Review: Blackguards 2 (PC)

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Blackguards 2
Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
Developer: Daedalic Entertainment
Genre: Strategy RPG
Release Date: 01/20/2015

Blackguards 2 is an odd one. Only a year removed from its predecessor, the game had to avoid the stigma of being just a cheap re-skin of a sequel. In order to do that, Daedalic has changed much about the game. While it uses the same assets and basics, the heart of the game is completely different. It’s time to find out if this change was an improvement or not.

The story this time follows Cassia. Once a high ranking noblewoman, her life was ruined when she was dumped in a dungeon and left to rot. Four years later, she’s gone a bit mad from poison spider bites and has plans to rule the world. For that, she’ll need an army. The beginning of the tale chronicles her rise to power before it moves on to all out warfare.

blackguards221It’s an interesting tale. Like the last game, your party isn’t really made up of heroes. You have a dwarf who only cares about gold, a savage who likes to make others fight to the death, and a band of mercenaries that are more than happy to slaughter villagers in the name of their god. The characters are interesting though, and you’re given plenty of time to chat with them and get to know them. You also have some choice in how you play Cassia. You can free prisoners or execute them, let the boys plunder or stop them, and other such choices. There are multiple endings based on your actions as well, which makes your playthrough feel more special.

When it comes to the presentation, the game takes a lateral step. The visuals are pretty much the same here. Things have been brightened up a little, but at some cost. The first game frequently used close-ups during storytelling, something that just isn’t present here. Most of the conversations are text boxes that overlay a static scene. The rest of the exposition is read by a narrator while you look at a picture of a book with an illustration on it. It’s clear some corners were cut here to save time. Still, the art design is solid and there is plenty of variation in enemies. It’s a decent looking game.

blackguards222The aural department is where the game shines. In particular, the voice acting is solid across the board. Between the various inflections and accents, nothing comes across as too over the top or ridiculous. That’s hard to pull off. There’s also decent range here. Cassia has to sound confident and in charge when talking to her troops. However, her panicked and confused mutterings to herself are also fascinating. A solid musical score helps set the mood no matter what the situation. It feels like something you’d seen in a game with a much bigger budget. The effects are hit and miss though. They get repetitive at points, and the drawn out battles make you sure you hear them a lot.

When you first look at Blackguards 2, it might look all the same. You still control a group of heroes on a hexagonal grid, you still fight in turn-based battles, and you still spend AP to earn new skills. However, there’s a lot different here. For starters, a lot of the more RPG-esque elements have gone out the window. Spells can no longer fail, you don’t have to worry about the weight of your gear, HP refills at the end of each battle, etc. More importantly, your skills have been simplified. You no longer have to level up your basic stats such as strength, dexterity, and so on. You put your points directly in your chosen weapon tree or skill tree. This simplifies things quite a bit, but is sure to ruffle some feathers. The game is certainly less faithful to its pen and paper forefather than the last game.

blackguards223The biggest change is your goal. In the first game, you played a group of fugitives trying to solve a murder. In this game, you play a horde intent on conquering the land. On the map, you choose what area to conquer, and you gain benefits for it such as extra equipment or new troops. You have mercenaries that aid you in battle. You can’t edit their character sheet in any way, but you level them up by conquering lands. The enemy will also attempt to retake locations at points. This forces you to play a defensive battle on map where you previously went on offense. That’s interesting enough, but you might also end up in battle with just your mercenaries. If your heroes aren’t nearby, they can’t join the fight. There’s a lot more to consider here.

With the increase in scale, some of the problems from the first game are exacerbated. You rarely go into battle with less than six characters. It often goes even higher than that. One battle had me freeing prisoners to boot, which added eight more characters to control once they were all freed. Add on the enemies that number in the dozens at times, and battles tend to drag on. One particularly nasty battle had me fighting off about a dozen insect warriors and a sand ghost. Across a bridge where over a dozen other enemies guarding a door. One round lasted several minutes as each character had to act. Then it probably took about five turns just to cross that bridge to get to the guards. The game already uses a slower system. Damage rolls are low. Even with the increased chances to hit, it takes a while. With the size of these battles, you can often find yourself in battles that last upwards of half an hour. Some of the more tricky ones go above even an hour. It can get boring and frustrating all at once. You just feel like you’re not making progress after a while.

blackguards22There have also been a number of bugs. The developers have been patching the game almost daily at times to make up for them. While some have been fixed as of this writing, there are still issues. Most recently, I had one where the game failed to load the next part of a two-part mission. My party just stood there and did nothing. I couldn’t take a turn, could skip ahead, or anything. I had to restart the mission and hope it worked the next time. This was after one of those long, annoying missions I mentioned earlier. I’ve also seen dialogue options I couldn’t click on, had a battle that failed to load my heroes, and had characters disappear in the middle of battle. While I’m sure Daedalic will continue to patch the game, this feels more early access than finished product.

It’s a shame really. The game has a lot going for it. The interesting characters, unusual setup, and replayability are all good reasons to play. Then you add in the arenas filled with traps and other interactive objects as well as varied mission objectives. It has all the tools to be a great SRPG. It’s a shame then that poor design choices and a litany of bugs keep the game down.

Short Attention Span Summary
diehardjack1-150x150Blackguards 2 has plenty of personality and some interesting systems. It makes enough changes from the original game to feel like its own thing, but many of the first games problems are worsened here. Bigger battles might sound fun, but they mean drawn out slogs through hordes of boring enemies. Add in the bugs that force you to replay hours long battles, and frustration is likely to curb whatever fun you might have had with the game. Fans of the first game should give this a look, but it’s definitely not for everyone.

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