Review: Blackguards


A nameless evil is spreading throughout the land of Aventuria. As people are kidnapped, only to return stripped of their very souls, the people look for heroes to rescue them. What they get instead are an accused murderer and his band of outlaws. This is the premise of Blackguards, a strategic turn-based RPG from Daedalic Entertainment based on The Dark Eye tabletop RPG. Is the German development team’s first foray into the world of strategy RPGs a hit, or does Daedalic need a re-roll?

30 Second Review

+ Fantastic writing in both story and characters

+ Combat that forces you to take strategy into account

+ Able to build the characters the way you choose

– Difficulty spikes drastically at times

– Seriously favors certain strategies/builds

– Ending is a letdown

Sometimes Bad Guys Make the Best Good Guys

Blackguards opens with you as the main character coming out of a trance, the Princess Eleanor dead and a strange voice in his head telling him to kill the wolf hunched over her body. He is then thrown into jail and tortured for reasons he does not understand. There, he meets Naurim the dwarf and Zubaran the mage, and with no other options available, he teams up with them to escape and find the truth behind what happened.

Okay, I have to get this out of the way from the start. As you create the main character in Blackguards, you can choose to play as a woman. I chose to play as a man, so it will be easier to refer to the lead in this review as he. I just wanted to make it clear you can play as a women in Blackguards.

Throughout the game, you will pull together a rag-tag group of criminals and ne’er-do-wells who, by the virtue of being the only ones seemingly willing to do anything to survive, are the only ones who can stop the evil infecting the land.

Playing as the bad guy is nothing new when it comes to video games. Playing as bad guys who end up being the only ones who can save the world in a fantasy RPG is much more rare. What makes the story for Backguards so interesting is you are not playing archetypal heroes or villains. Instead,  you are presented with flawed individuals, each with his or her own histories and motivations. Some will be able to overcome those flaws and become heroes in their own rights. Others will not be able to fight the demons of their past. The question for the player is can you keep this group of anti-heroes together long enough to save the world?

Those boxes were stacked until an enemy knocked them over to slow my team down.

Those boxes were stacked until an enemy knocked them over to slow my team down.

Not Your Typical RPG

Gamers who play a lot of Western or even JRPGs may be thrown for a bit of a loop when entering the world of Blackguards. This game is not one where you will end up with characters who have 1000s of hitpoints and do hundreds of points of damage with each blow. As I mentioned earlier, Blackguards is based on The Dark Eye tabletop RPG, and Daedalic did everything it could to make sure the game stays true to its source material. If you have never played games like Dungeons & Dragons, let me point out some of the ways this game sets itself apart from your standard RPG:

  • You manage a number of stats, including Intuition, Courage, Charisma. Constitution and Strength. Without some form of modifier, 18 is the highest any of these stats can reach.
  • You can carry as many items and as much weight as you want, but if the total weight goes over what your characters can carry, they become encumbered. Encumbered characters suffer many combat penalties, including fewer movement points and loss of Initiative.
  • Initiative matters in this game. For those of you not familiar with the term, the higher your Initiative, the earlier a character gets to move in any given turn. Believe me when I say there is a great advantage to being able to move first.
  • After each battle and/or quest in the game, you are given Action Points. They can be spent to improve base stats, talents, special abilities or moves, weapon talents and, if you are a mage, spells. Learning how to best use the Action Points you earn is crucial to being successful in the game.

Those of you who listen to the Everyday Gamers podcast may have heard Jay and me talking about the sheer number of menus in this game. There are a lot, and you have to learn to navigate them.

Blackguards also separates itself by allowing you to build characters pretty much any way you want, with the only restriction being that only mages can perform magic. Want to make Zubaran a battle mage, able to use both magic and melee weapons? Feel free. Think Niam would be better off using a crossbow than her trademark bow? Use your AP to build that skill instead. It’s your choice.

Combat in Blackguards is heavily reliant on strategy. Each character is placed in order of Initiative, and when it is that character’s turn, you decide the actions he or she takes. You will see dark blue and light blue hexes surrounding him or her, which designate how far your character can move. If you stay within the dark blue hexes, you can take another action after moving, including attack, cast a spell or use an item you have placed in your belt.

