Blackguards is a title which many people may well underestimate, looking at the first couple of screenshots they see and thinking that they know everything they need to know about it. True enough, the market is filling up to its brim with turn-based strategy titles trying to buy into this new craze which has been brought about by XCOM amongst other titles. Everyone is attempting to make their game some sort of new and interesting spin on the genre, with some doing quite well at this while others fall short in the inspiration department. German developers Daedalic Entertainment, famous for their work on the popular Torchlight, Deponia and Memoria franchises amongst others, have chosen to take a different approach in this turn-based gaming craze however, opting not for strategy alone but a slightly rarer choice; a turn-based strategy role playing game.
More than this though, Blackguards is a dark fantasy role-playing strategy title, which allows you to create a unique character of your own and control them in their story alongside a few others in the game as you follow it. It is a bit like the system at play in KOTOR, to a loose extent, but anyway! Your character can be a warrior, mage or hunter, pretty standard fantasy roles, and the character creation is pretty open ended for you so you have some power of decision over exactly who you want to be. Once you jump into the game, you are placed in a prison break-style situation the likes of which have featured in many a great role playing title in the past (see for example Oblivion), and thus this is a solid start. You must escape alongside a couple of unusual characters in an arena which requires you to think before you fight, and this is a pleasant variation between Blackguards and similar strategy games on the market. The need to think is a key feature in the game and is valued far more than your ability to employ brute force against the uneven odds which often face you. A good example is a “boss fight” early on in the game, where you must manipulate the environment of the map you are battling on (another cool feature of the game) in order to bring down the tank of a tree which stands before you. It’s a pleasantly clever system and one for which the game deserves credit.
I strayed very quickly into combat mechanics there while I was trying to talk about story, but they are an exciting element of the game in that it has a few interesting differences to the norm within it. Essentially, you begin the game by escaping the prison alongside your somewhat mismatched comrades, and proceed to endeavour to clear your name of a murder that you supposedly did not commit, although this fact does fall into some question… The storyline makes sense, but as with any role playing game you do have to wade through some uninspiring side quests and nonsense along the way. In some ways this seems to be a bit of a role playing tradition by now and can almost be forgiven, but it still deserves a mention on the basis that this is intended to be an informative review. So that is the story bit finished off for you, now back to the gameplay!
Aside from its clever environment effects which can influence the battles you enter and the mind over matter technique which seems to have been employed, Blackguards also makes one or two other interesting gameplay choices. For one, your belt is more important than any belt you have ever worn in your life. The game requires you to have potions equipped prior to a battle in order to use them during it. This is an unusual, some might say irritating, system, but you can see the sense behind it. You try fighting a giant tree and fumbling in a backpack for a drink at the same time, it’s not practical! You don’t realise how easy games have made things for you up until you suddenly have to fight practically for once. The fighting is very tactical beyond this element too, and the systems used work quite well. Sadly however there is one role playing factor which somewhat lets the game down. The progression system used in game is, well, iffy to say the least. The experience point system used is quite complex and confusing, and the game’s tutorials do not quite manage to explain everything you need to know in order to use this. With some time and concentration it can be worked out, but this is not a laid back system to use if you are looking for fun alone in the game.
In terms of the games aesthetics, one or two things can be said. For one, the limited voice actors used play their parts well, although sometimes it is surreal if not unpleasant to hear two characters who have clearly been voiced over by the same person interact with one another… Generally though a decent job has been done. The look of the game is also quite pretty, but again a little surreal. Everything is, well, a little odd looking (easier to take a look at some screen shots or video footage in order to fully understand this). There is nothing essentially wrong with the graphics though, with them fitting their dark fantasy realm well.
Overall, Blackguards is a role playing turn based strategy title which seems like a solid first attempt at such a thing, but has room for improvement as well. The game plays relatively well, and while some features take some getting used to the majority are good and interesting. The progression system is possibly the key point which could have used some more work to make it a more user friendly one. The game looks and sounds pretty good too, taking into consideration however the points aforementioned. Overall, a title which is worth a look, but one which you may wish to try before you buy in order to ensure you know what you will be spendig that hard earned cash on.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.