A related tangent, does anyone else remember Expeditions: Conquistador? Similar to Dragons Conquer America, it’s set in the 16th Century, it’s about colonialism and imperialism, and it had a Kickstarter. While not a fantasy RPG, it is a roleplaying and strategy game.
Also like in DCA, the player is a European outsider. You play as a conquistador, either as a man or woman, traveling from Spain to Hispaniola and Mexico. The difference is that Logic Artists (the developers behind E:C) at least did their research. If you knew nothing about the Taino going in, you unlock codex entries that describe their culture with a surprising level of accuracy. Indigenous peoples are depicted as complex, with different groups and individuals having their own concerns and agendas.
Unlike DCA, a somewhat common critical opinion about E:C appears to be that it’s about colonialism, but remains anti-colonialist. Mark Filipowich, at Big Tall Words, describes E:C like this:
With skill, luck and tact the player can avoid the absolute destruction of Mexico’s indigenous cultures; they can even create a situation that is inarguably better than Cortés’ legacy, but nonetheless the player must cause harm simply by being present where they don’t belong. The player must be an intervening force in a war they have no business in, they will be tempted to exploit natives to survive and there is a sense of accomplishment in colonial victories. Expeditions Conquistador posits that there is no action free from colonial influence: the oppressors may not “fix history.” They can only oppress to a lesser or a greater degree.
This, despite the player having the option to be a genocidal conqueror that owns slaves and travels with a party of racists. (Also, “racist” is an actual personality trait for party members; juxtaposed with “open-minded”). I do recall that even if you play as an “open-minded” Spaniard, you’re aware that the floodgates had been opened before your arrival; you’re only a drop in a wave of conquistadors King Carlos sends. Being “one of the good ones” will change nothing because you cannot be the white savior in this narrative. You can choose to be as nonviolent and non-interventionist as possible, but even that path inevitably dooms the indigenous people to their historical fates.
Yet, I don’t know how much more anti-colonialist it really is than DCA? You have no option to play as one of the Tainos, Totonacs, or Aztecs*. The story is ultimately about your adventures across Central America. Certain side quests felt ripped out of a Victorian adventure tale, when they could’ve pushed the anti-colonial narrative further.
Regardless of the game’s challenges—and exploring can feel like punishment as you struggle to fight starvation, disease, and mutiny—it’s still exciting in some ways. There’s a sense of achievement to leveling up, surviving encounters, winning battles, and accumulating wealth. The main story wants to be a warning against imperialism, but as even Filipowich notes, “The game offers its player substantial, uncomfortable power with only their personal ethics to keep it reined in. But the game does more than make colonialist behaviour justifiable, at times it makes it downright fun.” E:C, like DCA it seems, suffers from competing impulses. E:C goes further to remind the player that they’re part of the oppressive group, but it’s far from Spec Ops: The Line for the “Age of Discovery.”
So I don’t know that it truly escapes trappings of a power fantasy. The makers of E:C don’t seem as dense as the ones behind DCA. But neither developer seems able to escape the allure of imperialist fantasy altogether.
*Medieval II Total War, in the Total Kingdoms expansion, gives you the option to play as the Aztecs and defeat the Spanish, if you want to. Total War: the series devoted to military conquest arguably giving you a better opportunity to kick European imperialist ass than supposedly anti-colonist games do.