Having played a lot of role playing games over the years, I’m used to seeing a familiar formula: you take on the role of a young hero (often with amnesia) who suddenly has the chore of saving the world from an evil force threatening to destroy or take over the world. The characters you would associate with would typically be the noble kind and would do anything to help you out.
But what if I told you there was a turn based RPG where you don’t play as a hero, but a convicted murderer who teams up with rogues, thieves, and con-men? Yes, there is also a growing evil in the land, but your group of “un-merry men” don’t care. They just want to escape the law and pursue their own goals. If they just happen to save the world along the way, well so be it… but it may just be a fluke. This is how Blackguards from Daedalic Entertainment is presented, and it came as a refreshing surprise. The game has been in development for a few years, and the studio is now eager to show off their work.
Starting out, you will need to create a character. You are only given two classes to choose from (either a fighter or a mage), and a selection of different heads with various faces and hairstyles. I’m surprised they didn’t have more options to customise your character, although ultimately it doesn’t hurt the game much. From here you have a certain amount of AP points to allocate over a number of screens to skills and your character’s stats. The only real difference between the fighter and mage class is the ability to use spells. Both characters will have access to weapon talent trees that cover every type of hand held weapon you can think of. Then there are special abilities, which focus on special attacks and other options to aid you on the battlefield. The Talent menu covers more intellectual-based skills, like animal lore, healing, and perception, just to name a few. Of course you do have the ability to bump up your character’s stats so he or she starts with more hit points or intelligence. On the other hand, if you don’t want to go through all the trouble of assigning AP points, you can click the basic option when first starting to build your character. This will set up your mage or fighter with predetermined assignment AP points. All in all this is a pretty basic RPG set up that anyone versed in the genre should be familiar with.
The game doesn’t throw you into the thick of things right away, which is good. The first few levels introduce you to all the mechanics gradually, so you don’t feel lost. Also these first few levels set up the story as you begin your quest.
Levels are displayed as small maps showing the route you must take to reach your goal. Spots along the route will be your battlegrounds where all the action takes place. There are normally little side-paths worth exploring for experience and items and as we all know a proper adventurer never passes up a chance to collect more loot! While viewing this map you have a few options to choose from in order to prepare for what awaits ahead. You can rest, access your inventory, view character stats, peruse quest logs, and alter game settings. This is always a good place to save. And save often! I hate to admit it but there were a few times that I got my butt kicked massively due to poor planning.
Once you are on the battlefield, you are placed into a hexagon-tiled field with your companions. The game is turn-based so you can move your characters one by one a certain amount of places per turn. During a turn you can right-click on the active character to open up a command wheel around them, from which you can select all your spells, special attacks, different weapon sets, and end your turn to name a few. This system works rather well in the long run. Battlefields can also hold all sorts of goodies and traps, ranging from chests, destructible objects and portals where enemies can keep spawning from.
There can also be certain hexagons on the battlefield that will affect characters if they pass through them. This came in handy when trying to defeat the first major boss I encountered. For example, this boss was incredibly tough to go toe-to-toe with. The battlefield was set in a swamp area with pockets of swamp gas. I had to lure the boss to those hexagons and use my mage to set them on fire to inflict major damage. There are other ways to stop or slow down foes. Forcing the enemies to walk through water or mud will cause them to slow down and possibly fall, dropping the chance to connect a blow to you. You can even destroy objects such as crates and furniture – they also set on fire very nicely too! Other objects in the battle maps can make for good cover, which is handy if you come across a group of archers.
Occasionally there are other objects you can interact with that you are required to use. These objects can be highlighted by pressing the V key, which will make them glow red. I did have a few issues getting my character to interact with some objects because sometimes I couldn’t figure out right away which hexagon I had to stand in in order to use the object. Also, at times the screen can get rather busy and some objects and characters are hard to select. You can tilt the camera angle up and down to get a better view, which can help at these moments so I’m glad they added it.
Eventually you will make your way to the overworld map which lays out the land with various cities and towns that you can travel to. Here is where you can rest and heal members in your group, restock supplies, and pick up side quests which will be marked on your overworld map or local map. I wish the towns felt more like actual towns I could wander around and explore, though. What you are presented with is a single screen with some limited animations and various icons over NPCs spread around the screen for you to interact with. (eg. weapon smiths, merchants, inn-keepers, and the like).
The overall look of the game is rather pleasant. Menus are clean and easy to navigate. The characters on screen are animated nicely and flow well in the thick of battle. Battlegrounds are very detailed, but despite this I had issues like I mentioned earlier clicking on small objects. Towns and cities are drawn well but it felt like I was interacting with a painting more than exploring them.
While traveling from one battle ground to the next you will be treated to a nice selection of tunes that fit nicely and don’t get repetitive or annoying. Voice acting is quite well done, and so is the writing. Since the plot of the game is something different than traditional fare, the writers seemed to have a bit more freedom with the story.
It was rather fun to play a turn-based tactical RPG in this style, but I wish it had just a bit more life to it and not feel so stiff. Don’t get me wrong – it is still very enjoyable, I just wish it had a bit more to it. If you’re a fan of games like Final Fantasy Tactics, Ogre Tactics, and similar games, I would say that Blackguards is definitely worth checking out!