcastic sense of humour. I’m glad Logic Artists didn’t lean on stereotypes for the first native member to talk to me at length. He wants help tracking down special kind of medicine. Come along then, happy to have you here. Now I have another bi-lingual party-member. Hmmm, I’ve noticed that even though everyone on my team has personalities that keep cropping up in the random and prewritten events I keep reducing them to their utilitarian value.
There’s Esteban, also working with the natives. I keep getting the feeling I’m serving the wrong force. Esteban only wants to fight. Down he goes, time for some post combat info pumping. His troops are fighting against Lilandra’s troops? Off he goes, escaping deeper into the jungle.
I’m not more than a few steps from Esteban’s next encampment and I’ve bumped into a Carib scouting band. Well I’ll just explain that there’s no need to fight. Not enough diplomacy? Crap, but…
Yes! Really starting to see my team toughen up. I ripped right through those guys! That small group from a tribe I know nothing about patrolling their own land. I really tore them down with ruthless efficiency. Ugh.
There’s Esteban again. I can set up an ambush, well I’ll get my team in position first and try to talk things out. He’s just not listening to me. Fine, let’s take him down. There goes the last of his troop and he’s run off again. Well at least half of the rebellion is dealt with. Now I just need to figure out what to do about Lilandra.
Halfway back to town and Esteban has snuck into my camp, beat up one of my scouts and kidnapped Isabela. He’s making way for a Carib sacrificial altar. He’s going to trade Isabela for a new batch of troops to carry out his rebellion. I have 14 in-game days to rescue her. Off I go.
I’ve reached the altar and the natives have beaten the crap out of Isabela. Esteban appears to be falling apart over what he’s doing. Maybe there’s a conscience in there after all. In I go. Esteban’s itching to fight some more. Isabela takes a knife from her boot, jabs him and runs away. Time to finish him off.
Esteban asked me why I’m here. Come to think of it, a lot of people have asked me that. The governor did, the captain of the Spanish guard did, Lilandra did, Atl and Isabela did. Why am I here? I mean, ostensibly, I’m here to bring glory and fame to my family. But how? Isn’t that up to me as the player? I can say I’m here just to learn and explore but I know that isn’t true. Half the things I do in the attempt to learn or explore either get me or a dozen other people killed. What am I doing here? Why do I keep playing this game? I know how this will end, It’ll end with the South American aboriginals slaughtered and African slaves taken from their homes and laboured to death without pay for three-hundred years. In the end all I’ll have done is help set up a military-industrial complex that blows up globally until the air and the water is poison and everybody in the overpopulated world is terrified of one another. But I keep playing and trying to make this better. What am I doing and why am I so nervous?
I’ve beaten Esteban. Now that he’s a heap of broken bones and lacerations he’s finally taking the time to hear me out. He’s trying to fight Lilandra because she used him. She’s not interested in freeing the slaves or liberating the natives. She wants to overthrow the governor so she can usurp him and earn more money and have a fancy title. I can spare Esteban. I wish the moron would have taken the time to explain himself before all of this but I need more competent soldiers and he does have a working relationship with some of the natives. I guess he can come along.
Sparing Esteban has “traumatized” Isabela, permanently changing her personality and how she reacts to what I do.
Back at the colony, Lilandra has begun her attack. I fight her first wave off successfully. Yay me, I guess.
Lilandra reveals a tidbit of Isabela’s past: she was adopted by her nobleman father. Her real father was just some random Spaniard that may or may not have raped her mother. Isabela was raised by her father as a “curiosity” as Lilandra puts it. I can forgive Isabela for lying about her past, tell her to leave or kill her. I can kill her for lying about the circumstances around her birth and childhood. You’re actually giving me the option to kill her? Uuugh…
Lilandra’s dealt with. Governor Asshat has given me my ship back and his blessing to continue to the mainland. I can’t believe this guy turned out to be the least shitty option.
Atl tells me that he’s needed too much in his home village to continue in my journey. I’ll try to convince him to stay. Nope, his duty is back at his home. I can make him stay against his will? Why would I want to do that after what he’s done for me? Then again, why wouldn’t the game give me the opportunity to enslave a peaceful aboriginal who’s only ever been helpful?
That’s it. Press preview is done. And here I am back at the starting menu that promises that I can rewrite history.
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Further reading: Adam. “Perspectives on Patriotism, the Fourth of July, and Our Game, Courtesy of Conquest of the New World.” Un-Original Thoughts I’m Having. July 4 2013.
“Historical Game Spotlight: Expeditions Conquistador.” Northern Beholder. Sep 10 2012.
Hancock, Patrick. “I didn’t conquer sh*t.” Destructoid. Jun 9 2013.
8 thoughts on “My Thoughts While Playing Expeditions Conquistador”
Those would be enslaved natives. Africans shouldn’t have been brought over yet.
Esteban is only recruitable for people who supported the Kickstarter.
I think Isabela is always traumatized, as I got to her with 7 days remaining and she still got the trait. I’m not sure what it means.
Well, interesting, i did not realised that you can finish chapter 1 even when you are defeated…wow :D
I think you cannot recruit Esteban, he will say, that he is broken man…
Finished game as with anti-aztek coalition, tried at seccond playtrough as Aztek Ally, but due to bug i was not able to finish game (traped in aztec city, and cannot click on the building :( ) Well still great game i must say!
I just finished playing through the introductory 10 hour section of the game. I have to say it was a harrowing experience to say the least.
I picked my team based on the idea of being idealists (both open-minded and pious idealists). I thought to myself, I’ll be a charming spanish diplomatic explorer. And then I clicked Ironman.
