Recently I got to review a game called Expeditions: Conquistador (http://www.gameindustry.com/review/item.asp?id=1912). Expeditions was a turn based strategy that had hints of survival and Oregon trail in it. The reason I bring up this unrelated title is because the same combat system has made an appearance. I will get to that later, but first let’s talk Blackguards.
Blackguards is a dark fantasy game that takes place in the fictional world of Aventuria, part of the The Dark Eye world, a popular German tabletop role-playing system. The world is known for being the opposite of high-fantasy, meaning that the heroes are not noble knights on quests, but often drug-addicted, sloppy, rogue types who are more or less out for themselves, but may just save the world in the process. Blackguards follows this theme, and I think gamers will enjoy the change, even if it leads to sometimes maddening results.
When you first start the game you get a few character customization options. These choices are limited to one of three classes (warrior, rogue or mage) and a few face/hair styles. I chose rogue and readied myself for another top notch story.
As always, Daedalic doesn’t disappoint. A spectacular score segued into a beautifully drawn world. Unlike most fantasy games that have a bright palette of color and an overall happy tone, Blackguards has a very dark and sinister overtone to it. Blacks and dark blues have been blended to form a somber mood.
This stroke of artistic genius was visible from the beginning. When your character walks through a brush line he/she sees a wolf making dinner of a gorgeous woman. From there you get to learn the combat system which is a turn-based system. The battlefield is broken into hexes, and you move everyone based on how many movement points they have. If you move too far then they may not be able to act, but this is defined for you by the colors of the hexes. So you can move up far enough to get into range to take a shot, but not so far that is ends your turn, assuming such a zone exists on the map from your current spot.
Line of sight and cover are also taken into effect, and many cover elements are destructible or even harmful under the right circumstances. Using cover correctly is a key to victory in many instances, like when facing a pack of much stronger opponents, luring them into the tall grass and setting it on fire can really help, not that this will be easy to do.
Also, if a piece of derbies is between you and your target, you will take a penalty on the shot. Blackguard makes you factor in arrows much more than other games. On numerous occasions I had to switch to a sword because my arrows were gone after one battle. Because of this, you have to rethink your battle tactics on numerous occasions.
The story for this game proves that Daedalic made it. Once you fend off the wolves you are framed for murder and arrested. You break out with the help of a dwarf and you try to find out what happened to the princess, who turned out to be the one mauled by the wolf. After teaming up with characters of…questionable character, you fight towards the truth behind the princess’ death.
While Blackguards creates a perfect balance of story and action, a couple of small issues appear. First is the experience gained from battles. Like most RPG’s you gain experience from winning battles. Unlike most games though, the experience gained is miniscule and very rarely differs from battle to battle. Kudos to Daedalic for bringing over a lot of elements of the pen and paper game, but leveling your character is a bit of a challenge.
There are three pages of possible places to spend your points, and it’s anything but simple. You might need to spend five points to get the first level of a skill and then 12 points to get level two and so on. Plus there are prerequisite attributes that work the same way. And you might have a pool of any number of experience points from one to hundreds to work with depending on how long it’s been since you leveled up. Not only does this make it far more math-centric than needed, but adding points doesn’t always do what you think, especially with spells. You can easily level your characters in a wrong or ineffective way, which could call for a restart given the game’s difficulty.
As I mentioned before, this game is very difficult, which isn’t all that surprising. If you look back at all of my Daedalic reviews, I don’t believe one is rated less than hard. Blackguards will challenge your skills as well on your luck on the normal difficulty. It’s the fun, challenging type of hard, as opposed to the light your computer on fire from frustration hard. Still, most people will probably want to set the difficulty to Easy, which I think is pretty much Normal for most games. You will still be challenged, believe me.
Depending on how you like to play, Blackguards could be exactly what you are looking for in a fantasy RPG. The turn-based combat is challenging and deep, but that is probably 80 percent of the game. There are a few puzzles mixed in, though these are mostly combat based, like trying to figure out how to rescue a princess from the other side of the map in just five turns. The story is quite good, but really takes a secondary role to the fighting, for better or worse depending on player preference.
The music and sound effects are amazing and really add to the experience. I think if a company deserves an award for best music during a game, it’d be Daedalic. Combined with the extraordinary graphics, Blackguards is every fantasy lover’s dream, especially if you are looking for a thinking-man’s type of RPG where every battle is a chess-board and every move counts.
Blackguards should be on the list of every fantasy RPGer, and especially those who enjoy a great turn-based combat-heavy romp. With a vivid story and at least 20 hours of game play to back it up, this one will turn out to be a worthy investment. Blackguards earns high praise and 4.5 GiN Gems from me.