The Dark Eye is a universe that’s ripe with potential for great video games. Much like its rival Dungeons & Dragons, the lore contains an epic fantasy world full of adventure and excitement. As a role-playing game, the rules of TDE dictate how combat is played out, including rules for melee combat and magic, bringing tactics and strategy to play. Over time there have been video games based off The Dark Eye which explore the lore of the universe and where combat utilizes the rules et of TDE. One of these games was Blackguards, from developer Daedelic Entertainment. Blackguards was a dark, gritty turn-based strategy RPG where you would lead a team of social misfits into battle within a hostile and dangerous world. The game was met with mixed reception but thankfully, Daedelic listened well to the criticisms and have now come out with a sequel to the RPG: Blackguards 2.
In Blackguards 2, you are Cassia; a young woman of nobility who has been incarcerated for crimes unbeknownst to her. Her time in the dungeon does nothing good for her sanity; the more time she spends in the decrepit dungeon, the crazier she gets. Cassia finally decides that she will rule the Shark Throne even if for just one day. She soon escapes from prison and becomes more determined to rule than ever. In order to do that, she’ll need to enlist the help of the original Blackguards, recruit soldiers and subdue territory if she wishes to challenge the current ruler Marwan, for the right to claim the Shark Throne.
Your objective in Blackguards 2 is to conquer territories piece by piece with your party and your soldiers, and hold them against invaders before drawing your armies closer to Marawan. You’ll recruit your main companions who will accompany you during your travels: Zurbaran, Naurim, Takate and Faramud, each of whom have a lengthy criminal record and a thirst for power, making them perfect candidates for Cassia’s mad quest to rule. Your main companions specialize in certain skills and talents; Zurbaran is an excellent magic user, Naurim is a powerhouse with his axe. You learn new skills and talents through battle and trainers in various cities, unlocking a wealth of talents, skills and abilities for your party; from weapon skills to an arsenal of powerful, damaging, protective, and strengthening spells and abilities such as animal lore and laying traps. You can also buy new weapons from blacksmiths for your party, while training them in the use of the weapon. Taking certain territories will provide bonuses for you and your party, making it easier for you to storm the throne.
Upgrading your weaponry is essential to success in Blackguards 2. Strengthening your party with spells, weapons and new skills will turn your posse into an army so deadly that it’ll have Marwana crying for his momma as you continue to take his land away from him. Watch out though, as Marwana’s forces can take land back from you and failure to repel an invasion will result in a much harder time taking it back since Marwana’s soldiers will dig in deeper with better defences and more elite troops.
Combat is played out in a turn-based fashion within a field of hexagonal grids, much like it’s predecessor, and utilizes a revised edition of the rules of The Dark Eye. Black Guardians 2 offers many improvements, including a better line of sight and casting magic more successfully, which results in more enjoyable battles. You can now have up to 20 party members including all the heroes and your soldiers to take with you to battle. Arenas are very large and varied; from dark, dank dungeons to strongholds with winding pathways, traps and environmental hazards. As with many turn-based strategy games, strategy is paramount if you want to succeed in battle as everything surrounding you wants you and your party defeated. You’ll employ your weapons, your magic, your skills, and even the surroundings to your advantage to crush your foes and emerge victorious. There is a wealth of tactical possibilities to explore and whichever you employ will have you turning into a fierce battle commander that’ll make Marwan hide under his bed every night.
As you progress through the main story of Blackguards 2, you’ll also carry out side quests like finding a special item or investigating a disappearing person, even in conquered territories. These greatly influence your reputation and how the people perceive you. Sometimes your given charge of the outcome of an operation where the fate of the conquered peoples in your hands. Do you wipe out everyone living in the city or show humility and let them live? At your base camp you can talk with your party members and find out more about their history if they’re willing to open up. They’ll also have opinions on other party members, be it praise or disdain. Decisions you make with quests and party members will have certain repercussions amongst your men and the land which will affect the outcome of the game and give you a different ending which gives you plenty of incentive to go back and play again.
Blackguards 2 has expanded the mechanics of the first game rather nicely resulting in a game with much more polished and more complete gaming mechanics. It’s good fun to watch your tactics on the field play out so well and watch your forces get stronger. However, even though this is indeed an improvement over the original, there are still some snags which let the rest of the game down. For example, the difficulty spikes seem rather sporadic even on easy. The difficulty peak very early in the game and continue to do so throughout. Even in tutorial levels, enemies can become very difficult and may have you repeating the same battles over again.
Blackguards 2 unfortunately isn’t the most attractive game of it’s genre. Textures are muddy, the character models aren’t designed well and the special effects are rather underwhelming. The art direction is gritty, dark and brooding and areas have unique, interesting designs, but technically the graphics aren’t presenting the art direction very well.
Blackguards 2 uses its predecessor as a base and improves on it in almost every aspect. With simplified character progression, faster and more intense combat and a dark storyline with likeable anti-heroes, Blackguards 2 will no doubt have something for both armchair generals and RPG adventurers. If you want a turn-based strategy RPG full of adventure, intrigue and conquest, grab Blackguards 2 and help Cassia sweep aside her enemies to claim the Shark Throne.
This review is based on a digital copy of Blackguards 2 for the PC provided by Daedalic Entertainment.