Preview: Blackguards (Steam Early Access)

Blackguards from Daedalic Entertainment is now in the beta stage, and you can get it through Steam’s early access program. It’s set in the same Dark Eye universe as The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav and Memoria from Daedalic. Right now, the first three chapters are available under early access, with the remaining two to be released.

Watch the trailer:

Plot

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“What happens when the only hope of a threatened world lies not with heroes in shining armor, but in the hands of a band of misfits and criminals? Blackguards, a new turn-based strategy RPG, explores this very question. You will discover over 180 unique hex-based battlegrounds within a dark and mature story of crime, drugs, and murder. Play as a warrior, mage, or hunter and customize your character’s skills as you see fit. The challenging campaign delivers a story of doubt, treason, and loss. You decide the course of the story at key turning points and determine its outcome.”

Full disclosure: I did not get very far into Blackguards due to reasons I will discuss under gameplay. The part of the story I did experience was quite shallow, but there were a couple of intriguing threads that probably would have gotten picked up along the way. Unfortunately, part of the reason for the shallowness of the story is how progress is set up. Any tidbit of story just feels like a way to shuttle you to the next battle, and the ratio of storytelling to fighting is weighted heavily in favor of fighting. It’s also very linear, with no player choice, at least at this point in time. While this might be fine for some players, it’s not what I’m looking for in an RPG.

Something else I found annoying was a quest involving rescuing a baroness. One of your party members wants to go find this baroness because he slept with her once and wants to again. She’s under guard, so first you have to fight to get to her, then your party member spends the night with her, then the guy who’s been chasing your party for escaping from jail shows up and puts her on a noose. If you don’t get to her within five turns, he kicks the barrel over that she’s standing on. Five turns is nothing in Blackguards, and forget getting fully across the map when you’ve got two bottlenecks of three soldiers each to fight through. It just seems like she’s getting punished for having sex with your party member, which didn’t sit well. Additionally, the very first cutscene shows the dead body of the princess your character is accused of murdering being eaten by a wolf (before something scares the wolf away). There’s a weird overtone of violence towards women that I’m not liking. Yes, you’re killing men along the way, but there’s no cutscenes or plot points that involve them being innocent victims.

Graphics and Sound

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The environments of Blackguards are highly-detailed and enjoyable to look at. There’s a lot of variety, even in the first parts of the game. The character models are much less impressive and have a lack of detail. Portraits are nice, and I’m pretty sure David Tennant was the inspiration for one of the ones I saw – which might take some people out of the fantasy setting. None of the music particularly stands out, but the voice overs are pretty good – no one sounded inexperienced.

Gameplay

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Character creation is simple, but that will be changed in future builds due to community feedback – people wanted the opportunity to build their character from scratch right from the beginning, which I think will work out better in the long run. You can be male or female, and right now you can pick from three character classes (which boil down to fighter, mage, rogue). I picked a female fighter (normally I would have gone with rogue, but I had a feeling that would make my life more difficult, and judging by my experience with the fighter, I was right). There are a few customization options with regards to your looks, but not a ton.

This game is hard. I was playing on easy and still tearing my hair out. I really wanted to finish all of what Early Access had to offer before writing the preview, but I’m quite stuck on the only two quests (read: battles) I have available to me. There’s no way to grind, so if your characters aren’t strong enough for a battle, tough luck I guess. You can only use healing potions if they’re in your belt at the time of fighting, they don’t stack, and the early belts you find have only one slot, so that math isn’t exactly in your favor. Why this game eschews the convention of every other game with regards to potion inventory access, I have no idea. Healing potions are also quite expensive in the early game. Enemies seem to come out much better on the dice rolls than your characters do. I will say that I enjoyed being able to use the environment against enemies – forcing them to be under falling stalactites, for example. Overall, however, I died a lot, in ways that I couldn’t really have prevented; battles seem much too random to me.

Final Thoughts

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Blackguards isn’t impressing me right now due to its difficulty, emphasis on combat vs. storytelling, lack of a compelling story, and weird attitude towards women, but the team is taking suggestions into account – that’s the beauty of Early Access. I am interested in seeing what the final (hopefully more balanced) game will be like, but for right now I find it too frustrating to play.

Score: C-

Get early access to the Blackguards beta on Steam for $24.99. You can get the deluxe edition for $34.99 that comes with an artbook, soundtrack, digital world map, developer interview videos, and six exclusive wallpapers. There’s also a contributor edition for $49.99 with all of the above plus your name in the game credits, the first Blackguards DLC for free upon release, and a copy of The Dark Eye – Chains of Satinav. Follow the team on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and their official site.

[Disclaimer: A review code was provided for me to review this game.]

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