[Cleaning the Backlog] Blackguards

I’ve enjoyed my time with Blackguards, despite it being a relatively limiting game for an RPG. Honestly, I’m not even sure this game can be called an RPG without footnotes explaining the ambiguity. Blackguards is a highly linear and straightforward experience—it’s a narrative-based sequence of turn-based tactical battles with occasional minor branching along the way and character stats progression in between.

There are dialogues and narrative choices, but their consequences are so minor that it’s not even worth talking about. On the other hand, it won’t be fair to consider this a flaw—it’s just that the game’s priorities lie in different places. Two main conduits for conveying creativity into Blackguards are battle design and the story.

While the plot may not be among the most original and fascinating ever written for a videogame, the setting of the Dark Eye gives enough opportunities to spice it up with various interesting dark fantasy nuances. As appropriate for a bunch of misfits, the main cast of characters is fairly entertaining and devoid of heroic pathos—you meet your squadmates mostly at some sort of penitentiary.

A strictly linear story is dynamic and has its share of twists and turns. The narrative path lies through a bunch of memorable places and situations—gladiator arenas, poisonous swamps, carnivore-flee-infested dungeons, brothels, and whatnot. Unfortunately, the plot staggers while approaching the finish line and eventually crumbles in a bewildering anticlimactic rush. The journey is worth it, though.

Battle design is what Blackguards is all about. I was pretty much surprised to see so much variability of combat situations throughout the game—in addition to being constantly outnumbered, you’ll struggle against a whole arsenal of gameplay trip-ups. Traps, turn limits, poisonous gases gradually filling the dungeons, waves of enemies, slippery floors, and other nasty surprises keep the game challenging, even if you handle the character progression flawlessly.

Although, you won’t. It’s easy to screw up your characters early on with no meaningful way to fix the mistakes, rendering an already fairly challenging game simply unbeatable. This unforgiving approach to game design won’t scare off people that seen some shit—retrogamers and dungeon crawler veterans. But for more modern-minded players, Blackguards can be a pretty hard nut to crack. Tip of the day: specialize your characters from the start and stick to your choices—there are no procedurally generated battles to grind experience points, don’t waste them.

The final boss is an ultimate test—a series of challenging battles that don’t give you any chance to lick your wounds in between. If you mismanaged your builds, a pretty rough time is guaranteed. But if you understand how this game works—you can finish the boss pretty fast without letting the challenges snowball you out of control.

Blackguards is a good game. But in order to enjoy it, you have to curb your expectations—it’s not a walk in the park that modern game design has made everybody accustomed to.

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