Blackguards is a new turn-based strategy RPG being developed by Daedalic Entertainment, and is set in the expansive fantasy universe of the popular German pen and paper RPG “Das Schwarze Auge” (The Dark Eye). The game plays similar to X-COM with the difference that the maps are made out of hexes instead of squares which gives players more freedom of movement.
Unlike in most RPGs, where you play the knight in shining armor trying to save the world alongside your equally “shiny” friends, in Blackguards you play as a character wrongly accused of murder and you will have to rely on some really shady and violent individuals. You will be able to pick from three class-archetypes: warrior, mage and hunter. The game developers have promised that there will also be an expert mode which will allow you to make your own custom class but this feature doesn’t seem to be implemented yet.
After princess Elanor’s suspicious death, you, the princess’ childhood friend, are accused and sentenced to death for her murder. In order to escape from the execution you’ll have to rely on some characters that won’t necessary be trustworthy since most of them are known felons. But beggars can’t be choosers, so you’ll settle for whatever help you get.
Your party has a limit of five members at any given time, every member accomplishing a different role and each having their own dark past. As you progress through the story, more and more characters will be unlocked so you’ll be able to customize your party to your heart’s content. Daedalic has done a great job of making each character unique, by giving them easily distinguishable personalities and background stories, and they all have their own hidden agenda that you’re not aware of.
One of the base features is the morality system, so depending on who you pick to trust and what you do will have dire consequences that will affect the entire story of the game. Considering their past, choosing someone to trust will be quite a difficult task which makes for a really tense and thrilling story.
Each character starts with different perks and stats that can be improved by spending adventure points; some will be good at magic, others will be better at straight up fighting and others will just be suited for supporting other characters. Besides the base stats (a total of 11 stats ranging from agility to strength and intelligence), the game offered four types of skills: weapon talents, talents, spells and special abilities. Weapon talents cover quite a large number of weapons, varying from axes and maces, to daggers and bows, to swords and throwing weapons, adding up to a total of 11 weapons, an arsenal worthy of an adventurer.
There’s a total of 9 talents, each providing you with quality of life improvements such as increasing your perception (increases the amount information you get from the battlefield), the ability to disarm and set traps, passive buffs that lower the chance of you getting wounded or knocked down and much more. The spells are abilities that cost astral energy (the mana of the game) to cast and are divided into four sub-categories: offensive spells (fireballs, thunderbolts, meteors etc.), buffs and deception spells (increasing your evasiveness, movement and accuracy), support spells (that assist your party members) and last but not least, debuff spells. Special abilities are similar to spells with the main difference that they don’t cost any astral energy to cast and are divided into melee, ranged, magic and passive skill trees.
Every skill from these three categories (talents, spells and special abilities) can be learned by talking to certain people in towns and they cost adventure points to unlock or you can use books to unlock them. Adventure points are earned by fighting enemies and completing quests. Spells and talents can be further improved, costing more and more adventure points for each skill value spent in said spell or talent, unlocking a bigger boost with each level reached (at 0, 8, 13 and 18 skill values invested). You don’t have to worry about your spells ending up costing too much since during the fights you can pick what level of spell you want to use.
You can also improve your characters by equipping them with gear and weapons that you find, buy from merchants or get as rewards from quests. Carrying too much will over-encumber you, which will give you a penalty during combat; so you’ll have to constantly manage your inventory.
The gameplay is split in two: towns and dungeons. Towns allow you to heal, train, trade and most importantly get quests. The dungeons are the strongest point of the game, boasting over 180 different dungeons spread all across the world of Aventuria, covering cities, dangerous swamps, lush tropical forests, crypts and a lot more. The level design for each of these dungeon is just splendid, each level having environmental dangerous and a lot of them giving you an alternative way of beating the dungeon besides defeating all the enemies.
Unfortunately the game lacks polish. Character design isn’t that good and the models, at least when it comes to the humans, look outdated. The cutscenes are most of the time really choppy and the camera chooses some really weird camera angles at times. An even bigger problem during the game’s cutscenes is that no one moves their mouth when they speak, which would be funny if I wasn’t playing an RPG that’s supposed to immerse me in its universe.
When it comes to voice acting, the main characters are really well voiced; the total opposite can be said about the side characters though. For example in the first two cities the innkeeper acted as if I was robing them whenever I required their services. I’m pretty sure that’s not how you talk to your potential customers. Having said that, it’s worth mentioning that the game is still in early access, but I am not sure if one month is enough to both add new content and polish the existing one.
Daedalic Entertainment did a great job at adapting a pen and paper RPG and transforming it into a digital version that still retains the heart of a pen and paper, while getting rid of the inconveniences such a game implies. The in-depth gameplay and the great dungeon design will give you more than a hundred hours of entertainment and the morale system gives the game a lot of replay value, but the lack of polish will easily break your immersion at times. The game is available right now for early access on Steam.
Cirstoiu Alexandru, NoobFeed