Seasoned turn-based combat veterans will want to get stuck in with Blackguards, but with a pretty poor story, over-abundance of tool-tips, and more of a reliance on luck than skill, there’s too much wrong with it to please everyone.
Framed for a murder you may or may not have committed, you find yourself drawn to a motley crew of ever-changing misfits you pick up along a Lords of the Rings style journey through the game world. It’s a charming game, and one that tries to tell a fairly rich story with a lot of characters, and a lot of voice acting. For the large part, the storytelling is a success — but at times convoluted as it tries to make way for gameplay-oriented events. The richness of the story falls flat due to the wooden performances and writing of all the lead characters. There may be a lot of them, but they’re all forgettable in both design and writing.
A hex-based, turn-based RPG, Blackguards should offer the tactical richness of classic turn-based RPGs we all experienced in the past, but somehow it manages to fall short of even modern reboots of Xcom, and the dynamic of base – battle – base – battle makes it more stale than a game like Omerta: City of Gangsters. What’s more, the reams of tutorial don’t really prepare you for map variants that can really screw you over, such as crystals that heal the enemy 100% every turn, or majestic flying beasts that land rocks onto your players. Why did Daedalic explain how to equip characters, but not variable battle situations? It’s nice that they’re in the game, but it’s annoying having to learn what they do through trial and error, restarting the fight once you work it out.
I found that attributing strength, dexterity, and vitality to characters (essentially tanking them out) was much more useful than relying on environmental aspects of battle, such as the ability to hide behind objects, block enemies from attacking you, and hitting them with environmental things such as rocks, barrels, etc. Why waste time faffing around with all that, when you can gang up on them and take them down very quickly? Usually, I’d love to play with the more strategic aspects of a turn-based RPG, but unlike in something like Divinity: Original Sin, it’s not really all that fun to do it here. It can be hard to see if you’re behind something, or what effect that will have on yourself or the enemy – so I just hit them. Hard.
There are UI bugs; audio is often cut short, and some redundancies such as when you become a Gladiator and need to buy your kit again from scratch, the one merchant in the area doesn’t offer clothes for the casters, so they’re screwed – and lengthy, superfluous and convoluted tutorials throughout the game. This isn’t a grand story, it’s an intimate one, and everything about Blackguards is humble. Video review below:
Things are very, very slow at first, and the turn based combat doesn’t seem as tactical as it should be – in actual fact, that never really changes, but as your range of skills and spells increases over time, the combat becomes much more enjoyable. The problem is that in lengthy sessions, battles, enemies, and set-pieces blend together, and everything is extremely similar. You leave a 2.5D ‘home town’, click on the map, fight your way in battles to the waypoint, move back to the ‘home town’, talk some more, and then move on. This would make a perfect pick-up-and-play game, but for all the reams of tutorials I experienced throughout the campaign, there isn’t really much depth.
That’s what leads me to question just how much £29.99 there is in Blackguards. I mean, sure, decent turn based RPGs are rare, but that doesn’t mean that every one that has to come out is really worth £29.99. In actual fact, Blackguards has a similar cost-cutting dynamic to Chaos Rings on Android and iOS – in almost every way. Battles are split between dungeon routes, and towns, where you talk, equip, heal, and move on with the quest. If you wanted to run around and explore yourself, you’re out of luck, although it wouldn’t be fair to use that against Blackguards. However, there are ways to make its questing dynamic more interesting, but the samey albeit quite pretty battle zones make it a difficult game to binge on.
Sure, the skill system is genuinely fancy, with traits, skills, spells, talents and attributes all gloriously spread across the tabbed UI to be played with, but even that becomes a chore after some time. The character don’t really help to woo you either. Although an addition or retraction of one here or there mixes things up, they’re all very wooden, and even at times when you have to make drastic role-play choices which could lead to the rescue or death of an NPC. I didn’t feel as though I was in control of an epic story… I couldn’t feel any cause or effect, and it felt as though I was clicking through reams of dialogue written by someone who certainly knows how to write fantasy, but who may have been saving their best ideas for something else.
Allocating AP (attribute points) might seem like an in-depth process, but actually many of the attributes, traits, and skills, affect the same things at different costs. It seems needlessly complicated, when it’s actually relatively simple. There are many ways to increase, say, your vitality, without directly increasing your points in vitality. It feels more like they’ve bundled on admin, rather than depth, because working with high amounts of AP after every break and reading through reams of tutorials isn’t a good time – this is all stuff we’ve seen in other RPGs, but it’s presented here like nobody has ever seen it before.
Blackguards will be a gem for those desperate for a turn based RPG at the moment, but for those who simply enjoy them when they’re a quality, good value experience, it’ll be hard to look past the difficult GUI, endless tool-tipping, and luck-based combat, making the depth of character development entirely redundant. The music is beautiful, and theme is generally well presented, but with lackluster graphics, some wooden voice acting, and a cash-saving adventure dynamic, one has to wonder where your £29.99 is going, and why this wasn’t released for £10.99 on a tablet. The UI is perfect for it, even better than the mouse which seems to get in the way, especially when navigating the attribute tabs.
I’ve bashed my way through around 20 hours of Blackguards, and I’ve come out feeling very conflicted. Although I wanted to fall in love with it and stay that way, too many things kept getting in my way. The story became tedious and uninteresting, and the sense of adventure fizzled out into the mundane… eventually feeling as though I was an administrator, filing a team of international explorers itineraries every day. What little enjoyment I got out of the battles as my skills rota increased was undone by the battle dynamic become increasingly stale.
There will be a lot of people who absolutely adore Blackguards, because it’s a game built for a niche within a niche. I can understand why those people love it, but I’m not one of those people. As objectively as possible, there’s a little too much wrong with Blackguards for me to ignore, even though I was rather taken by the theme, aesthetic, and world – at first.