Blackguards 2 is based on the Dark Eye lore, a German RPG created by Ulrich Kiesow which revolved around a beautifully fleshed out world with oodles of detail and even managed to outsell the iconic Dungeon and Dragons franchise in the German market. The game entails a rather archaic approach with its hex movement system and methodical turn-based combat. Blackguards 2 aims to retain the tense, tactical undertones whilst streamlining the core gameplay mechanics.
In Blackguards 2, you play as Cassia, the wife of tyrant Marwan who was deviously cast aside to extend his lust for power. The story begins suddenly in a bleak and desolate prison below the Mengbilla Arena with Cassia trying to fend off the ghastly spiders who are poised to her kill. As time progresses and Cassia makes a futile attempt to escape, the spiders slowly poison her synapses and she descends into insanity. Eventually, Cassia escapes and hires fellow rogues in a desperate attempt to rule Mengbilla at any cost. I personally found the plot to be captivating and this was probably helped by my total lack of knowledge about Cassia’s history. The introduction is significantly better if you feel unsure about Cassia’s past and how she ended up in such a squalid place.
Some players may feel disgruntled as you can no longer create your own unique character. This restricted model is fairly irksome as upgrading a custom individual made from scratch is usually a more satisfying option. On the other hand, I feel being locked to the main character vastly improves the story and squad interactions.
As a newcomer to the series, I was a little perplexed with the leading protagonist and references to characters from the previous game. For example, Naurim the dwarf is presented to you in the early stages and no information is given about his background or previous actions. This also applies to Zurbaran and Takate who according to my research had a key role in Blackguards. While this confused me to no end, it does offer a lot of fanservice and Blackguard veterans will be overjoyed to see a level of continuity between the two games.
One of the finer points throughout Blackguards 2 is the charming dialogue and humorous voice acting. Conversations from the offset are a memorable occasion as the guard exchanges quips and remarks on your mental condition. Other notable figures like Naurim would be quite mundane if it wasn’t for the striking voice talent on show. Despite this, the story can become a jarring mess at times as members of your squad appear without any formal introduction.
The gameplay remains remarkably similar barring a few tweaks to improve pacing and reduce the frustration levels during longer battles. You control a number of figures who move along a hex grid and perform commands before your turn is completed and the enemy can instigate their moveset. You can attack, defend, pillidge resources and explore new locations behind locked doors, drawbridges and other intriguing locations. One major improvement to the combat is the new cover system which allows you hide behind obstacles to reduce the hitpoints from enemy strikes.
This is integrated in a natural way and I found it invaluable when trying to dodge long range weapons. Another fantastic element involves destructible items which adds a certain tactical flair to the contests and makes the combat less monotonous. For instance, if a group of foes are within touching distance, you can aim an arrow at a nearby rock formation and obliterate them in one turn instead of traditional moves which might take 2-4 turns.
Other advancements include a better line of sight making it easier to target enemies and set up astute tactical formations. There are times though where the linearity of certain levels becomes far too abundant. During one confrontation, you are instructed to lay down traps on the right side of a particular map. Then, it comes to fruition that the guards are breaching from the left side making those traps a hazard to your escape. As a result, this gives you a tactical edge if you replay the level and approach it without laying down any traps. This made me feel aggrieved as you lose the battle due to scripted events instead of your own strategic mistakes. Thankfully, this isn’t a common theme but when it does occur, it makes the game less appealing.
Perhaps the most glaring issue in Blackguards was the ludicrously unfair Dice system which periodically altered your health or damage taken by enemies. This has been replaced with a percentile rating that gauges the probability of a successful action by hovering over your opposition. Daedalic Entertainment have chosen a more accredited way of tackling the combat hit chances and improved things for the better. I found it a lot more invigorating than the Dice mechanic from the last game.
