It has been a while since I have written a game review. The chief editor, who is an old pro I might add, knew the perfect bait to get me to review. He pitched me a Slavic themed RPG featuring witchcraft that draws on Russian culture. I was of course interested, and downloaded it on my Nintendo Switch and rolled up my sleeves to delve into this game.
Black Book has proved to be really popular with gamers, probably because the themes in the game, which are deeply Slavic in nature, offer a different take on the typical monster hunting themes we normally get, which are mostly either based on Western culture, or maybe draw on monsters from Japan. Some of the Slavic tales rarely see the light of day, which is too bad because some of them can be downright terrifying.
In fact, Black Book sold over 100,000 copies in its first few weeks of release across all platforms including Steam, the Epic Games Store and GoG on the PC, as well as the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch on consoles. So there was more than enough reason (besides my love of Slavic lore) for me to dive into this one.
My first impression upon cracking open the Black Book, was that the narrator has earned a big pay raise. He did an amazing job setting the tone for the story and providing an instant hook that made me want to really dive into the game.
Beyond the narrator, the voice acting was not quite as professional. In fact, it did grate on me after a while. I don’t know if it was just me, but I had to mute it about a half hour in.
Black Book tells the interesting story of a young witch and her struggle to get her fiancé back from the underworld. In a way, your female witch is kind of like a Witcher type character. Her overall goal is to rescue her beloved, but she goes around helping other people in their struggles against the spirit world along the way. This is pretty neat because you perform a little investigation and then have to try and decide what kind of creature is causing all the problems. Again, this is very much like The Witcher in a lot of ways.
Now, as amazing as the game is, there is one aspect of it that I think most people will feel a little disappointed with…the graphics. Now, I am not one of those people that believe a game needs to have photorealistic graphics to be considered “good,” but these are really rough in places. There were times I did not notice because the camera was so zoomed out. When the game zoomed in for dramatic moments however, it really undercut the dark vibe. I faced off with a demon inside a mill and the moment it flew up I couldn’t help but chuckle. It looked like a Minecraft character got into an MMA fight with a belt sander.
The graphics were considerably less painful as the game went on, but there was another major issue. This game should have been localized better for a non-Russian, non-Slavic population. My family immigrated from Serbia about three generations ago, so you would think that I would know most of this stuff, but I had no idea what most of these terms were. A glossary or a more comprehensive encyclopedia could have really helped players figure out what kind of monster, demon or spirit they were dealing with in the game.
This is kind of important because part of the game involves guessing what issue is troubling a villager. If you get it right, you get experience. This is a problem as it hobbles anyone not steeped in Russian and Slavic creature lore. With this being more of a story book than a typical RPG, there are limited spots to grind, so any experience you can get is really valuable. There were times later in the game when I felt under-leveled and there was not a lot I could do about it.
The combat that moves the story along is very Baton Kaitos adjacent. It’s all based on building a deck of good cards that represent your powers and then deploying them strategically where they can do the most good. Only instead of calling it a deck of cards, in Black Book it’s a spell book with various pages that define your arsenal.
The combat is one of the best aspects of Black Book outside of the lore and storyline. It’s a very simple system to learn, yet offers a lot of options to the player. Because of this, combat always flows very smoothly. Although there are times when the difficulty curve spikes like the lines on a drunk polygraph machine, overall, the fighting only enhances the delightful Black Book experience.
The music and atmosphere on Black Book are really good and immersive, other than the few times when the subpar graphics got in the way. Where Black Book really scores its points is in its incredible value. The game is about $25 on most platforms, and that is a really good deal for an RPG that has about 25 to 35 hours of good gameplay packed inside.