key review info
- Game: Blackguards
- Platform: PC
- Gamepad support: No
- Reviewed on:
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The first side quest that players will get to explore in Blackguards comes after around one hour of play and will appear pretty classic at first: a merchant has managed to lose an item and the player party needs to venture out in the wild and retrieve it to get access to a reward.
The first surprise comes when the troll that has the staff comes into view and is huge, clearly more than capable of smashing my three warriors who barely have steel weapons and clothes on their backs.
The second one comes when my mage fails to hurl fireballs two times in a row and the monster gets a first strike on my main character before I can scratch the bark it is covered in.
The battle is pretty tough and one of my fighters gets incapacitated along the way, but I finally manage to destroy the troll and take the staff.
That’s when the third surprise hits as my mage argues that we should keep the magical object rather than return it because it will be more useful during the coming quests.
I travel back to town, lie to the merchant, equip the staff and start on my way.
Blackguards is not a traditional role-playing game but, despite its interesting twists, it also fails to be revolutionary for the genre, despite the pre-launch claims coming from developer Daedalic Entertainment.
The game, with its distinct universe and solid turn-based battle system, is interesting and anyone who enjoyed Icewind Dale or Neverwinter’s Night will be able to enjoy it to some degree.
Blackguards is based on the Dark Eye fantasy universe and the team working on the game says that this is a dark adventure where even the heroes have a grim side and the world is unwelcoming.
But the game is not Dark Souls by any measure even though there are plenty of shades of grey to explore on adventures and there’s no morality meter to constantly judge whether the player is doing good or evil deeds.
Most of the game protagonists have a dark side and they are basically interested in solving their own problems rather than in saving the world around them.
The Dark Eye universe is clearly recognizable for fantasy fans and the story is pretty basic, with most of the twists and turns easily recognizable and a cast of characters that offers a limited set of surprises.
Blackguards is not badly written, but gamers should not expect to get the quality of exposition that BioWare tends to deliver.
Blackguards is a turn-based and hex-powered tactical experience during battles, with a strategic layer that encourages exploration and allows players to get access to traders, quest characters and other locations.
During combat, each character can move once and then launch an attack, which can be physical or magical.
Cover and obstacles are important and some battles hinge on a player’s ability to use the environment to gain a clear advantage.
Directing characters is pretty easy, with a right clock options wheel showing all the actions that are valid, and as the game progresses, players need to be careful about placement, powers that complement each other and about the order in which they approach enemies.
When they are not taking out enemies, players are able to move across the overland map and visit certain cities and locations, where they can find everything from inns and healers to blacksmiths and trainers.
It’s pretty easy to make the money required to get constantly better equipment and as quests get resolved, experience can be distributed, increasing character stats and learning new battle abilities.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of Blackguards is the way heroes grow and the amount of control that the player has over their power, even if at first, it might be hard to know how the values work together.
I chose to focus on axes and daggers for my protagonist, but a lot of builds are probably equally efficient as long as the player remembers to rest often, save when he gets a good combat result and reload when the die rolls turn against him.
Maybe the biggest problem with the mechanics of Blackguards is that the game has so many moving parts that a gamer never knows exactly how to plan for combat.
Some encounters are very easy to complete, almost without paying attention to tactical synergies or positioning, but there are some difficulty spikes that forced me to reload in order to prepare better.
I advise most players to play on Normal and even drop to Easy if they get frustrated in order to make sure that they enjoy most of the battles and that there’s as little frustration as possible.
Graphics and audio
Blackguards is not top of the line in the graphics category, there are no moments when it shines, but the art style should be instantly familiar to fans of fantasy universes.
The spell effects are interesting, but most textures could have used a little more work and it’s clear that the ambitions of the team at Daedalic were bigger than the resources they had to fulfil them.
Of course, graphics quality is never a major selling point for this genre of tactically driven role-playing game and it’s easy enough to simply focus more on the combat and the exploration than on looking at the surroundings.
But even that can be hard at times, given the gulf between the bright and static towns and the gloomy and dirty battlefields.
It is harder to tune out the soundtrack, which gets very repetitive very fast after initially delivering some interesting tunes, and the voice acting, which has a rather small number of actors trying to cover too many characters.
I tend to play a lot of games that do not look great, but in the modern industry presentation becomes more important than ever and I would like to see a few improvements made to the Blackguards to make it more palatable to mainstream gamers.
Blackguards is a role-playing game that will appeal to those who love the more classic experiences linked with the genre and it’s always nice to discover a game that uses a universe other than that of Dungeons & Dragons.
The combat can be exciting and balanced on a knife’s edge at times and I liked the amount of control that I had over my party and their development.
Unfortunately, the game can also be frustrating when the die rolls lead to three fireballs that fail one after the other or when an enemy manages to dodge almost every attack.
The development team at Daedalic Entertainment has created an enjoyable experience, but one that asks players to accept its quirks if they are looking for hours of solid but unexceptional role-playing gameplay.