So where does the strategy come into play? It’s all in how you chose to handle each move. I often would get Naurim and Takate, my two tanks, to the front of the formation to take the brunt of the damage, all the while trying not to block the line of sight for my main character archer or my two mages. If they could get all the way to an enemy and still deliver an attack, I would do so. If not, I would move them to the edge of the dark blue hexes and wait.

That’s right; when it’s your character’s turn to move, you can choose to wait till the end of the turn. This strategy allows you to react to what the opponent does, making them come to you.

Strategy comes into play in so many ways in Blackguards. Not only do you have to judiciously decide how handle your team, you have to take the environment into consideration. You use the natural cover of the maps to your advantage, and there are traps, environmental hazards and interactive elements to many maps, making taking your time to develop your strategy a must.

As you can see, Daedalic puts the emphasis in the strategy element of this turn-based strategy RPG. Fortunately for the team, this emphasis generally helps the game. Unfortunately, it has a tendency in certain battles to fall apart.

This fight was nearly impossible until I learned you could get another character in your party beforehand.

This fight was nearly impossible until I learned you could get another character in your party beforehand.

The Illusion of Freedom

You have a lot of freedom in Blackguards. You can build your characters as you choose. You can employ several different strategies to win fights. You really can play the game the way you want.

Except you really can’t.

The game gives you the illusion of freedom. Sure, you can build your character to use crossbows, but then you give up the right to equip Triple Shot, one of the best long distance attacks in the game, which can only be accomplished with a bow. You can make your character a master fencer, but fencing weapons do probably the worst form of damage in the game. You can dual wield weapons, but you will never do as much damage as you will if you specialize in axes and maces and learn Hammer Blow. You can choose any strategy you want in combat, but some battles force you to use just one or two or risk losing.

See, while you have the ability to build and play as you choose in Blackguards, the game definitely favors certain builds, and certain battles force you to use just one or two strategies. Add to this the fact that the difficulty in the game can spike at random based on the battle you enter, and if you have not built your characters optimally, you can find it very hard to win.

The characters and their story will keep you coming back.

The characters and their story will keep you coming back.

Story Trumps Gameplay

So with all the frustrations I just listed, what kept me coming back for 53 hours of play to finish Blackguards? That question is easy to answer: the story. Daedalic has crafted a fantastic tale with characters to match, and that kept me coming back until I hit my stride. Anytime I thought about giving up, the story would draw me back in. As someone who has often stated that story can help carry a game when gameplay breaks down, I can point to Blackguards as a prime example of just what I mean. Memorable characters, plenty of surprises and a story you will want to see through to the end are the greatest strengths of this game.

There is one problem with the game’s story, however, and that is the ending. Blackguards takes you on this great ride throughout, but the payoff leaves you flat. Don’t get me wrong; I am in no way calling my time with the game a waste. I just expected more from Daedalic after the rest of the game had raised the bar so high in terms of storytelling.

Good, but not Great

Blackguards is not for everyone. If you are not willing to spend a fair amount of time thinking about character builds, battle strategies and what equipment best suits your team, you will not enjoy this game. If you are the type who enjoys these things, you may find enough here to keep you playing for hours on end. Even with all the game’s faults, a part of me wants to go back in with an optimized mage/bowman and see just how much havoc I can raise. It just tends to get its hooks into you and not let go.

If you are thinking about playing Blackguards I would recommend checking out some video streams of the game (you can see mine here) just to make sure it is your kind of game. I would also recommend checking out the forums on Steam to view the video guides Daedalic has posted and the Hint’s, Tips and Tricks thread. Those were both a great help to me, and they will help you avoid some of the pitfalls that almost derailed my game.

I have struggled with just what score I was going to give this game. There is no denying the fact it is flawed. There is also no denying that this game grabbed me at one point and still has not let me go. While I want to rate it a little higher because of that, I have to keep in mind this is not the game for the standard RPG player. If you are looking for something different with a great story and fantastic characters, this one may just be for you. Blackguards gets a 7.5 out of 10.

[starreview tpl=14]

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Eric Bouchard

I am the Senior Editor and current Admin for Everyday Gamers as well as the primary editor of the podcast. While I tend to gravitate towards shooters or RPGs, I will play any genre of game which catches my eye.

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