I have never been happier than when I’ve been pouring hours and hours of my life into a nice long RPG. I grew up playing games like Final Fantasy and Suikoden, so when Blackguards fell into my lap, earlier than scheduled as well, I couldn’t wait to get my teeth into it. What I found was an inoffensive, yet still fairly bland experience.
Now that I’ve thrown my cards onto the table hard enough to send them flying in all directions, let me break down the main mechanics of Blackguards. It’s a hex based, turn based RPG reminiscent of King’s Bounty, or even the X-COM games, both of which are series that I absolutely adore. Taking that into account, it’s strange that I found the combat in Blackguards to be not only lacklustre but borderline boring. Whereas in games such as X-COM the combat is about positioning your characters, finding the best position for a shot and manipulating the environment to aid you, I found Blackguards combat quickly dissolved into a slugathon, consisting mainly of clicking attack on an enemy, waiting for them to attack, then attacking again.
You see, with X-COM in particular, it would only ever take one or two shots to kill your enemy. It makes misses vitally important, and often the difference between losing a man or not. Whereas in Blackguards, some of the oppositions have so much health that is can take five or six swings simply to finish off a wounded opponent. Then when you add RNG misses or dodges into the equation, it can make a fight that is already too long, into a tedious affair. Maybe I just don’t have the mind to tactically plan out every single turn for every single character, but I found that there was very little tactics needed anyway. This, perhaps, wouldn’t be such a big deal if Blackguards offered a little bit more to the party.
As for your role in all of this, you play as your custom created character who witnesses his friend, the princess, die after which you suddenly black out and awake to the sight of on old friend torturing you demanding a name. Eventually, you, a dwarf and a mage manage to find a way to escape from the dungeon where you’re being held and your character makes it his mission to discover what exactly happened on the night of the princess’s death and why his one time best friend was torturing him. Overall the characters are fairly well rounded and the banter between them is pretty well written but the trouble is that these scenes only happen after a few dull, repetitive fights.
A unique feature of Blackguards is the map screen, which is so because there is only a certain amount of places you can visit; there is no open world game play to be found here. A dungeon will be comprised of a map made up of roughly ten areas and in order to progress through the story, you usually have to visit them all at least once and each one will always have a fight in it. There is never just some loot, or something to explore, there is always battle waiting for you. The games boasts over one hundred and eighty battle maps, and I believe it as I discovered way over twenty in just the first hour. If you enjoy hex based strategic combat, maybe you would have a better time of it, but I found the constant battles to grate very quickly especially in the beginning of the game when your characters only have a few abilities each. As such you end up spamming the same move over and over again and the cut scenes are over so quickly that they do very little to break up the game play. There is absolutely no exploration function in this game, no trawling through the over world looking for secrets or side quests and it feels more like your going down a spreadsheet ticking off things that need to be done in order to progress to the next part of the story.
The actually battle maps are probably the strongest part of the game as they’re usually varied and interesting. They can range in size and will quite often have some environments you can interact with to help you, or to seal off the constantly re-spawning enemies. These can be great fun when you first utilise them such as making your enemies slip over or releasing prisoners to distract guards but after you’ve used them once, you don’t really feel the need to do them again as the tactical advantage is negligible. Sure, I can lure my opponent over a patch of oil to trip them up, or I can just hit him in the face with my sword.
Blackguards is not a bad game, despite my whining and I feel that this could definitely appeal to a niche audience, namely Dungeons and Dragons players. The game really feels like it is being told to you by a dungeon master and all you really have any control over is how you fight, which might be what the developer was going for. The developer, Daedilac, are quite renowned for creating several games in The Dark Eye universe, which is something I have no understanding of, but apparently some of them are quite good. So if you like Dungeons and Dragons or already know about The Dark Eye, you should definitely check this game out. However, if you’re looking for something with a bit more story and a little less repetitive game play, you should look elsewhere. I know someone will point out how every now and then you get a choice that is supposed to affect the story in a massive way, but these are hidden below mounds and mounds of repetitive, dull combat so that the game starts to feel like a grind within its first hour.
I feel really mean ratting on Blackguards as much as I have, but the fact is that I just didn’t enjoy it. It tries to do something unique and different and it works to a point. The battle maps are nicely polished and interesting and I could actually see some appeal in the linear area to area maps if they weren’t always leading you to battle situations. I would love to see this style of game but where you could find an empty room, explore and find some secrets or get some loot before being allowed to progress. Instead it decides to drown you with combat, which would be best spread out through the story instead of just being dumped in front of you.
Blackguards is definitely worth a look if you’re a Dark Eye/Dungeons and Dragons/hardcore hex based combat player but to all others, I would recommend a miss at least until it drops in price.
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