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Blackguards

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By MatthewJMimnaugh03-12-2013
StuntmanLT (editor)
Bobfish (editor)
Blackguards

The Defence

Developer:
Daedalic Entertainment
Publisher:
Daedalic Entertainment
Genre:
Role Playing, Strategy
Release Date:
TBA

The Prosecution

CPU:
Intel Core 2 Quad 2.4 GHz
AMD equivalent
VGA:
Nvidia GeForce GTX 275
AMD Radeon HD 4770
RAM:
4 GB
HDD:
20 GB
DirectX:
9.0c

Blackguards asks: what happens when the fate of the world lies in the hands of criminals, rather than heroes? Well, it’s not exactly an original question, especially given the RPG genres recent obsession with open morality systems. Nevertheless, it is a question with potential and depth. Here Daedalic Entertainment straps the player with a convicted murderer as the main character as well as a group of similarly dubious allies and attempts to make us care.

Right off the bat, this game is extremely reminiscent of Fire Emblem and Heroes of Might and Magic. Regarding the former, the player is able to micro manage each of the individual characters with gear as well as having a similar hotspot-to-hotspot world map. Where it favors the latter is the actual combat, which is hex-based and run on a similar “initiative based” rotation system. As far as Blackguards is concerned it tries, and succeeds, to replicate these predominant elements and advance upon them. To put it simply, the player controls a number of heavily customized characters in a hex-based grid, trying to defeat all the enemy AI-controlled characters (or complete the mission objectives) in turn-based fashion. It also includes environmental features, such as collapsing chandeliers, explosive swamp gas or toppleable crates to up the tactical possibilities.

Wood trolls don't like fire much.

Wood trolls don't like fire much.

In most cases, battles last somewhere between 5 and 15 rounds, though each round is as slow or fast as the player decides. Consequently, this game favors the slow and tactical approach because a single incorrect move can ruin the mission and that is usually the player’s fault. I say usually, because so far there isn’t much of a way to determine certain things until the player actually tries them. To some extent, this is fine. New enemy types should be a mystery. Nevertheless, the game inadvertently rewards save spamming as a result, encouraging the player to go through a mission rash in order to get a read on the scenario, then reload and take it tactically.

After each battle, loot is collected automatically and experience (adventure points) are awarded. Loot is fairly ordinary, at first, though that is expected for a group of criminals on the lam. The adventure points system, however, is far from ordinary and quite interesting. The game allows players to individually select where these points go in a number of different categories, including base stats, weapon talents, survival type talents, magic, and special abilities. All of this is pretty bog standard, with the exception of the special abilities. These abilities must be taught by one of the various teachers found along the adventure and are often quite expensive.

As far as the graphical fidelity is concerned, it is not the most beautiful game ever; even cranked up to max on a high-end machine, it looks a couple years old. That said, Blackguards is still in beta, each character has some variation, and particle effects are above par. Finally and despite the somewhat lower end graphics, the creature/character design itself is wonderful on the eyes. So, while this game can run on most potatoes (above average potatoes perhaps), it looks far above average for what it is.

Old school quest hubbing at its finest.

Old school quest hubbing at its finest.

Now, on to the story, the crowning gem of this game. While only chapters one and two have been released so far, it was both exciting and challenging. Being a convicted murderer trying to get across the border adds urgency, especially considering how little gear you have and the unending pursuit of a barrister (who is an obnoxious, spineless git, I might add).

The story world is also quite good, it is based on “The Dark Eye” (German: “Das Schwarze Auge” [DSA]), claimed to be Europe’s most successful “pen-&-paper” RPG. This shows. Whether it’s an unpronounceable fantasy empire, race, or city, it reeks of well though thought out fantasy, having all the phonology of something developed and explored over time. Now most people are probably going to miss a lot of the in game references, but most of the time such references, even when unnoticed, tend to make a world feel truer-connected to a greater whole, if you will.

The characters themselves are also quite well designed, whether they be the main ones or throwaway one time encounters. Each of the protagonists is both oddly likable and unmistakably flawed. Zurbaran, for instance, is a dark mage and a shameless rake, but unceasingly entertaining with his smooth-talking antics. Naurim by contrast is a blunt dwarf who is convinced a mythic golden dragon is threatening the world and was more than willing to burn down an inn that had a dragon-sounding name. In total at the moment there are five side characters that join the party, furthermore, they all appear in battle, rather than the “select 2 sidekicks and let the rest twiddle their thumbs” trend that should have been left in the SNES era where it belongs (I’m looking at you, Bioware).

Beyond the characters themselves, the voice acting is actually quite good, the benchmark being that the player can immediately recognize which character is talking and simultaneously not be mentally reminded that “this is a voice actor.” The music is similarly good, if repetitive when repeating some of the more annoying missions. All in all, sound assets are above par, if not excellent.

Town hopping is best with a good looking map.

Town hopping is best with a good looking map.

The game’s item system is acceptable, if a little stat heavy, but that is no surprise given the game’s roots in pen and paper. At this point, there are still some bugs and missing tags. This added to the stat problem, though it will be resolved once the game is done. Despite all the stats, though, it seemed to me that there wasn’t a lot to choose from when it came to loot, though this is probably because it was only early game. Nevertheless, of the five or so chest armors I got, two had identical stats...

Daedalic made a somewhat irritating decision to leave out any swivel function in battle. There is standard WASD pan and scroll wheel tilt/zoom, but the lack of spin makes the combat feel 2 dimensional. This is a minor gripe, sure, but allowing the player to see all angles of the battlefield tends to enliven things and help the mind strategize, especially with the more windy levels.

Finally, and this might just be me, but I think there should be some kind of deployment field for your units at the beginning of the battle. Granted, in instances where the party is ambushed, this is unrealistic, but when a player is intending to enter a battlefield, opening positioning can often be key. Another missing trait is the ability to switch between weapon packages immediately before the battle. The player can do this before initiating the battle via the item screen, sure, but in order to alter initial equipment after the battle has started, the player will have to load a save rather than hitting the try again button.

Don't linger in the middle.

Don't linger in the middle.

While Blackguards is incomplete and infected with a considerable case of the beta bugs, it is, without a doubt, worth playing. Now, whether that is a bit down the line when it is released, or now at the risk of rage-quitting when the stupid lizard person decides to play the silent game against the heat death of the universe, well that is up to the well-informed gamer. That said, even in this state, it is quite fun, a slow burner, and a value for its asking price. Take a look if it’s the type of game that tickles your fancy.

Comments (2)
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Posts: 28

Totally enjoying this game. Gonna wait for a few more episodes because I actually fear finishing the chapters and having nothing more to play of it.

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Posts: 3290

You louse blaggard! I'll 'ave you!