There are a host of weapons to choose from including swords, daggers, crossbows, knives, spears and even a meat cleaver to devour your foes. Unfortunately, most of these feel remarkably similar apart from the heavier weight of larger weapons. What’s missing is the individual reactions to strikes with grossly different power effects, Furthermore, I can only describe the action as tame and rather sterile. A similar analysis can be applied to the pacing and length of battles. Frankly, they go on for far too long at a pedestrian pace and it massively disrupts the flow.
It’s almost impossible to avoid a sense of the game being lengthened by slow turn speeds and AI decision pace. This might be acceptable for players who demand a relaxing experience but it doesn’t really fit with the anarchic theme throughout Blackguards 2’s miserable world.
Blackguards 2 features a wide array of skill trees meaning you can mould Cassia into the character you want her to be. Destroying enemies and finishing battles rewards you with AP which can be exchanged for new abilities. These include heightened vigilance, endurance, better proficiency with weapons and mastery in magic. It’s the standard affair you would expect from a RPG and the selection of upgrades is fairly comprehensive. Therefore, you must spend the credits wisely and find a balance between attack and defence to succeed.
The UI in Blackguards 2 is clumsy, counterproductive and overly complex. Relatively basic commands require you to right click, hover over a pop-up section and then navigate to a circle before selecting another setting to perform an action. This insufferable system can involve 4 steps before you even perform a magic spell. Other elements like the inventory are cramped into the right hand corner and require a more vivid icon.. It does take some getting used to and comes across as painfully slow which doesn’t entice you into the grand battles.
Classical RPGs, similar to Blackguards 2 don’t rely on graphical fidelity and maintain a focus on keeping the grid clear so you can maneuver characters in an accurate manner. Nevertheless, it’s still important to adopt a suitable aesthetic design and Blackguards 2’s visuals are adequate but extremely repetitive and lacking in diversity which makes the game feel uninspired. I can say fairly confidently that a lot of assets from the previous game have been reused. The soundtrack fairs better and fits the game’s tone without distracting your thought processes too much.
The options menu is acceptable and has presets for Texture Quality, Shadow Quality, AF, AA, Terrain Quality, Post-FX and Vsync. For the most part, these options are decent but the AF is a simple on/off which also applies to AA. If I had to pinpoint both of these specific numbers it would probably be close to x4 AF and FXAA. Unfortunately, I cannot say for sure as there are no detailed variables.
On a more positive note, the game runs beautifully at 2560×1440 on maximum settings using a i7 4770K and 970 SLI setup but only one card was functioning at the time of review. This isn’t a major issue since the graphical fidelity doesn’t even require a single high-end discrete graphics card. There isn’t a window mode by default but you can force it by hitting ALT+Enter. Also included are separate volume sliders and 16:10 resolution support. Annoyingly, you cannot rebind the keys but I thought the default layout was a fairly sensible approach without any glaring errors. Blackguards 2’s largest technical shortcoming is frankly bizarre as the text in the menus, dialogue, and UI all seems to have some sort of blurry aliasing. It’s incredibly outputting and it started to hurt my eyes fairly quickly. Basically, the white text has uneven edges and it looks awful.
Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?
Blackguards 2 is a refined version of the previous game but it feels exceptionally iterative. The combat has been improved, although it still lacks a certain edge and the Dice system has been replaced with a fairer model. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the game per se but it is devoid of any personality or vibrancy. Nevertheless, Blackguards 2 is a competent if unspectacular tile-based RPG and would be a worthwhile purchase on sale.
- Time Played – 11 hours
- Widescreen Support – Yes
- Resolution Played – 2560×1440
- Windowed Mode – Use ALT+Enter
- 5.1 Audio Support – Yes
- Bugs/Crashes Encountered – Blurry Text
- Control Scheme – Keyboard and Mouse
- DRM – Steam, DRM-Free (GOG)
- System Specs – Intel i7 4770K, 16GB Ram, Gigabyte G1 Gaming GTX 970 SLI
- Game Acquisition Method – Review Copy
- Demo – No
- Availability – Steam, GOG