Learning Curve Ahead: A Review Of Blackguards

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It’s not really a huge secret that I’m not a big strategy game enthusiast; it’s tough for me to cultivate the patience for them, and often tougher to uncover the tactical minutiae required to traverse the fine line between winning and losing.

Normally, these games are about Good versus Evil, and advancement through the game simply represents reclaiming land or traipsing through enemy territory. But even from the opening moments, it’s clear Blackguards is going to do something different with strategy game conventions, even if the mechanics get in the way.

Progression and movement across the map isn’t just about claiming territory, it presents different opportunities for each of the game’s characters to explore their stories. Rather than focus on one person’s struggle, or one group’s intents, each of the characters in your initial party has their own story. With one turn you’re exploring your character’s forgotten past, with another, black mage Zurbaran’s lost love.

Each of these paths takes the entire party through a fantastic variety of beautiful environments, where there are different obstacles (and thus, play styles) presented. Now, if your second language isn’t strategy game tactics, some of these challenges aren’t explained well enough by Blackguards, but the variety is there. And, it’s a refreshing way to present not only those gameplay methodologies but also the character stories.

This interesting storytelling technique is playing to the developer’s strengths. Daedalic Entertainment has been on a hot streak with narrative-focused adventure games, and this was their chance to push that same narrative impudence into a different genre; the fact that the story is the game’s greatest asset doesn’t come as a surprise.

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Now, as for the rest of game, like I said, I felt the gameplay wasn’t explained as well as it could have been. But that’s nothing compared to the leveling mechanics, which are complicated and daunting to say the least. While certainly ambitious, Blackguards’ attempt to replicate the pen-and-paper origins of The Dark Eye universe is its failing.

For example, there isn’t just one screen with some leveling options, there are three. One has thirty nine different talents where you can spend your accumulated points, and a second has nearly a dozen. It’s a complete drag, because you can see the potential here–with so many options, you could mold thousands of different character types, far surpassing the rote “mage” or “warrior” options. But for the layperson only interested in the story, it’s a difficult hurdle.

Again, for strategy game aficionados, this complexity might be commonplace. But for someone who is a fan of Daedalic as a studio, this game’s inner workings are diametrically opposed to their previous releases. Knowing their own pedigree, they should have been able to anticipate what their fans would tolerate, and a simple auto-leveling option would’ve elegantly solved the problem without a hitch.