Main Teaser: Blackguards 2 is a fascinating strategic turn-based RPG, but suffers from bugs and design issues.
Content Tease: The sequel to last year’s Blackguards is a strategist’s delight, but bugs and design issues may put off more casual gamers.
Last Word: Tough and unforgiving, but enjoyable too.
Learning Curve: 30mins
Blackguards 2 is the sequel to last year’s original title from Daedalic Entertainment. It’s a hex-based, turn-based, campaign RPG, set in the Dark Eye world that some of you may recognise as a popular German pen-and-paper RPG. It’s tough, strategic, and not prone to hand-holding; furthermore the “heroes” of the piece are all pretty much bad guys. So far, so good!
You play as Cassia of Tenos, an aristocrat wrongly imprisoned in a vast dungeon crawling with Corapias spiders. Over the years she’s imprisoned, Cassia’s personality is warped (as are her looks), as she is repeatedly bitten by spiders. (The Corapias venom is famous for destroying either the body or the mind.) Eventually though, Cassia escapes from prison with only one thing on her mind: to rule, and punish everyone who turned against her.
As her first step, Cassia gathers “heroes” together under her banner, including Takate the gladiator, dodgy Zurbaran the mage, and Naurim, a dwarf who’s all about the loot. If you’ve played the original Blackguards game, you’ll recognise them all. If you haven’t (as I haven’t), you likely won’t experience the full depth of the story, but it shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the gameplay nonetheless.
Even though there are no initial options for creating your main character (or the characters you recruit), there are tons of customisation options. Experience points can be spent on improving weapon skills, character knowledge, learning (and improving) spells, as well as other tactical feats. What’s more, there are no real restrictions to what skills your characters can develop. The options really are open for you to play the way you’d like.
The story, too, is good – something that’s often lacking in tactical games. Cassia is a great character: once beautiful, now mad and powerful. It’s a lot of fun to play her as a really nasty character, and refreshing to come across a game that will let you do so.
Her aim, once she escapes from prison, is pretty straightforward: to conquer all of the areas under her husband Marwan’s control. (Oops, did I not mention he was the one who imprisoned her? Hell hath no fury, indeed! Needless to say – he’s got it coming.) These are marked as points on a map, and you can travel to these, as long as you have established a route to that point.
Occasionally Marwan will attack one of your posts, cutting off access to different areas (and the bonuses that they give you) if he succeeds. It can be a pain to “redo” an area you’ve gone through before, albeit as a defender rather than an aggressor.
In cities, you can bribe spies for info, learn new skills from scholars, and buy things from merchants and blacksmiths. You can also access Cassia’s army’s camp, where she can talk with her heroes (and often open up new lore, or other battle opportunities), interrogate prisoners, and even inspect troops. There is some interesting conversation that develops as a result, but it’s no Dragon Age. Not being familiar with the world’s lore, a lot of the information went over my head, but it certainly gave the impression of a deep, well thought-out game world, that many will certainly appreciate.
But at the end of the day, Blackguards 2’s focus is about the strategic battle. Once a particular battle starts, characters will act in turn based on their initiative scores. One at a time, they move across the hex-based battle area and engage with the enemy, using their different skills and abilities.
While there aren’t many options in terms of pre-battle strategy, it’s nice to see that there are some different scenarios and environmental challenges, and there is a good amount of variety in the different encounters. Sometimes units will start off in different areas from each other, and have to achieve varying aims within the same battlefield.
This part was massively enjoyable, and if not for the bugs and design issues experienced, would have been enough for me to rate this title highly.
But yes, unfortunately, there were a fair number of problems.
To begin with, often battle objectives weren’t clear. Are my units meant to just kill everyone? Pull a lever and return back to where they started? Kill someone specific?
OK, some may love that this game does NOT hand-hold, and there is definitely room for games that assume a certain level of player autonomy. But this reviewer certainly would have appreciated more information, pre-battle.
Furthermore, the camera controls are terrible. Awful. At its most basic level, it is a real hindrance not to be able to rotate the battlefield. Instead you often have to squint past obstacles and move the camera using WSAD keys. You can’t completely centre on the edges and corners of a battlefield, and so it’s often difficult to select hexes or characters that wind up there. Scrolling is slow, and as the game doesn’t properly centre on your characters, you will find you are constantly having to scroll back to a certain area when it’s your turn. Not fun.
I also experienced quite a few bugs, including one near the end of a battle that took close to an hour to play through. Out of nowhere, the game froze in the middle of a bad guy’s turn. He wouldn’t take his action, and so the game wouldn’t progress to my turn. My only option was to crash out and restart from the beginning of the long battle. In another encounter, the HUD suddenly disappeared and the keyboard stopped working. Another crash out.
Add this to the fact that you can’t save mid-battle, and the autosave doesn’t save frequently, and I was a pretty grumpy reviewer at this point. Protip: make sure you save often.
And so, for all the greatness of the actual gameplay, there were many occasions where I shut the game down in frustration. That said, I still believe that gamers who like some good hard strategy with little hand-holding, and who possess a great deal of patience will certainly get a lot out of this game. For someone under time constraints and with little patience for having to repeat a long, slow, tough, scenario multiple times, I have to confess that although I wanted to like it, Blackguards 2 hasn’t been one of my top gaming experiences.