I’m not a massive fan of old-school point-and-click RPGs (excluding Monkey Island, naturally), or of dungeon crawlers like Diablo – but I can still see a good game when I play one.
Sure, Diablo isn’t my cup of tea, but it’s still a solid, addictive title which can draw you in and beat you to death with its constant quest for loot (that’s if the servers are working, eh Blizzard?).
Blackguards, Daedalic Entertainment’s latest effort, steps away from the company’s point-and-click library and instead tries to play as an action-RPG, using the familiar hex-grid for movement and combat. I say ‘tries’ – it’s a valiant effort, but the lower-budget nature of the game makes it seem jaded and old-fashioned, rather than the sleeper-hit I was hoping for.
Putting the gamer in the fur boots of one of three flavours of adventurer – mage, warrior or hunter – the game starts with your character being accused of a murder you may or may not have committed, and you find yourself unceremoniously thrown in prison for your trouble.
Escaping shortly after (naturally) you find yourself teaming up with a bunch of misfit wanderers, and thrust into what is allegedly a tale of deceit and moral ambiguity. Or at least it would be, if all the characters didn’t sound like they’re phoning in their lines, and the story didn’t seem like little more than a way of getting from one hex-grid battle to another.
This is a shame, as Daedalic promised an adventure from the viewpoint of a fantasy world’s less… honourable denizens. It would have been nice to play as a ‘bad guy’ for a change, but the poor voice acting rather sucks the fun from a humourous (and mildly filthy) exchange between a drunken dwarf and my high-and-mighty mage.
Playing in a similar vein to the modern XCOM games, Blackguards suffers from an attempt to combine the action-heavy nature of XCOM with the complicated RPG elements of Diablo, coming up with a tricky game to enjoy overall.
The combat is the strongest feature of the title, but it suffers its own selection of issues as well.
Characters move on the grid according to player commands, and learning to flank your foes is key to getting through each of the encounters alive. Certain interactive elements of the environment can help with each bout, such as dropping a chandelier on a big gribbly, or exploding swamp gas as a makeshift bomb.
You can improve the distance you can move and actions you can take with time and experience, but the smallish size of the majority of areas you battle in limit the action somewhat – a lack of verticality is a shame when you have a great longbowman on your side.
All in the numbers
The turn-based action is actually pretty compelling stuff once you move up a few levels, but there’s a lot of grinding to be done from the off, even once your party expands somewhat.
The inventory system also hinders the action somewhat. As with many RPGs, the inventory screens are a dizzying melee of numbers and statlines, and using your abilities in battle can be a very awkward experience, as only a certain number of items can be used with a click – opening your inventory mid-battle is forbidden, it seems.
Outside of the battles, the game’s towns aren’t really worthy of the name, as they consist of one or two screens at the most, and you’re restricted to point-and-click mechanics to talk to a series of terribly-accented locals and flog your loot.
The skill tree is also maddeningly complicated, with too many of the options sounding similar – and all overlayed with with even more statlines.
As for the graphics, sure they’re not terrible, but they seem more appropriate to an indie game. This close to release the developers should be busy putting the polish on, but it doesn’t show. The characters’ mouths don’t move in time with their speech either – that’s if you’re still listening.
The art design is pretty sharp, however, and the environment and enemy design is varied and interesting – it’s just a shame the rest of the action doesn’t stand up to this.
Blackguards could have been a great little game, but a lack of time and polish on the key part of any good RPG – story – lets it down somewhat. The combat is compelling stuff, but the unnecessarily complicated nature of the inventory screens and skill tree is a hindrance to the fun.