Roll the dice.
As a fan of fantasy genre games and RPGs in general, I was surprised how little time I put into the original Blackguards. On the surface it had a lot of appeal, but its frustrating dice-roll combat system and spikes in difficulty led me to move on from the game. Still, I welcomed the opportunity to play Daedalic’s sequel, Blackguards 2, with cautious optimism. It was my hope that some of the things that held back the first game would be fixed, and that this new entry into the Blackguards series would be an improved, less-cumbersome offering. While some things have definitely changed for the better, unfortunately there are still some significant playability problems with the franchise.
A woman scorned.
Blackguards 2 has a new protagonist in the form of Cassia, a noblewoman having some pretty serious marital issues with her husband Marwan. Marwan left his wife to die in a dungeon at the hands of poisonous spiders but, instead of killing her, the venom disfigured Cassia’s face and turned her into a lunatic hell-bent on getting revenge. The object of the campaign is to progress across a map in pursuit of Marwan and his territory, conquering cities along the way. The early stages of the game are devoted to learning the combat systems, recruiting party members and a great deal of story exposition. As in the first Blackguards, each character has their own skills tree. As such, there are plenty of customisation options available in terms of party setup, balance and combat styles. Party members can learn skills from trainers; amour and weaponry can be purchased from vendors.
Length: 20+ Hours
There is something appealing about playing as a villain that the narrative and game play of Blackguards 2 exploits in an entertaining and often humorous way. During my play through of the campaign I certainly wasn’t asked to make too many morally complex choices. I soon learned that the decisions I was asked to make were based on just how dastardly a dictator I wanted my Cassia to be. My first prisoner interrogation provides a fun example. Having just captured Marwan’s niece following a successful battle, I had to decide whether to bribe her, exploit her naiveté by lying to her, or simply threaten her. Having got the information she wanted, my Cassia subsequently decided to hang all the remaining prisoners captured in the previous battle to send a message to those who might stand in the way of her quest for power.
Watch your step.
The hex-based combat maps of Blackguards 2 are both the game’s primary asset and biggest liability. Each one offers a lot – numerous routes to the end point goal, enemies to vanquish, traps and environmental hazards to navigate or trigger to the player’s advantage. The presentation is attractive, much more so than the rather mediocre graphics the player encounters in towns or at base camp.
That being said, sometimes actually getting around each map is a little awkward. The view provided by the camera isn’t always advantageous, and there is no option to rotate or zoom. Occasionally this makes it difficult to target enemies or move party members to certain points on the map. This is most apparent when it comes to navigating objects such as crates, or moving around a large cluster of enemies.
Can we move this along?
The fundamental problem I encountered with Blackguards 2 is pacing. Making it through the opening hours is a chore. Battles are long and can become extremely tedious. As the player slowly unlocks more abilities and stronger weapons, the turn-based game play and hexagonal maps do provide a number of strategic challenges. Unfortunately, the awful pace of battles becomes very frustrating, very quickly. This was especially true for me when I had to repeat certain missions. Some battles have a large amount of enemies and it can take an eternity to cycle through each turn. It makes trying different tactics extremely annoying – I could play one mission for well over 30 minutes before reaching the point of no return and knowing I had to try again. Sudden spikes in difficulty, combined with having to repeat lengthy battles, took all the fun out of the game. Completing a particularly troubling mission no longer became a challenge, it made me want to exit the game and not come back. I like a test like every other gamer, but Blackguards 2 doesn’t exactly respect my time.
The more progress I made into Blackguards 2, the more I came to appreciate how the systems in play within in the game do, eventually, work together to provide a relatively decent strategic RPG. However, the emphasis really is on the word ‘eventually.’ The pacing of many battles really did wear me down. Blackguards 2 is not a game a player could just jump in and out of for 20 minutes, as each play session requires an unnecessary investment of time in all the wrong ways. I didn’t lose track of time playing Blackguards 2 because of its immersive game play – although the combat in and of itself does provide some tactical challenges and fun moments. Rather, the pacing of these battles made me feel like I was trudging through each battle, to borrow a classic RPG phrase, ‘over-encumbered.’
Blackguards 2 is not a perfect game and, unfortunately, not the reinvention of its predecessor it could have been. However, the game does ultimately reward a little (well, a lot of) patience, developing into a relatively enjoyable campaign once the player has progressed past the early stages.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.