When Blackguards; a strategic RPG was announced by the adventure game powerhouse studio Daedalic Entertainment, everyone was a little surprised, don't worry the developers still have a wealth of adventure games in the pipeline, but if you consider the story telling potential of certain genres, the RPG is really the next obvious step for the German developers.
Blackguards is a turn based roleplaying game with heavy strategy elements set in the wild South of Aventuria of the Dark Eye universe, sounds pretty average, except this isn’t your standard fairytale story. Blackguards is a very dark tale that focuses on a group of criminals led by your character, now it’s certainly not often you get to sidle into the dangerous territory of the criminal life, but in Blackguards you’ll be surrounded by the worst scum that Aventuria has ever seen, of course none of this is really by your own choice.
In fact it is only by chance that you happen upon your friend being brutally slain by a wolf, you try and help but it is too late, the only trouble is when the authorities find you, you are immediately suspected of her murder, the trouble is there’s no proof of a wolf ever being at the scene, but you didn’t kill her, right?
You’ll end up questioning your own innocence more than once in this intricately woven story, but after you manage to free yourself with the help of another prisoner Naurim the dwarf there’s not much you can say in your favour to prove your innocence, along the way of your own self-discovery you will encounter more criminals to join your band, and they aren't quite as innocent as you believe yourself to be. However in the land of Ascania they hope to regain their freedom, little do they know a much darker threat awaits; The Shadow of the evil God without a Name.
What perhaps is so promising of Blackguards is its story and the consequences that come from it, for instance ignoring something as simple as a beggar’s plea for some spare change can block a quest off to you, and in some circumstances passing by valuable information. Similarly you will find yourself in situations where the life of a person is in your hands, now you may choose to rescue said person, or simply ignore the appeal and live with the consequences that you did not manage to save them, short of your own death there is pretty much nothing you can do wrong in this game, there are no clear good or bad choices, just choices, which in the everyday black and white world of objectives and linearity, is very exciting.
Combat is turn based on a hex board, and each character has a certain number of action points of which they can use to take them up close to an enemy for some nasty damage or further away for the sake of your attack, movement is highly strategic, and your environment can be used much in your favour for both cover and against your enemies in very clever ways.
Now we’re not simply talking about explosive barrels, in Blackguards most of the 180+ battle map environments will include interactive elements, such as hanging chandeliers, angry prisoners, swamp holes, you can even block enemy spawn points with large rocks by simply getting one of your party to interact with them, and like a lot of things in Blackguards, these interactive elements are all completely optional and are not required to finish a map, but those that want to be a little more tactical have the option.
At well over 40 hours of gameplay, not only is Blackguards going to make you question your own morality, but it’s bound to suck your life away, thankfully all of these hours aren’t lost in endless exploration, as Daedalic have opted to keep the game to the old style of turn based RPGs where you won't walk around freely, instead most of the game either takes place on the 180+ battle maps, or inside the many towns across the expansive world of Aventuria where you will have the option of talking to various people or entering buildings.
Now this is an RPG based on a pen-and-paper roleplaying game, so whilst the world is limited to the game’s, your characters can still use your imagination thanks to blank slate classes that the game contains, sure they may have the title of warrior, mage and hunter, but you can pick and choose your skill sets, weapon sets and from over 100 spells in the game, so get ready to spend hours preparing your characters, just as you would writing one up on paper!
Blackguards isn’t just an impressive story with real promising gameplay, it actually looks gorgeous too; characters models are fully animated and the luscious environments in the battle maps have been intricately set up, it may not have the legacy of Realms of Arkania, but it looks like Daedalic have got another winner on their hands in the incredible fantasy universe of The Dark Eye.
Blackguards is scheduled for a release towards the end of 2013 for Windows PC, it’s not often you’re promised such a dark game these days, we only hope that it delivers.