While there’s certainly something exhilarating about games that rush you into combat and allow you to slaughter enemies as fast as you can pull a trigger or swing a sword, the simple fact of the matter is that it’s sometimes nice to take a step back and assume the role of commander. While many of us aren’t born tacticians, certain strategy games allow us to slow down and analyze the battlefield in a way unavailable in your everyday shooter or open world brawler. Though some may find the rate of play extremely slow, turn-based strategy games allow players to really dig into the meat of a fight, using their knowledge of each unit’s strengths and weaknesses to overcome foes. Blackgauards 2 is no exception, and though it comes off as frustratingly complex to players who are new to the series, fans will come to appreciate the utter complexity the game has to offer.
Set in the fantasy world of South Aventuria and based off of the RPG game, The Dark Eye, Blackguards 2 takes place a few years after the events of Blackguards. The main protagonist, Cassia, is thrown into a dungeon for reasons that went far over my head but somehow involved a rather traumatic opening scene involving a pet cat. As she suffers at the hands of venomous spiders and torturous traps, Cassia vows to raise an army and overthrow the leader of the lands, in turn taking the Shark Throne for herself. With the help of the remaining Blackguards Takate, Zurbaran, and Naurim, you must gather mercenary forces and take back the lands, one village at a time.
As is typical of turn-based combat games, Blackguards 2 allows players to control a party of allies alongside the main character, with group sizes ranging from one to thirteen. The combat itself is of course taken in turns (crazy, right?), and players can move each unit around the hexagon-based map before attacking, taking cover, or healing themselves or other allies. While the attack options seem rather limited at first, with not but simple strikes and parries at your disposal, the use of each type of unit that allows for different ranges of attack and defense becomes increasingly mandatory. Because of the large range of positioning options (unless the map forces you down a narrow choke point), the ability to choose between defensive and offensive strategies also further increases gameplay diversity.
The maps Cassia encounters throughout her quest to retake the Shark Throne are extremely well-detailed and interesting. Variations in available space range from wide open squares to enclosed tunnels, forcing players to readjust their tactics and think on their feet. Certain objects are actually interactive, and I soon found that toppling stacks of crates onto enemies and trapping them for several turns was not only practical, but also extremely amusing. There’s even a small hint of puzzle-solving sprinkled into the gameplay, clearly evident as you try to find chests of treasure by navigating through sections of traps and lever-activated gates.
The availability of each mission is displayed on a comprehensive world map, indicating which areas you’ve conquered and which lands still belong to the enemy. Though clearing a map makes it yours for the time being, opposing forces can attempt to take back what was theirs and re-conquer the land. On top of being able to head to that part of the map and defend it, you can further increase your odds by setting traps in territories you already own. Dying while attempting to defend your land leads to an increase in difficulty during the next go-around, so be sure to think critically before rushing into battle!
While there is a lot to be said in terms of what’s right with Blackguards 2, there are a few issues that may end up turning away players who aren’t already on board from the first Blackguards. The storyline for newcomers is about as accommodating as reading the 178th page of the fifth Harry Potter book and being told to understand what the hell a Voldemort is, and though there are tutorial popups, much of the maneuvering that seems to have carried over from the first game isn’t exactly the most intuitive interface for fresh players. It’s obviously not a crippling point, as it’s still quite an enjoyable if not slow-paced and overly difficult game, but I feel more could have been taken away from the experience had I a little bit more of an idea as to what was going on without having to look it up.
Overall, it’s safe to say that Blackguards 2 will certainly be worth playing once the game officially hits shelves in late January. Though new players may feel a bit overwhelmed in places where veterans fit right in, the overall experience keeps you so occupied in battle strategies and war plans that you’ll hardly have a moment to yourself to consider how lost you are. As the new year rolls around and you find yourself wanting to use your brains over your brawn (or finger dexterity), put down Call of Duty and pick up Blackguards 2.