Sometimes, when you play a game, you can sense things about the development process; where the drama started, what was unfinished when it shipped, how interested the team was in the game. With Blackguards, it feels like the team at Daedalic Entertainment was doing an exercise to ship a complete game, regardless of anything else.
Blackguards is a strictly paint by numbers affair in turn-based combat. The mechanics, visuals, and sound are all competent, but nothing more.
Blackguards puts you in control of a man or woman – who might be a mage, warrior, or hunter – who has been convicted of murdering their friend, the princess. You escape after being tortured by your former best friend, and then, with the help of some fellow convicts, a drug addict, and a freed slave, you must prove your innocence and discover exactly what is going on in the kingdom.
Insert Adventurer Name Here
Blackguards was developed by German company Daedalic Entertainment and uses as its base a German pen-and-paper role-playing game called The Dark Eye. This base seems to inform everything about the game, for better or worse.
At best, Blackguards feels incredibly generic, especially in terms of the aesthetics. The fantasy world feels dead and uninteresting even compared to the standard Dungeons & Dragons universe I visit every Wednesday night. The monsters, characters and art all feel finished and professional, but none of them catch the imagination. Even the continent the game takes place on – Aventuria – sounds like an amusement park more than a fantasy world. The music and voice acting, too, are just fine. There’s little that one could call bad, but there isn’t anything memorable, either.
To call the game a “Strategy RPG,” as the developer does, is a bit of a misnomer. Blackguards is all strategy, no RPG. While it may pull its foundations from a pen and paper game, it only pulls the combat. There is nothing in the way of exploration, and text boxes are only interactive in so far as they don’t come up until you click on them. There’s no role playing to be done, unless you count leveling up skills, which is just the role of a spreadsheet user.
While there might not be any RPG, there is plenty of strategy. The combat mechanics of The Dark Eye are in full force here, and if turn-based strategy a la XCOM and Shadowrun Returns is your thing, Blackguards has plenty of that with 190 different battlefields to play through. The systems in place don’t feel as evolved as XCOM, and that is probably a result of the game’s strict adherence to the source material.
You can move and then attack, but not vice versa. There’s no way to just wait for someone to cross through your attack zone until you pick up the “attack of opportunity” skill. Every attack has a chance to miss, and sometimes it seems like the 90 percent it says above a character is the chance to miss an attack, rather than hit.
The Worst Kind of Deja Vu
There's nothing special or individual; everything is complete, but nothing more.
The missed opportunities in Blackguards become especially frustrating when the game puts you in battles that have to be finished in a certain number of turns. If it was a roleplaying game where the story would twist around to match your mistakes, that might work, but instead you end up having to do some battles three or four times to get enough hits in place.
There’s no mid-battle save option either, so you can’t save and attack and inch along that way. The worst of this was when the game put me in a series of frustrating battles with no chance to save in between. I finally finished the first battle and was called away by real life. I had to repeat the whole battle. I like unforgiving games, but this is the kind where it feels like it’s the game’s save system and menus that are ruthless, not the monsters and villains.
The most interesting part of the game, though, is the most successful. Terrain plays a heavy role in the game; mud is slippery and distracting, barrels are destructible, and stalactites are dangerous and sharp. The terrain is its own character in many battles, and it adds a neat element of randomness that would be more fun with better-constructed battles and a bit more explanation of how the different map elements can affect the battle.
There’s a functional core of a game in Blackguards, but it lacks polish and personality. I can see what Daedalic was going for with the game, but at no point do they quite reach the heights for which they aimed. There’s nothing special or individual; everything is complete, but nothing more.