Most western styled RPGs are either based on or draw influence from Dungeons and Dragons. The popularity of the universe and ruleset have almost become synonymous with geekdom, so most gamers could be excused for not knowing of the German counterpart whose popularity is almost solely based in Germany called The Dark Eye. There have been several games over the years based on The Dark Eye, such as The Realms of Arkania and Drakensang, but these titles haven’t reached the popularity of its D&D counterparts, Baldurs Gate and Neverwinter Nights.
The Daedalic Entertainment developed Blackguards attempts to take The Dark Eye to the realm of strategy/tactical RPGs with turn-based grid combat. Daedalic is best known for its point and click adventure titles. So this foray into a new genre is an interesting direction for the company that, despite a few minor flaws, could be called a success. Daedalic has practice executing well written stories and Blackguards continues that tradition with, what is billed as, a rogue’s adventure that follows a group of misfits and criminals on their path to save the world.
The protagonist escapes from prison after what appears to be him or her being falsely accused of killing a female friend of noble origin. The protagonist lets a couple of other prisoners tag along as they work to clear his/her name of murder. You may wonder where the world saving comes in, and with a few conspiracies and twists, the ragtag group plus a couple more curmudgeons find themselves on a path to be heroes. The story is engrossing enough to where it becomes hard to put the game down due to just wanting to find out what happens next. That alone is a testament to the skill of the writers at Daedalic.
The plot is backed with, for the most part, strong voice acting, especially from the three core escapees. The back and forth between the group of misfits is a joy to listen to, and they really sell the drama of the main story. Occasionally though, the voice work can feel a bit hokey but in an entertainingly bad kind of way rather than just outright bad. These occurrences usually happen with characters not as developed as the ones the player controls.
Blackguards might have a stronger story than most games in the genre, but strategy/tactical RPG fans come for gameplay and, for the most part, should not be disappointed with Daedalic’s foray into the genre. Battles are round-based with player characters and their cannon fodder politely taking their turns once a round to decimate the enemy. Commanding each character per turn is done via a radial menu that handles all of the commands, such as moving, ending turn, attacking, casting, and using items. It is a very typical fare for strategy games, but the area where Blackguards shines is the map layouts of each battle. Each battle has an extremely varied map that usually has at least one unique twist to it, whether it is a group of fire spitting turrets, traps that can be triggered to eliminate enemies, or toxic rivers. The freshness of the maps keeps the game from getting boring during its 40+ hour completion time.
Unfortunately, despite the beautifully handcrafted battle maps, there is no real inbetween gameplay outside of battles. Travel is handled by clicking locations on a map and interactions in towns fall more into the point and click adventure territory. At first, I balked at this exclusion of gameplay but quickly found that it really was unnecessary for the type of game Blackguards is. It appears that the time saved from not creating that traveling filler content allowed Daedalic to focus on a very deep character building system.
During character creation, players are given a choice between the classic archetypes – warrior, hunter, and mage. In general, any class can use any skill except spells, which are limited to the mage class. Warriors are the only class that can wear metallic armor. The only other difference between classes is that the starting attributes favor their archetype. This unfortunately leaves the hunter class kind of pointless because the mage and warrior can be built to be archers with their added bonuses. In fact, by the end of the game, the mage is a better hunter than the hunter by far. Of course, players don’t even have to go the route of choosing a class and can turn on expert mode leaving very few limitations to either building a wrecking machine or a complete disaster.