Blackguards (PC review)

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What happens when the only hope of a threatened world lies not with heroes in shining armor, but in the hands of a band of misfits and criminals? 

That’s the question Blackguards creators Daedalic Entertainment is asking when you first start playing. Utilizing a hexagon style map, Blackguards pits you up against a variety of enemies as you journey the lands of Aventuria to clear your name. With 5 companions eventually joining you with their own motives, the story unfolds with many plot twists and headaches in this strategy game.

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After being tried and convicted of murder of Princess Elanor, the unnamed hero (you) finds himself/herself being rescued from execution by a dwarf named Naurim, who himself has been in prison and planning on escaping. During the process, you’re given the opportunity to free the mage Zurbaran, in which he joins your quest. Along the way you meet Niam, Aurelia, and Takate, allowing up to 5 characters to use.

The game is broken down into 5 chapters, the first of which is designed to get you familiar with the game. It can appear to be difficult at first, but strategy is key when on the battlefield. On top of that, the lack of weapons can make the game harder than it appears. As you go on an adventure, you see yourself stuck with the same weapons with no real upgrades. The story even throws you in battles in which your gear is completely changed (for better or worse), in which you rely on your wits and experience to overcome the obstacles. These are the true challenges of the game, making you really understand your class and companions while developing strategies to achieve victory.

Create a character in Expert Mode

Create a character in Expert Mode

Creating a character offers two choices: Basic and Expert. Basic allows you to select a class (Mage, Ranger, Warrior), and the attributes are allocated for you for battle. Expert mode gives a more diverse creation in terms of attributes and skills. Provided with 10,000 Adventure Points, or AP, you hand pick your skills, spells, weapon skill, and even starting armor and weapons. It’s a unique way to really create a character not by features and hair color, but the attributes and spells of the character. For example, you can make a spell casting warrior, with melee damage as well as spell casting abilities. or a mage that can use a bow, for twice the ranged action. You are also rewarded with AP from battles and quests, allowing you to upgrade your characters stats and spells. Each spell has 4 levels that can be upgraded to within 18 stages of the spell. The downside, as you upgrade to reach the next level, your spell is not made stronger until the next level.

In battle, line of sight can shift the tides of battle. If an obstacle is in the way, you cannot target your enemy, though they cannot target you. This is where positioning your characters in precise locations can help against attacks, having one absorb/block the hits while attacking from a distance. The maps may also have strategically placed items that can help as well, like walls or barrels/boxes that can block oncoming attacks. In one such scenario, a row of boxes blocked the end of a bridge with several enemies behind them. Using a fire spell, I was able to cause them all to catch fire, leaving a fire pit. I moved two characters just off the edge of the pit, forcing my enemies to take damage while walking over and standing on the fire pit. Maps are littered with situations like this, allowing for many ways of winning a battle than just brute force.

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Many obstacles can prevent you from moving, but also help slow your enemies.

The only thing I have against the line of sight mechanics is the lack of true camera control. You can easily move across the map to view your surroundings and enemies, but you can’t rotate the camera, which makes it difficult to see if your attack will be blocked by an obstacle prior to moving. You can only motion the camera to rotate on a vertical sense, giving you a birds eye view or side view of the action. This adds difficulty to an already difficult game. Your enemies easily position themselves for the best attack while you’re left wondering if your position will net you an attack. Although some spells, once upgraded, can attack the entire map (as shown at top), characters with ranged weapons or direct spells still rely on the line of sight mechanic.

The control scheme is interesting, but needs some getting used to. The game is based on Turns, which your group and enemies are placed on a queue of who goes next. The higher your Initiative Value (which can be upgraded with AP), the sooner you can go. The map is aligned to a hexagon grid in which your character can move or do an action. Each movement/action can only be done against a hexagon spot, which can allow you to attack an enemy or obstacle. When choosing a spot to move, the highlighted blue spots allow you to move there and you can choose an Action (like attack), while the transparent blue spots allow you do move only, ending your turn. The outlined blue shows your range, which can change depending on movement or attacks.

Blue spots allow movement and an action, transparent spots allow just movement.

Blue spots allow movement and an action, transparent spots allow just movement.

RingMenuYou select an attack from the Ring Menu, which all your possible actions are displayed in a ring. From there, you can choose to attack, use a spell (offensive, or defensive) or use an item on your belt. You can even choose to Wait, which allows you to move, but after your enemies do before the next Turn. Why would you do this? Well, in some situations, they are just out of reach of your bow or spell, so advancing just enough to entice them to get into range can allow you a successful attack. For quick access to actions, you can take a direct action and place it on the tool bar, which is assigned a number 1-10, plus three letter, Q, W, E. This makes it easy to set up attacks and spells as well as setting up defensive attacks. You can even select spells by its level, as mentioned above that they can be upgraded by level. You can have Heal 1 and Heal 2, both with two different healing levels and use of magic.

Final Reaction

This game is hard. Well, not truly hard, just difficult to get into. While you may be on a great battle, one mistake can really turn it around causing you to try again (or flip your desk). That’s what I do like about the game. It’s a unique game of chess where your players positions and attacks can really alter the outcome of the battle. There will be times where you get frustrated and try again, but doing so helps develop strategies that can help turn the tide in your favor. As you progress you will see yourself less re-attempting the battle and just rushing through while one single battle or boss battle can have you rethink your strategies. Once you reach Chapter 3, the game derails from linear to open world map with tons of side quests that yield rewards and AP to upgrade your characters.

Blackguards is for those who are up to the challenge, with enough diversity in characters attributes to create a unique game play as you progress. A story based on thievery, bribery, and treachery, your hero ventures on his quest to clear his/her name that can leads to different paths and multiple endings. Blackguards may be hard but it’s worth the trip through the lands of Aventuria.

Grade: B

Blackguards is available now on Steam

About author

Joe Gonzalez
Joe Gonzalez 281 posts

Gamer since '86, well knowledgeable in movies and games, and semi tech savvy. Graphic artist and t-shirt printer for over 10 years.