We’ve talked about Blackguards before here at 3GEM (you can check out our preview here), but we’re going to introduce this game again in case some of you haven’t heard of it.
In Blackguards, you are a person who gets unjustly arrested for a crime you didn’t commit. That’s usually how it goes, right? The thing is, as far as you can tell, you really did not do it, but no one will take your word for it. After all, who would believe a big black wolf would kill someone in front of your eyes and then just vanish after? You are accused of killing a nobleman’s daughter, so you end up in prison with your execution set to take place shortly. Death is the least of your worries, though. See, your best friend is looking to get a name out of you. It’s not just any name though – it’s a name you don’t know or can’t remember. You don’t even understand what that name has to do with anything. It’s fine, however, because your cell mate is planning on getting away from this prison and taking off on some profitable adventure and it just so happens that it might be in your best interest to join up with him. In your little hole in this prison, there’s also a third person who can do magic to help you out on your travels – but he wants some help with a lady in return. Lots of fun, isn’t it? Well, you think it will be all fine and dandy – no worries about the law, you’re already a criminal. There’s nothing you can’t do in this world anymore because you are already set to die anyway. Your adventures will take you everywhere in this land, and you’ll decide if you want to be the nice guy or not care at all during the whole time. Some choices are less of a moral choice and more a choice of who you want to help as well. In the end, you will be looking at why you were imprisoned and what you want to do about it.
The story takes place in the universe of The Dark Eye, a tabletop RPG in a fantasy setting from our German compatriots. You might also know this world as the Realms of Arkania, the name it was first released under in English. That being said, you will not be freely exploring the world. You will move from location to location via a map that will show you where you can go. You will enter cities and other places, but unless you have any type of combat happening, it will simply be to click on who you wish to speak to or arrows to go to another part of the city. Combat-wise, it has the entire iconic tactical RPG feel. It is a grid system with limited number of moves and one attack per round – if you wish, you can do a double move but you’ll lose your attack as penalty. That’s a pretty standard tabletop RPG rule. You can also see the range of your attacks with the grid for spells and weapons, so you’ll be able to see if you can hit your opponent. There’s nothing lacking from the combat system, but for people less familiar with tactical RPGs, this might get overwhelming at some point.
You’ll have three classes available to your main character at the start in basic mode and will meet other companions during the story to help fill in the blanks. You’ll have up to five characters to control in battle at a single time as you progress. The number of enemies is not limited, though, and some battles can be quite long as you’re swarmed by at least a dozen creatures. The inventory system is fine, but it can be hard to sort through things. There’s no crafting in the game either. You can collect things from fallen enemies or buy them from the merchants. You will be otherwise able to customize your character as much as you want – while you will be limited in the number of points you can put in throughout the game, anytime you play the game again will prove to be different just based on how you can choose your skills, stats, and even your class. You can also determine how proficient you are with a specific type of weapon and how you want to balance damage and defense with those weapons. It makes for interesting combos, and you can have up to three sets of weapons that you can switch between while you’re in battle.
There’s unfortunately no co-op mode in the game and no multiplayer either. All this is done through mouse clicking. Even in battle, if you want to attack, you’ll have to right click on an enemy and select what you want to do, including which spell and how strong it is. Each spell has four levels, although the spell skills themselves have 18 levels. Every battle will gain you Adventure Points, which is what you use to level up your stats and skills or buy new skills. There are different types of skills as well. They’re classified into these categories: Base Value (stats), Weapon Talents (proficiency with specific types of weapons), Talents (passive skills that give you resistance to other attacks), Spells and Special talents (which are more like special attacks). It makes for endless possibilities as you won’t gain all the skills in a single playthrough. Remember how I talked about a Basic mode? Well that was for the people unfamiliar with tabletop rules. For those more comfortable with tabletop games, you’ll be able to choose Expert mode. Expert mode lets you customize your character fully – the only exception is that warriors cannot learn magic. It also leaves you with only two possible classes: Warrior or Mage. You can than make up your ranger class through the warrior one if you so desire. You have a set amount of adventure points to begin with that are yours to choose how to distribute instead of having it all done for you like in the Basic mode. Lastly, Expert mode let you choose your starting equipment from a specific list. Expert mode and Basic mode have no influence on the difficulty level, just on your character. Expert mode is a good choice for people that want more liberty during their second playthrough of the game.
It’s a really dark world, and you will feel it while you adventure throughout it. Everything is in dark shades, the people are depressing most of the time, and the graphics and ambience in the game just speak of doom and gloom. It fits what happens in the game perfectly even though it’s not Daedalic Entertainment’s style, which usually has much brighter graphics and backgrounds. It’s not extraordinary, but, to be fair, it’s quite remarkable for their first tactical RPG. They show their experience in creating adventure games with the music composition and the art style, and they have done well with the voiceover and animation. There were a few glitches here and there, but nothing alarming and they will not endanger your experience within the game. I’ve mentioned the length of battles previously, and you have to understand that the majority of the game is spent in those battles. The game can take quite some time to go through, particularly if you are unfamiliar with the genre, and it can be frustrating as well. The rest of the game is spent buying gears from merchants, talking to NPCs to gain new quests, and moving around through the map. This is a very short portion, though, and it does include a few cutscenes. If you choose to replay the game, you’ll be able to explore one of the other three difficulty levels, which you can choose even on your first time, and you’ll be able to choose different results based on conversations and quests. You’ll also be able to test out the Mage or Warrior. You won’t have much more else available to you, though, and while your choices will influence the game, you will come to a point where you have no other reason to replay it. At least each battle will end up being different.
Overall, Daedalic Entertainment has done a good job with Blackguards. It’s not their usual style of game and it might be a bit shy in terms of trying new things, but it is definitely a solid game that will keep you entertained for many, many hours. Fans of the genre should definitely give it a try, and if you have never tried the genre, this might be a good title to dip your toes into. I look forward to what else Daedalic can give us in terms of tactical RPGs.
This review is based on a digital copy of Blackguards provided to 3GEM by the publisher for the PC.