I would normally start the introduction to a review of a game like this by writing about how I don’t normally get along with turn-based RPGs. This time though, I will say that Blackguards is from an RPG system we’ve had issues with in the past. You see, Blackguards comes from the same lineage as Drakensang which Steve Peacock played in 2009. Both are based on The Dark Eye, a German challenger to the Dungeons and Dragons series.
When I first took a crack at Blackguards, I thought I was going to find myself in the same position as Steve, unable to fairly deliver a Verdict. You see, Blackguards isn’t an easy game, and while playing on the Normal difficulty mode I was struggling in every single battle. If I was playing with a gamepad, I would have been hurling to the floor in desperation and frustration at what I felt was an entirely unfair experience. However, dropping down to Easy made the game playable, and surprisingly enjoyable, even if I still find some battles to be teetering towards being unfair.
While Drakensang put Steve (and myself) off was the dreary opening chapter, I’m sure there was a perfectly good game under the hood. It just took too long to get there. Fortunately Blackguards doesn’t fall into the same trap as you are immediately charged with killing the daughter daughter of a high powered Count of Horasia and forced to lead a prison breakout with a dwarf and a southern fellow skilled in the ways of magic. From here you are on a journey to escape the land and clear your name. Can I admit that I’ve only just broken past chapter two but I’m over 11 hours in?
I won’t deny that it has been tough to get so far, the battles are tough and at first the levelling system can be a bit obscure. You see, you characters don’t have levels, instead they earn action points after a battle or quest. These points can then be invested into any weapon skills, talents or special abilities (once you are with a trainer). This means that your humble dwarf who starts off keen on using an axe can be turned into a long-ranged archer. It sounds easy, but figuring everything out when in-game can be a tad tricky at first. However, the versatility it provides is something I wouldn’t mind seeing more RPGs take a look at.
The troublesome combat I talked about earlier might be somewhat unbalanced, especially during the sequence of battles at the end of chapter two, but there are interesting challenges to take face head on. Battles take place on a turn-based hex-based board and there is plenty of variety in the environments you fight on. While the enemies, especially in the early stages, can be quite predictable, the arenas are filled with traps and objects that you can use to your advantage.
Outside the battles, the exploration of the world map and towns is a different affair to the RPG norm. Rather than walking around a physical interpretation of the world and encountering events as you travel, you move between locations from a somewhat classical table-top map with the location of your main quest objective highlighted for you. In each town or city you have a few static screens with inns, healers and merchants to talk to and barter with. It all makes for a welcoming and easy approach, somewhat balancing out the tough combat and initially obscure skill system.
At heart Blackguards is a well structured and solid title, though I wouldn’t say it has the spark to make it shine amongst others which have something special about them. Regardless, for those who want to experience a traditional, tough turn-based RPG, this is right up your street and for everyone else, it is a perfect example of what less-publicised games can achieve.
Verdict – Headshot
Platforms Available/Reviewed – PC
Review based on Steam media account copy. For details on our scoring system, please read this post.