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Blackguards

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By JcDent04-02-2014
MrJenssen (editor)
StuntmanLT (editor)
Blackguards

The Defence

Developer:
Daedalic Entertainment
Publisher:
Daedalic Entertainment
Genre:
Role Playing, Strategy
Release Date:
23-01-2014

The Prosecution

CPU:
Intel Core 2 Quad 2.4 GHz
AMD equivalent
VGA:
Nvidia GeForce GTX 275
AMD Radeon HD 4770
RAM:
4 GB
HDD:
20 GB
DirectX:
9.0c

The Case

„The Dark Eye“ is a pen and paper RPG system that is very popular in Germany...and probably only there. They really, really love it. So much so that RPGs based on this system crop up once every couple of years. They're probably well received in their homeland, but not necessarily in the Anglo-Saxon AAA market. For one, making a good RPG is a lot harder than making a good FPS. And then there's prejudice against mid-tier games that come from outside the UK and USA. Still, here's Blackguards!

The Trial

So, a wizard, fighter and a hunter wake up in a dungeon. You’re charged with the murder of a local princess, and now you must escape and clear your name. I mean, I don't know how you could be pinned for this, the princess clearly has gnaw marks from something like a wolf. Still, justice in German PnP RPG worlds is wonky, so that's how you, the dwarf fighter Naurim and the eastern-ish mage Zaubaran come together. To kill people and to clear your names!

The bigger they are, the harder they fall.

The bigger they are, the harder they fall.

One mention worthy thing about this game is that it doesn't waste its resources on distractions: your characters don't even walk around. The game is basically separated into somewhat static city screens where you click places of interest to take care of business, and tactical turn based combat. This might feel a little restrictive – on the other hand, it cuts out the running around hoping you don't miss an important NPC. And let's be serious - even in Dragon Age, the environments weren't exactly stellar. It was the combination of battles and story moments that kept the game together. Sure, cutting exploration out robs you of a sense of discovery, but you’ll survive.

That is, if you understand the character system. Your character gains experience points from battles and then can spend them on spells, ability scores and weapon skills. The character sheet looks very intimidating and cluttered. It is an off-putting image in complexity that scares away instead of attracting you to explore it and make your own unique character. And there's always the chance that you'll invest in skills that are completely useless. Worst of all, there's no possibility to grind, so if you screwed up, you screwed up.

Geralt, is that you?!

Geralt, is that you?!

And once you hit the battlefield, you might not get out alive, because acting on the will of the RNG and interacting with the arcane workings of the German rules, the game will make you miss – a lot. That's especially annoying with mages, since spells have a high chance of producing an electrified hand fart instead of fireball or, most horribly, healing. At least you won't spend mana on failures – which is very important since you regain it absurdly slowly. And potions...potions can't be equipped during the battle because your capacity depends on your belts. Which means that you'll start without potions and then, after you get your hands on a dirty rag that only a person with a couple of Jesus’ worth of kindness would call a belt, you'll be able to carry one potion into combat. Hooray! Especially considering that some battles have multiple stages and waves, while you are left there without the option to treat your wounds.

On the other hand, the battles themselves are not that bad, especially considering the environmental interactivity. All sorts of random objects can be pushed over, set on fire, smashed, used to maneuver enemies into unfavorable positions and more. Defeat your rival by luring him into a puddle (where he'll constantly slip and fall), set some bushes on fire to roast some swamp apes or – the favorite of EVERY DAMN PERSON WHO WROTE ABOUT BLACKGUARDS – lure a swamp troll into pockets of swamp gas and explode it with fireballs. They aren’t just simple gimmicks either and require specific triggers – swamp gas explodes from fire, so it's really unwise to have, say, your torch-wielding mage take a shortcut through it. As far as RPGs go, this game is a pyromaniac's dream.

OK, so where are those hidden bananas?

OK, so where are those hidden bananas?

The game looks good, even if the cities could be a little lighter. Of course, it's not exactly AAA quality, but this is just a mid-range game and for that, it has really good visuals. Also, the loading screens are very nice, featuring dynamic artwork of the main cast. Zaubaran looks especially great, even though you'd never know he's a mage just by looking at the picture. Now, the audio part...as always, the weakest part is voice acting, both because of the writing and lack of acting skills. Still, it's passable and definitely not even near some of the “quality” that is sometimes seen (heard) while playing many other mid-tier RPGs.

