Sunday, August 2, 2015

Blackguards

Blackguards is one of the many Unity-using RPGs that have come out in the past two or so years. I would dare to say it is not one of the best ones, although it was successful enough for Daedalic Entertainment to put out a sequel already. I will not be buying that one, though. Not with the experience I got from this one.

Visually of varied quality


Unity might not be the engine of choice to make the most spectacular looking game. It can be sufficient enough, though – the Shadowrun series and Deus Ex: The Fall were just fine. The appearance of Blackguards, however, leaves room for improvement. My biggest issue are the terrible character models. Their poor quality might not bother while the camera is further during combat but all the cutscenes are simply terrible thanks to them.

The other issue I have with the game's looks is the sickening bloom that is everywhere. Maybe its purpose is to try to hide the character models. Not all is terrible in the graphics, however. In fact, the spell effects are quite impressing. Especially the huge area of effect spells are simply gorgeous. And the GUI's style reminds of Neverwinter Night 2's.

Complicated rule system


Blackguards uses The Dark Eye ruleset, which seems to be some sort of d20 system. I do not know how faithfully the rules are used but I did not get a good impression of it. The ruleset seems unnecessarily complex and is quite odd. Skills have breakpoints at levels 0, 8, 13, and 18 – who even came up with that? And the passive stats are a mess – there are just too many of them. To learn special abilities after the character creation, you also need to find trainers in the world. It can be quite bothersome.

The world is gritty – or at least tries to be. Finding a pleasant person in the game is rare at least. The party members are not exactly goody two shoes either. And the protagonist is apparently lazy as well. Still they go on this world saving quest that does not feel like it since no one else in the world seems to give two shits about the impending doom.

I had to lookup hints how to build characters effectively as I felt things could go wrong very easily with this confusing system. The consensus for melee seemed to be Hammer Blow and weapons that go with it. Spears are nice for their reach but it is simply better to have the capability to kill enemies with one attack. There was one quite frustrating fight against a swamp plant that I had to reload multiple times until my dwarf won the fight with a single critical Hammer Blow.

For spellcasters, the most optimal way is to go with de/buffing spells. The damage spells will not kill stuff fast enough. You just end up with no mana and half-dead enemies that still cause trouble. Better to increase the offense and defense of your party's fighters, and to make the enemies weaker.

Ranged is quite powerful. You cannot really go wrong with a bow. As long as you remember to resupply your arrows, that is. With hindsight, I probably should have made my character an archer (instead of a melee fighter) to have a ranged character in the party through the whole game. I was lucky to have made a character who can handle herself from the start, though – there are multiple flashbacks in the game where you return to your starting character and if she is not build for fighting, you are going to have a hard time.

Odd design


Blackguards is weird in how you do not travel the maps like you typically do in a party-based top-down RPG. Instead, your party appears only to do combat (and of course you get no option to affect how your characters start the fight). Towns and such are handled by 3D scenes, where you can click on merchants and other NPCs. It is like they wanted recreate a tabletop PnP experience: the gamemaster describes the towns, and in battles the hex map is pulled out to have miniatures placed on it.

In my opinion, it does not really work in a CRPG. There are also way too many locations on the world map. The towns do not have enough unique characteristics between them. I think that there are also too many fights in the game. In a turn-based game where you control multiple characters, the encounters should always be meaningful and never feel like a chore like in Blackguards. Multiple times I had to move my characters one by one, round by round to the edge of the map even though the fight had already ended.

I almost left the game unbeaten after I faced a very annoying bug towards the endgame. Entering a fight under a bridge in Themiran will cause all saves made after the fact to become corrupted. I lost nearly two hours worth of progress thanks to that. I did eventually launch the game again after couple days to finish it. Sure made me not want to touch anything made by Daedelic ever again, though.

The fight is optional but it would reward you with a neat weapon. One of the exceptions among the incredibly boring itemization of the game. Also, while I do understand the standard damage types like slashing, piercing, magic, etc. the game has, what the hell is infantry damage? Some of the weapons, like an axe you can buy quite early in the game, do infantry damage. And it is a good damage type, too, since very few things are resistant to it. Just another example of the developer's weird decisions.






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