Blackguards Review

Blackguards has two things going for it: Turn-based RPG combat and hexes.  Even with computers to do all the dirty work of freeform movement, I still hold a dear place in my heart for hexes.  Unfortunately, while these two features can mask a lot of sins, Blackguards still manages to underwhelm.

Lets start with the story.  Your entire party is predetermined so you better like your compatriots.  Sadly, they are mostly a bore with a stereotypical grumpy dwarf and Takate kind of plays on the noble savage thing.  It’s also a bit of a misnomer to call this an RPG because other than a few sidequests you don’t actually make any significant choices.  Blackguards is much more in the vein of Final Fantasy Tactics, a series of tactical battles with a story linking them together rather than a traditional RPG with turn-based combat.  However, the story is ponderously slow for most of the game before resolving far too fast near the end.  I expected more from a company that makes adventure games, a genre usually propped up by good storytelling.

Therefore it is best to come to Blackguards expecting nothing but interesting turn based tactical battles.  Much to its detriment, Blackguards utilizes some obscure German roleplaying system.  I have no idea how faithful it is to the original rules, but it appears to have a lot of traps in terms of character design.  Like it is much better to improve weapon skills first over character stats or that certain weapons like hammers have much better skills attached.  You should definitely build your mages as bow users too and that includes your main character.  A third melee character would be very awkward on Blackguards’ battlefields.  The problem is that the game can be notoriously difficult and thus require some fairly good character optimization.

It can be difficult, but it can also be ridiculously easy.  One of the flaws here is an inconsistent level of difficulty.  I managed to beat almost every battle on hard, but there are some which were just too annoying to bother with.  For instance one involves alligators that eat from a trap trigger and if they finish it kills a captive and you fail.  Success mostly depends on whether the reptiles attack you or the traps and after a few tries I gave in.

These objective based maps are a good idea over the typical kill everything style, but a lot of them were just ill thought out.  In particular a string of battles in a coliseum were particularly onerous.  One of them was a maze mostly one character wide where you had to wade through respawning roaches to get to the end.  Unfortunately, the narrow clearances meant you could not clear the roaches much faster than they respawned which turned the map into a tedious slog.  They also got a bit overly zealous with traps.

Finally, this RPG system has terrible magical loot in that it is nearly non-existent.  You use the same equipment for most of the game.  Some people talk about the Christmas Tree effect in D&D where characters are decorated with hordes of loot, but I find that far preferable to a game with essentially no equipment customization.

In the end I couldn’t finish the game.  You start off not being able to hit anything, but by the mid game it gets fairly interesting and then you have most of your tools and the game gets very repetitive very quickly.  Every fight started with the same buffs and debuffs, etc.  With no story to keep me motivated I had no desire to slog on until the end.  Blackguards 2 promises a more open-ended campaign and some improvements to the combat system.  I hope they pull it off because I really see potential here.

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