Blackguards is a new turn-based strategy RPG developed by Daedalic Entertainment, and it’s based on a modified fourth edition of Germany’s popular pen and paper RPG “Das Schwarze Auge” (The Dark Eye). The game plays similarly to X-COM with the main difference that the maps on which the fighting takes place are hex-based which opens up a lot more possible tactics when it comes to positioning and preparing fights.
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 that has been, presumably, wrongly accused of murdering his best friend which also happened to be the princess. In order to survive and at the same time find out what actually happened to you and clear your name, you will have to ally yourself with some really shady and violent individuals. In this context the term blackguards accurately describes the situation since it’s an old word used to describe people who behave in a dishonorable or contemptible way.
Just as promised by the game developers, Blackguards offers you two game modes at the start of each new game: basic and expert mode. In basic mode you will be able to pick from three class-archetypes: Warrior, Mage and Hunter, which means the game will automatically distribute your starting adventure points as it sees fit depending on what class you picked. The Warrior specializes in melee fighting and can easily wear the heaviest of armors and wield the biggest weapons, making him best at getting stuck in the thick of it while still doing a decent amount of damage. The Hunter focuses on ranged combat (bows, crossbows, throwing weapons) and traps, but at the same time can also focus on evasion if you’re looking to deal damage up close and then quickly get out. Mages are the weakest class when it comes to physical strength, but also the only class that can learn magic. Through spells they can deal huge amounts of damage or support their party members by using heals, buffs and crowd control spells. Beware though at what kind of armor you equip your mage with, since anything metallic will stop him from using any kind of magic. In expert mode you pick how you want to distribute your initial adventure points and whether you want to be able to learn magic or not.
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 don’t necessarily look like the most trustworthy of fellows 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 murky past. As you progress through the story of Blackguards, more characters will be unlocked depending on some of your decisions, so you’ll be able to replace 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 all the characters have different chemistry amongst themselves. For instance while most of the times Naurim, the Angrosho, and Zurbaran, the mage from Al’Anfa, disagree and always clash in opinions, they do see common ground when it comes to money.
One of the base features of Blackguards is its morality system. Across the entirety of the game you will be presented with different decisions, so depending on who you pick to trust and what you do can have dire consequences that will affect the entire story of the game and the ending that you’ll get. Considering their past, choosing someone to trust might prove difficult 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 (AP); some will be good at magic, others will be better at straight up fighting and others will just be suited for supporting other characters.
Blackguards offers a really in-depth character customization system, which, when combined with the lack of definitive classes, gives a huge amount of freedom when it comes to adapting the party to your play style. There is a total of 8 base attributes: courage, cleverness, intuition, charisma, dexterity, agility, constitution, strength; these can be improved by using AP to a maximum level of 18. Each of these attributes, with the exception of charisma which just opens up new dialogue choices, affects your base values differently. For instance, agility increases your attack, dodge, parry, initiative and speed. In addition to these, you can also directly increase your vitality points, astral points and magic resist.
The game provides 8 different melee weapon types, ranging from daggers to spears to two handed swords, as well as three types of ranged weapons (bows, crossbows, throwing weapons); the character’s proficiency with each of these can also be improved by using AP to a cap of 18 levels. Each weapon has a certain damage type associated with it, so spears will do piercing damage, while something like a sword will do slashing damage. Bows and crossbows can do a variety of damage types depending on the type of ammunition you are using. Blackguards spices things up though with some rare weapons that do a different damage type than the damage associated with that weapon type (for instance a mace that does fire damage). You will have to pay attention to the damage type since some enemies are immune to certain damage types, so equipping different weapons sets would be wise, three being the maximum numbers of sets that a character can have equipped. The weapons can also be dipped into poisons which will both damage and decrease the enemies base attributes for a certain time.
There’s a total of 9 talents, each providing you with quality of life improvements such as increasing your perception (the chance of detecting traps), the ability to disarm and set traps, passive buffs that lower the chance of you getting wounded or knocked down, battlefield assessment skills that make it easier to fight in urban or wilderness maps, enemy assessment skills that show you more information about them. The spells are abilities that can only be learned by mages, cost astral energy (the mana of the game) to cast and are divided into four sub-categories: offensive spells (fireballs, thunderbolts, meteors etc.) that do different types of damage, buffs and deception spells (increasing your evasiveness, movement and accuracy), support spells that assist your party members through heals and buffs, and last but not least, debuff spells that are meant to weaken your enemies. Special abilities are similar to spells with the main differences that they don’t cost any astral energy to cast, they can be learned by everyone and once learned they don’t need further upgrading. All special abilities have certain base attributes prerequisites that need to be met before you are able to learn it 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. Armor provides different levels of protection against the different types of damage, at the same time changing the looks of your characters. Equipping an entire armor set will also give you certain boosts. Carrying too much will overencumber 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 dungeons 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.
Most of my concerns that I expressed in the previous preview of Blackguards have been addressed. While the models themselves haven’t changed that much and are still a bit jagged, the texture and animation quality has overall improved, and all the cutscenes are properly animated which is quite a nice surprise to see such a huge improvement in just a matter of weeks. The graphic design of Blackguards suits not only the universe of the game itself perfectly, but also the story being told, with really dark and gritty tones, that bring to life a world as beautiful as it is corrupt and unforgiving.
When it comes to voice acting, the main characters are really well voiced and the banter between the different characters is quite entertaining to listen to, especially since it delivers a lot of really humorous and witty dialogue perfectly, which does a great job at engaging you with the characters. Unfortunately the other voices in the game aren’t as good as the main characters’, but that’s to be expected since you won’t be spending much time with NPCs that are unimportant to the story.
Daedalic Entertainment have outdone themselves and Blackguards is one of the best adaptations of a pen and paper RPG that I have ever seen, transforming the original into an amazing digital version that still retains the heart and soul of a pen and paper, whilst getting rid of the inconveniences such a game implies. The in-depth gameplay and the great dungeon design will give you tens of hours of entertainment and the morale system gives the game a lot of replay value. Blackguards is surely a game that will engulf you and will have you invested in its story for the entirety of the game, and it’s a must play for every RPG fan out there.
Cirstoiu Alexandru Constantin, NoobFeed