The Verdict

Blackguards is probably a guaranteed hit for Dark Eye fans. For everyone else, I'd advise a little caution as the game has its snags. But if you can't wait for another AAA release and don't have anything to play now, you could do much worse. Much, much worse.

Case Review

  • Now that’s a Fireball: the spells are quite fun to watch, when they work.
  • Not Just a Pretty Background: battlefields are interactive, for better or for worse.
  • What's Your Story?: the plot is a little hit or miss.
  • Roll for Nasal Circumference: the whole stats system looks intimidating.
  • Endurance Run: the battles could be a little friendlier, resource management wise.
3.5
Score: 3.5/5
Blackguards could benefit from some additional balancing and roguishness.

Appeal

Blackguards is one of those games that give off the vibe of a particularly good and long fantasy novel.  The characters are immediately gripping, the story is long and winding, and when you finish it, you realize just how much time you did and didn’t waste.  In modern gaming, the number of good long campaign games has been dwindling, either disappearing altogether in the light of multiplayer popularity or being stuffed with MMO style fetch quests that make players’ eyes glaze over.  Blackguards breaks this new norm.

It is a character driven story, essentially, filled with choices, interesting personas, and discovery.  Early on in the game, things are a little linear, but the story really necessitates that; I for one am sick of the “OMG we need to get to the castle before it’s assaulted!...but let’s collect these ten bear asses first for some random loot” mentality.   Blackguards dispenses with that (almost to its detriment) in order to have the players flee from the law, only having quests that asked you to raid an abandoned battlefield and the like. “Loyalty quests” are the exception and, for the most part, the reasoning makes sense.  By act three, the protagonists get more freedom and the game opens up.  There is also an impressively effective degree of micromanaging in the adventure point system that makes the game unique to the player. While any campaign-centric game suffers from replayability issues, this character customization element makes “class exploration” a viable reason for playing through again on a harder difficulty.  If a decent campaign modding toolkit was to be released, I could see this game being popular for quite some time.

On the negative side, there are bugs and UI issues that can be irritating at some points, and game-breaking at others.  The graphics aren’t stellar, but there are nice touches like having equipped gear being reflected by what the character is wearing.  Finally, there are some pacing issue that might make certain points tedious, especially when a battle has to be repeated multiple times to get a desired outcome.  Other than that, though, it is a refreshing return to the slowburner.  It sort of reminds me of what Chrono Trigger or Secret of Mana might have been if designed with today’s industry leanings.  For the price of $40, this game is well worth the asking price and is just a solid bit of fun!

4.5
Score: 4.5/5

Appeal

Here we have an interesting game from Daedalic Entertainment, based on the German table-top RPG called The Dark Eye. Many of you reading this will probably be unfamiliar with the system, as it is more popular in Germany than the rest of the world. Blackguards is for the most part your typical turn-based RPG, in which each character make their move, and then the next character goes. This repeats until the battle is over. Veterans of the genre will be happy with the game and they will find that they can really get stuck in. For more inexperienced gamers, you might rather be looking for an easier entry into the RPG world.

The story sees you imprisoned for a crime you did not commit, and in the cells you meet two other prisoners who are there for the same reason. This leads to the three of you breaking out to clear your names. Your controls are fairly standard RPG-style, with mouse and keyboard being your only input options. The graphics look nice and detailed, it is just a shame that during the fight scenes the lighting is very dark, which might give a good effect, but it feels slightly depressing at the same time. The script and voice acting is average, which really lets the game down, but to be fair there are games much worse than this out there too.

The character progression system, however, is bad. This really needs some work, as the point distribution being spread across five pages of a character sheet is hard work. The UI is not very refined either, making the game very frustrating and difficult to navigate at times. Overall, Blackguards is a good game that is sadly let down by a few big issues. This is a title for the experienced RPG player, rather than the occasional gamer.

3.5
Score: 3.5/5
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