You know those Taino that you managed to convince to leave the old temple. Well I killed them, my curiosity got the better of me in exploring the dialogue tree and the diplomacy check got too hard for me to succeed. So as my peaceful, open-minded idealists stand over the corpses of a dozen or so civilian natives I think, “should I stop here and restart?” But that defeats the point of Ironman right?
So I continue.on, vowing that such travesties will not occur again. Then I get ambushed, I try to scare off the natives with a volley of fire. Half of them run, the other half, now vastly out numbered, run straight into our waiting polearms.
I defeat Esteban, but not realizing he could join me and now having a thoroughly traumatized and increasingly cynical party – I chop off his head. Isabella is traumatized either way – I think she actually gets the trait when you wait to long to intervene.
Then I wake up in the night to people stealing my stuff, I don’t wait to find out who. The combat screen loads, I have 6 armed warriors fighting 10 terrified native civilians. It’s a massacre.
By this point I feel that I’m leading a ravaged group. I have high leadership so no mutinies yet, but all we’ve seen since coming to this beautiful island is death and destruction.
I go for the showdown against Lilandra. Defending the governor’s mansion I only notice half the troops arrayed against me and plan accordingly. My troops are grizzled veterans at this point but can’t make up for that vast a tactical blunder. I lose and get the chance to regroup. The true showdown starts well. I’m ploughing through her troops with my peaceful, altruistic soldiers. Then it happens. I misclick. My core soldier runs by three people triggering attacks of opportunity each time.
I lose. I’m shown clemency and me and my expedition are allowed to live. I find Isabella crying over the corpse of the captain of the guard. He had surrendered and they slit his throat in front of her.
I imagine this expedition then going on to the New World. They were not the same people who arrived on that island. I click out the game and feel a sudden need for a shower.
I think I’ll stick at that play-through, broken soldiers and all, from a role-playing perspective it only adds flavour, bleak flavour, but flavour.
That and I’m pretty loaded for my start in the New World despite my defeat – mostly from looting the spanish rebels who pillaged the natives.
“WHAT? Did this game offer me slaves? Like, actual slaves that were kidnapped from Africa after the native slaves had been worked to death? Holy hell does that leave a bad taste in my mouth! Thank god it gives me the option to take paid servants. But this game seriously lets me simulate slave-owning. Just having the option is disgusting.”
Seriously what kind of retarded self-righteous PC crap is that?
The game has some historical accuracy, and that offends you?
How about having racist characters, that doesn’t offend?
Or the religious zealots?
Or all the killing?
Not to ignore the killing of natives?
Maybe you would prefer cartoon animals hugging each other instead.
I think it’s great you have some historical accuracy.
And I think it is much more offensive to leave things like slaves out of a game, that takes place in a setting where it is relevant.
Ignoring historical truth.
The point of this post was more to lay out a highlight reel of my stream of consciousness as I remembered the experience, not necessarily an articulate criticism of the game’s politics. That said, my reaction was not rooted in being offended; it was from the weight of the first moral choice the game offers. Before the game asks anything of the player, it asks whether it wants to exploit the labour or people whose labour was actually exploited in the real world–and not very long ago. The passage you quote is more my shock at the tone the game set. In fact, I never once said that I was offended by the content, only that I was shocked by it. The point of the then incomplete game, as I understand it, was and is to put the player in a position of undeserved and unjust power to see what they will do with it: the point of the game is for the player to observe how they will behave in a system that expects them to abuse other people.
Using the kind power Expeditions Conquistador gives you to own slaves is disgusting. That’s the point the game is illustrating by presenting that choice as one of the first forms of interacting with its world.
Furthermore, Expeditions Conquistador is not an historically accurate game. The game allows the player character to be a woman. While women absolutely played a role in the settlement of the New World, it was not typically as military leaders. The game hardly remarks upon a commander leading an entirely female company of soldiers. Which is a good thing, it improves the experience of the game and invites in other players to write themselves into the narrative (which, again, is necessary to achieving the game’s desired effect) but it breaks from history. But that’s the point of the game. What makes Expeditions Conquistador so intriguing is that it demands that you take your modern understanding of history and apply it to an historical massacre to see whether you, the player in all your 21st century wisdom, can fix history. That the answer seems to be “you can’t” is very potent.
I never asked that slaves be removed from the game, it just struck me like a blow to the head that a video game would be so nonchalant in asking me to participate in one of history’s greatest injustices. And while I do believe that cartoon animals hugging is just as valid a form of expression, I don’t necessarily prefer it to Expeditions Conquistador or what Expeditions Conquistador does.
Finally, the version of the game I played was incomplete and therefore my interpretation of the game is incomplete. The lingering issue I had with the game was that it did not leave me with a sense that it was going to solve its problematic elements. It may be the the game’s intention not to wrap everything up for me. I think someone is well within their reason to be offended by Expeditions Conquistador, but I wasn’t (of course, I’m not personally associated with the game’s targets).
Thanks for the comment.
Just a little addition to your reply , though I did think you reaction to the optional slavery was an overreaction. Just how things were back then, and it did take a while for most countries to figure out that slavery was legitimately inhuman no matter who was being enslaved.
Rather, my point was to address your comment of ‘no women conquistadors’. A quick google search shows, while uncommon, there were a couple women who served in military roles in the 1500s, them being Inés Suárez, María Estrada, and Catalina de Erauso (though to be fair, Erauso did pretended to be a man). By no means is Conquistador absolutely accurate, but it aims for as closely accurate as possible while still allowing enough creative license for a ‘what-if’ story. Thus having a female leader isn’t that huge of a history breaker (though I concede that it would be quite unbelievable to have an entire crew of only women…which would be inadvisable given the radically different personality traits you’d have to manage on a women-only team)