Blackguards
Developer: Daedalic Entertainment
Price: $40
Platform: PC
A Steam code for Blackguards was supplied to us

Recently Daedalic Entertainment have put out adventure games such as the Edna & Harvey and Deponia series but Blackguards is nothing like that. Blackguards is a turn-based strategy RPG set in The Dark Eye universe which is basically the German equivalent of D&D but with a way cooler name.

When the game opens up you’ll find yourself in what’s easily the biggest gaming RPG cliché: waking up in a prison for a crime you may or may not have committed and it’s time to escape. The story isn’t anything original but its characters are interesting enough to keep you engaged and the ramifications of your choices in the story won’t always be so clear-cut. You’ll never know whether a choice will reward you or screw you over later in the game which makes these moments both interesting and incredibly tough to make. Unlike most games your motley crew is made up of scoundrels. On your adventure you’ll slowly build up a group of morally questionable characters that tread a fine line between being assholes and actually decent people. I find that antiheroes are hard to get right since most of the time people write them as silent mysterious lone wolf hard asses who suddenly gain a heart of gold but Daedalic managed to create various interesting ones. Now while the character models look fairly bland the environments and effects in the game are simply gorgeous and the art design is top-notch. Sending a fireball at an enemy and seeing the plume of smoke smack them in the face with embers splashing everywhere with little fires all over the floor never gets old. Neither does setting bushes on fire. Some of the town areas can get a bit too heavy with its use of bloom though.

As I said before, Blackguards is a turn-based strategy RPG. It’s played on a hex grid and while it’s not anything groundbreaking it’s incredibly fun and well done. Despite some minor grips I have with the menu design, the UI when in combat is slick as hell and I love the radial menu. Right clicking will bring it up and offer a plethora of options for you to choose from like making a perception check to see if there are any hidden traps in the area, switching to a different weapon set, or your various attack options. Just like with the table-top game, Blackguards uses a dice-roll system in its combat which means you’ll either you love it or hate it. Did I mention the game is hard? You’ll regularly face off against stronger opponents who are placed in better positions (making better use of the environment) and you’ll likely be outnumbered. The game is challenging in that it rewards you for thinking and planning out how you’re going to tackle a fight instead of just bum rushing it. The game is also quite long with the first chapter likely to take you around ten or so hours to complete with four more chapters waiting for you after that.

What’s easily my favorite part of the combat are the interactive objects in the environment that can be used to your advantage or against you by the AI. You’ll regularly come across battles that seem impossible until you notice an object in the environment that’s crucial for successfully completing the battle. These moments feel more like puzzles than actual fights and are quite satisfying when you figure out how to beat it. Besides those moments you’ll find objects like crates you can knock over to create a barrier (that you can then set on fire), mud pits that will cause enemies (or yourself) to slip in, and traps.

My favorite example of this mechanic is an early fight that tosses you in a swamp with just a huge wood troll. I spent forever kiting that bastard around the map while wailing on it with my ranged characters doing almost no damage until I noticed the bubbling areas in the swamp looked sort of gassy. I led the troll over to one of those spots, tossed a fireball with my mage and voilà it set the troll ablaze and took half its health off. Another example is a simple enough fight that would’ve been no issue that was made even easier due to a conversation I had with an NPC earlier were I advised her to place traps to catch some rats in a park. I had no idea that fight would be in the same place the woman would place her rat traps and it’s neat little details like these that you’ll see throughout the game. Now while the AI is smart enough to use some of these things against you, it’s also dumb enough to walk right into them. I’ve set rows of crates on fire multiple times only for the AI to continually think it’s a good idea to step into the fire and fight me in it.

Unfortunately the game has some really random difficulty spikes that occur when you least expect them to. Sometimes it’s fine since you’ll usually have a save from right before the fight starts so you can either save that quest for later or prepare better for it; other times you have no way of knowing it’s coming after multi-room battles. The game is definitely challenging in a good way, it’s just that you’ll occasionally get these really insane fights that start to push the boundaries of being bullshit.

Blackguards features a nifty classless system where you can build any character you get however you want. You’ll be able to select from three starting classes (fighter, hunter, and mage) but these are more like builds. Once in the game you can put points in whatever you want but you have to make sure not to totally screw up your character. The dastardly band of characters that will join your party throughout the story will also come with a preset build but you can take that mage who just joined your team and dump points into two handed weapons if you want. If you’re feeling brave you can skip the preset class builds when creating your character and instead be given a blank character sheet with 1000 points to spend wherever you please. An issue with this though is that it asks you if you want to play a fighter or for 500AP play a mage; what this means is that for 500 points your character will be able to learn magic since fighters and hunters cannot learn any spells. I wish this was phrased better since it’s somewhat confusing when you first come across it.

Speaking of points, instead of gaining experience to level up, your characters will all gain Adventure Points throughout the game. Each battle and quest will reward each character with a certain amount of AP that you will then spend on increasing your stats or learning new skills. Everything is fueled by Adventure Points which means you’ll have to make the decision of whether you want to increase one of the various stats, a weapon specialization, a talent, learn a new skill, or learn a new spell if your character is a mage. It can be a quite overwhelming and confusing to someone who’s used to much simpler RPG systems and, while I appreciate the amount of freedom it grants players, I wish it was handled in a better way.

There’s also no way to grind out fights for more points so the ones you get from the main and side quests are the only ones you’ll get which means you have to spend them wisely. Investing points in a few poor spots won’t ruin your character, but making too many mistakes will. I’d recommend spending some time reading the detailed tutorial in the game and the videos the developers post on the Steam community page. Unfortunately the in-game tutorial and menus are a bit vague when it comes to certain topics and there’s no easy way to navigate it to find the one thing you wanted to refresh yourself on.

The Final Word
January had quite a surprising amount of turn based strategy RPG’s release and despite its slight flaws Blackguards is definitely one you should play.

- MonsterVine Rating: 4 out of 5 – Good