I enjoy a good RPG every once in a while. I’ve played all sorts of video games, card games and even table top RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons. I’m a sucker for a good fantasy story filled with giant beasts, powerful mages and sword and shield combat. Along comes Blackguards from Daedalic Entertainment. Based on the table-top RPG The Dark Eye, players can get their dice rolls on in video game form. Just like a pen and paper RPG, it is a very deep, sometimes difficult experience that makes up for it with good characters and an intriguing story.
Blackguards has players creating their own character. They can then choose one of three classes- warrior, hunter, or mage. This character is framed for murder and thrown into prison, awaiting execution. Here is where they will meet and “befriend” a rather crass dwarf warrior and a womanizing mage. They all plan an escape and slowly begin the quest to clear the main character’s name while discovering what actually happened the night of the murder.
Blackguards breaks down into a few sections: exploration, combat and character management. While exploration is rather novel and simple, combat and leveling up characters as well as managing inventory and gear are where the complexity comes into play.
Instead of moving characters on an overworld screen, all travel is done through a series of maps. I pointed to where I wanted to go and off I went – simple. Even side quests that had me travelling through dungeons or forests were broken down into sections on a map, with each one representing a combat encounter.
The combat is the main focus of Blackguards. Set on a hexagonal grid, players can position their characters on the board and attack or use items. Everything is turn based, with each character on either side getting their own personal turn based on their initiative. Both positioning as well as actions used are critical during a battle. One wrong move can set up a chain of devastation that can easily have the player starting the battle over after all their characters are dead. If players want a better position than what is offered, they can give up a character’s actions in order to move more on the grid.
Depending on the class being used, the combat will vary. I had my main character set as a hunter. Staying away from enemies and picking them off with arrows from afar was the best strategy, while my dwarf warrior was best suited for up close and personal attacks.
One of the other aspects of combat that really makes the experience shine was the constant use of environmental attacks and hazards. Many maps allowed me to utilize the environment to my advantage. For instance, attacking an overhanging platform would drop rocks on enemies that may be standing under it, or activating a switch in a dungeon would have spikes come up out of the floor and damage unsuspecting enemies standing in the wrong place.
The problem with the combat and one of the more frustrating aspects is the fact that everything is governed by dice rolls from behind the scenes. Even though my mage has an 89% chance of hitting with his fireball spell, he fails twice. Even my warrior that has high probability of hitting with a power blow will either miss or get parried. Now, the same can be said about my enemies as well; they’ll miss as much as my characters will, but it always felt like I was at odds with the game. Too many times, I felt more like I was relying on luck over what I had meticulously calculated with my stats. Combine this with the early chapters of the game with characters being weaker, and I ended up running into battles that would last up to 30 minutes, in the end losing and having to do it all over again. I would compare it best to Dark Souls. It feels rewarding and great when I finally won a battle, but crushing when I lost.
Completing battles and quests offer up Ability Points that can be used in multiple ways. Here is yet another complex RPG feature. Characters don’t level up in the traditional sense like they would in other role playing games. Here, they each have their own pool of AP that fills up over time. AP can be used to increase attributes that affect the base stats of the character, rank up weapon proficiencies, or learn new spells or attacks. Players can just have their characters learn new attacks. They must go to a trainer in certain towns and spend the AP there. There are no take backs either. Once the AP is spent, it’s done. A few times I found myself leveling up something that actually didn’t help me in the long run and all those points I spent were for nothing. Since there are no random battles in Blackguards, I was stuck with my decisions. Sometimes being a bit too complicated can hinder the player, and Blackguards does this in some instances.
Many of these things wouldn’t be so bad if the tutorial was more fleshed out. I was left to my own devices when figuring out what to level and rank up with only a simple explanation as to what AP does. This goes for much of the game as well. It has its own reward for finally learning the ropes, but at the cost of trial and error that can set up some rather disastrous results. Luckily, Daedalic are releasing tutorial videos to help out the wayward players.
The story and characters are what had me coming back to “try that battle one more time.” The story was intriguing even when it deviated from the main storyline. This is held up by the good writing and voice acting. Even though the models and areas may look rather bland, the voice acting for the most part is sound and really surprised me. The character interactions were both fun and engaging and when role playing certain dialog, I was interested to see where my responses would take me.
After reading this review, you may think I’m rather down on this game. The truth is, it is a very difficult game that even teeters on the side of unfair, but the story and characters, along with some rewarding combat, kept me coming back even after the tenth defeat on the same battle. It has a lot going for it, and hopefully with the tutorial videos coming out, it will help players understand the mechanics a bit more. Still, this is not a game for the causal RPG player. This is a pen and paper/table top game that is not afraid to kill you if you are not careful. It has its moments of brilliance, and those really overpower the frustrations if you allow yourself to be patient. Hardcore RPG fans and pen and paper purists will get their fill with Blackguards both in combat and story. Just be prepared to do a lot of planning and possibly losing in order to succeed.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.