Blackguards Review

By Nelson Power on February 4, 2014

The RPG genre is extremely expansive and often developers will want to try and implement their own take on what an RPG should be. With Blackguards, the developers went for a more traditional offering in relation to both its style and the game's core mechanics. It makes sense, given the fact it's based on a traditional board game called The Dark Eye, which is rather similar to the classic Dungeons & Dragons.

Blackguards isn't the first game in The Dark Eye series, but the story takes on quite dark setting this time around. The "˜heroes' of the story are pictured as a bunch of miscreants and wanted criminals, while the main "˜character', who players can name and customise to some degree, is a wanted murderer. However, it's made quite clear from the start that they are in fact innocent and upon capture, many questions are raised that set the hero on his/her path to finding out exactly what's going on.

Exploring the world and its areas is set up in a map-like view, with more expansive areas featuring a selectable hierarchy of areas to move from and to. Some of these areas are usually optional or side quest related, and the game does a fairly good job at making it very clear at all times where you're meant to be going, and what exactly you're meant to be doing

For the most part, the game does a great job of hand-holding you through the first chapter, with information provided whenever something new is added to a battle. The game will also offer hints at what players should be attempting to do with their strategy, which in respect to the rest of the gameplay outside of battles focuses primarily on point and click navigation of the map. This is slightly different while in towns or "˜cities', where you are presented with an artistic pseudo 3D design that allows you to talk to the appropriate people through mouse clicking, be it using the shops or acquiring new quests or information.

The main focal point of a game like this is always going to be the combat, and this takes place in a grid based system of hexes. A turn order at the bottom of the screen indicates the order of initiative and on each turn a player may make an attack or move the distance indicated by blue hexes and then attack or move to a white hex only. From the attacking perspective a radial ring is brought up for players to select what they wish to use, and the system is fairly straight forward, but all this is done with left and right mouse clicks, making things a little bit over simplified for the amount of complexity available.

The radial menu does, in spite of this, remain clear and easy to use and commonly used abilities can be dragged to a hot bar at the top of the screen. The actual acting of each ability, skill or magic though feels a bit strange at first. There are percentages displayed and these are sometimes displayed depending on whether or not your current hero has the correct talents that can be seen, or at least that's how it seemed. Dice rolls behind the scenes however dictate whether a move is successful and while these visual percentages are "˜accurate', the randomness of a dice roll be quite unfair at times.

In one particular instance there is a battle involving mud toward the end of chapter 1, which took several attempts to complete as the movement of the enemy seemed to be rolling favourably far too often. Eventually the odds proved more favourable and the battle was passed, but sometimes it's hard to swallow.

Despite this, the combat is quite enjoyable, but if you're interested in fast paced action and turns this probably won't be for you. Combat is incredibly slow paced and waiting for many enemy actions can become a bit grating, especially if they start to score some insanely lucky crits and knockdowns. Weirdly there doesn't seem to be any real penalty for failing though and perhaps that's a blessing; failing a battle just results in loading an auto save or simply clicking try again before the battle is lost.

It can become a bit tedious trying to figure out how to do a battle after several tries, and yet also rewarding, and for the most part each battle brings with it something new to the table, either a new environmental object to interactive with or some objective that completely changes the way the battle strategy is carried out.

On top of the battle being slow paced, yet enjoyable, the story is also quite lengthy, providing five chapters that only seem to expand content as the game goes on. It is worth noting the voice acting is consistently over par and the writing is quite charming, bringing the world to life, especially between the band of party members the player acquires as the story progresses. Each of them adds their own take on situations and bringing a different skillset to the party. Speaking of which there is a huge variation in this regard, though magic and actual abilities require trainers to learn players can invest in a multitude of talents and weapon proficiencies allow for some rather in depth customisation.

This is a bit confusing at first, as the atypical stat placement of attributes is in the traditional RPG sense and it can be a bit confusing knowing what each and every stat effects and whether or not you need invest significant AP (adventure points) into improving it by a single point. The game actually promotes this as an advanced mode at the beginning of the game, when creating a character to allow players familiar with the rules of the Dark Eye to fully fine tune their characters starting stats.

The game on the whole is aesthetically pleasing. It brings in a fantasy art style that fits the traditional RPG ideology perfectly and while not being graphically demanding still looks pretty decent. There are one of two strange design points, such as the exclusion of a windowed mode and a forced borderless mode which can prove irritating if you prefer map scrolling with a mouse when you have a dual monitor setup, but it's not damning.

Final Thoughts

If you're into the more traditional style of RPGs then this certainly isn't a bad game to pick up. Be warned though, you will probably need to have an abundance of patience for the combat. Still, the world has plenty of vibrancy and the unusual band of party members will see the game appeal to a different audience. There's also a good selection of battles and customisation to try and draw people in.

Represents the traditional RPG well.
A different take on the standardised group of heroes.
The amount of customisation.
Can be tedious.
Behind the scenes dice rolls seem a little too unfair at times.
Would have been nice to see more interactions in the towns/cities.
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