Blackguards Review
5.8our score

The voices, get them out of my head!

My initial reaction when playing Blackguards opening scenes was tearing my headset from my head as the voice-acting was completely killing me. This is my first advice: knock your volume settings down significantly when starting the game. The sound volumes are somewhat on the loud side and the voices are not pleasant to the ear. And here comes my first problem with the game, and perhaps the largest one…

And I’ll get right to the honest and brutal point with this one. The main character is thoroughly uninteresting, and this is a rather large problem in any RPG as it broke the immersion factor and made me not care about the story. There are only a few character models to choose from, and none of them really appealed to me. I went with the least offensive looking female character, only to be greeted by what apparently was meant to be my own voice. My only reaction: I wanted to stab myself. Repeatedly. I know this is a little harsh, but let’s be honest; getting the sound side of things wrong in an RPG can seriously harm how much you’ll enjoy it. Two Worlds, anyone?

Whilst there certainly is a story and character progression – don’t expect a full blown RPG.

But let’s actually look at the game itself. Blackguards is a turn-based tactical RPG. Exactly my kind of thing and I was pretty excited about reviewing the game – it’s been a while since I sunk my teeth into one of these and I was really looking forward to some tactical challenges and developing my party into a frenzy of death-bringing chaos. Whilst there certainly is a story and character progression – don’t expect a full blown RPG. I’d say it’s more a strategy game than an RPG, though it does a good job at pretending to be an RPG. There really isn’t much more than a reasonably linear chain of tactical encounters. I was certainly expecting something quite different.

Blackguards Conversation

One of the only times I agreed with something my character said. Most of the time I wished she would just keep quiet and let the much more interesting Dwarf companion speak.

This doesn’t mean it couldn’t have worked – it’s actually a pretty neat idea, albeit a bit simplistic. Granted, the story isn’t half bad, though I personally didn’t take great interest in its direction. But the thing which really lets Blackguards down is that the tactical turn-based combat itself is thoroughly uninteresting. It mostly consists of rounds which are not much more than ‘you try to hit me, I try to hit you,’ with some contrived and rather scripted elements during some of the encounters. Again this could have worked, but something just doesn’t quite ‘click’ with Blackguards. It doesn’t come together in a nice and smooth way. The entire time I played the game I felt something was missing.

This system does allow for enormous freedom. At the same time, it can be daunting and overwhelming for new players.

For example, the progression system consists of a single set of points which can be spent on pretty much anything: Base Values, Weapon Talents, Talents, Spells and Special Abilities are all purchased using Action Points. The game confusingly refers to this as both EXP and AP, whilst there is also a stat called ‘Astral Points’ (mana). Whilst this system does allow for enormous freedom, at the same time it can be daunting and overwhelming for new players, and it doesn’t provide much guidance in terms of progression or what direction to take. It’s very easy to mess up your character development, and given that the encounters the game throws at you aren’t exactly easy, Blackguards doesn’t do a good job in guiding the player here.

Blackguards Movement

One of the really early crypts, but it illustrates the movement system well – you choose your encounter, you don’t actually move around the world.

This problem is further heightened in combat itself. The UI feels clunky and combat is sluggish as a result. I love this type of combat, and anyone who knows me even a little bit will be able to tell you that I enjoy nothing more than good turn-based system. Unfortunately, Blackguards does not provide it. The game does a poor job at presenting useful information to the player during combat, and often you’re left wondering why exactly something happened the way it did. Combine that with the unclear character progression system and you’ve got a recipe where only the most hardcore stat fans will find themselves having any real enjoyment.

The developers show huge potential with this title, but critical gameplay aspects are letting it down.

It really is a shame as Blackguards does contain some really nicely designed environments, varied maps, interactive terrain and some very interesting ideas. It just never really gets together to fall into place – it more or less feels like a grind from one map to the next with little to no interesting attacks, moves or spells at your disposal. It didn’t happen a single time that I thought ‘oh cool!’ when trying a new attack or developing my character. Quite the opposite, I felt completely dissociated with my party or their struggle, and as I moved from encounter to encounter I felt an increasing urge to simply stop playing. The game didn’t manage to draw me in, keep me entertained, or make me want to unlock that next ability or skill, like so many other games do perfectly. There aren’t really any nice combos or moves to look forward to, and the combat doesn’t really feel any more satisfying later on – and that really defeats the purpose of a game like this.

Blackguards Town

The environments though, often look quite pretty. A shame there’s very little you can do here; they are little more than a resting point to heal and shop. Don’t expect RPG style city exploration.

Conclusion

To sum it up – I spend by far the most time in Blackguards looking at stat screens and deciding where to spend my next few hundred AP, rather than making dialogue choices or enjoying the story or even the combat itself. And once I made those choices with little to no methods of making an informed decision or see the real effect of said choices, I was then thrown into another set of chained tactical encounters, where the time invested in spending those points didn’t really feel satisfying. Said tactical encounters are then often broken up by cut-scenes involving conversations with the really annoying voices of both my own character and the first mage you encounter, Zurbaran.

If you’re really hardcore into your stats and character building, by all means – go for it when the game is on sale. It’s probably worth giving a shot when it comes down in price to $10 or so, perhaps even $15 if the genre is your thing. But at full price, I’d say there are plenty of other titles out there which are much, much more engaging. Blackguards is a game that had a lot of promise and I was quite looking forward to playing it, but I’ve come out feeling a little disappointed. The developers show huge potential with this title as it looks quite pretty, runs very well, and the story isn’t half bad, but critical gameplay aspects are letting it down.

Pros:

  • Challenging encounters
  • Decent story
  • Nice looking environments
  • Flexible character development
Cons:

  • Clunky UI, lack of information
  • Sluggish combat, no interesting attacks
  • Unclear, unrewarding skill point system
  • Some of the voice acting…
  • The tactical combat isn’t that engaging

System Requirements

Minimum:
OS: Windows XP 32 Bit
Processor: 2 GHz Dual Core
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Graphics: nVidia GeForce 8600 GT, ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT
DirectX: Version 9.0c
Hard Drive: 20 GB available space
Sound Card: DirectX 9.0c Compatible Sound Card with Latest Drivers

Recommended:
OS: Windows Vista SP2, Windows 7 SP1, Windows 8 (32/64 bits versions)
Processor: 2.4 GHz Quad Core CPU
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 275, ATI Radeon 4770 Series or higher
DirectX: Version 9.0c
Hard Drive: 20 GB available space
Sound Card: DirectX 9.0c Compatible Sound Card with Latest Drivers

the author

Managing Editor of ManaPool, Peter lives in York, UK and is a great fan and master of turn-based strategy games. If he isn't playing one of those, you'll probably find him in a role-playing game instead. He's definitely not afraid to provide a straight up opinion on any game and has a strong like for indie developers. We all start small, after all.

  • KrakenWakes

    Ouch! Pity, that, the blurb for the game made me really interested. Guess that’s what the blurb’s for, though…

    • Lachrymosity

      Yeah. After complaining about the lack of tactical turn-based RPGs these days, I was super stoked for this one. Maybe I’ll have a crack at it again in the future. Right now though, I can’t shake off the feeling of the endless grind.