Betrayal, intrigue, conquest and madness, if pop culture recently says anything about us it would certainly lend credence to our love for those 4 things. We love stories that involve those sorts of things otherwise a series like Game of Thrones wouldn’t be as popular as it is. Blackguards 2 has a story that is utterly dripping in those 4 things we love so much and more. Blackguards 2 is developed and published by Daedalic Entertainment who also developed the first Blackguards, their previous games include a large variety of point-and-click adventure games such as the Deponia series and several games in The Dark Eye setting including the Blackguards series. However I have not played any of the previous games up until this point so I’m going into this series completely blind so please bear with me. So with that all said let us lose ourselves in the madness of Blackguards 2.
The game begins with our main character, named Cassia, waking up in a dungeon surrounded by spiders, I’ve always hated spiders, without being told why she has been cast into these catacombs to die. The first character you meet is an ill tempered prison guard who meets all your inquiries and pleas with all the contempt and ire of a worn out Buckingham Palace guard who just snapped after the upteenth time a tourist has pulled a face at him. After getting nowhere with the guard your next course of action is to try and escape, days turn into months, months into years and gradually you slip into an ever deepening insanity to the point where you have adopted a pet spider and named it after your cat and your features completely warped by the spider’s venom (this is one of those situations where I couldn’t make this up if I tried), also what’s this game’s obsession with bloody spiders?
The why’s of your current situation and what you’re about to do during the course of the plot become irrelevant to you because there is no why and this is not about revenge (as she will remind everyone as the plot goes on). The game’s story is engulfed in this bleak atmosphere and Cassia only continues to descend deeper into her madness, constantly questioning her every move and her obsession with wanting to rule, it’s this element that makes the story so compelling and interesting. Along the way you will encounter a select few of interesting characters who join you in your conquest some of which came from the game’s predecessor who are all entertaining in their own ways, the angry Dwarf named Naurim is a particular favourite of mine.
I absolutely adore the atmosphere in this game and the madness of Cassia, wanting to rule not for revenge but just because she can. The game also does a reasonable job at reintroducing and re-establishing recurring party members but the characters that didn’t make it into the sequel just get treated with “Death by Off-Screen-itis” and they don’t really go into much detail about them, they were in the previous game but now they’re not in this one and that’s that. At least I still got to know the characters and what they were like in the previous game and how their deeds carried over into the next title. The story stays interesting throughout the whole game and has a satisfying conclusion, although near the end of the game you’ll run out of things to say to your party members so you’ll either say nothing to them after approaching them or they will repeat dialogue. The story is well paced and flows nicely but it doesn’t really do much else with it’s cast and characters, Cassia is just mad and wants to stick it to the people who betrayed her and her companions only follow her because she made a promise to them.
While a good story is always welcome in a game the one factor that makes or breaks a game is the gameplay. Blackguards 2 is a turn based strategy RPG on a hexagonal grid and it does this extremely well in my opinion. The interface is simple and easy to learn but the game has enough depth to remain compelling and interesting, the AI is fairly intelligent and I imagine will be highly unpredictable in the higher difficulties although at one point the AI became that of a sea monkey and just ran back and forth allowing me to wail on it without resistance. Even in the most dire situations I managed to carve a path to victory using careful maneuvering and strategic use of spells although at times I had to repeat sections due to their difficulty. Combat flows beautifully and each encounter feels different and unique, no two battles are alike and there is firm context in these encounters.
Enemies are decently varied with their own tricks and nuances for instance giant walking trees covered in beehives which you can shoot off to use as makeshift traps, animated sand monsters that can swallow people whole until they move out of the hex that once had a unit on it. These monsters are initially hostile but once you learn the melodies you can convert them to your side by using a specifically placed organ on the map however they need to be standing in a magic circle in order for this to work, no seriously that’s literally how it works! Some encounters are harder than others but nothing was truly unfair even if it seems that way as there is always a way around every dire situation and if you feel you botched your encounter you can just restart the battle via the in game menu. As far as encounters go none of them are random, everything is set down a linear path that you can access from the map screen however most encounters can be skipped and you can take a more direct path towards endgame although I wouldn’t recommend it as it would be like trying to siege the Alamo with nothing but a twig and wearing nothing but your underwear as encounters will offer you permanent buffs and will also level up your Mercenaries as you cannot level them up or equip them from the camp screen. The buffs you’ll receive range from Tier upgrades for your Mercenaries to speed upgrades for all units to new items available to your camp smuggler(your mobile merchant).
Aside from the map screen you can enter your camp where you can talk to your party members, equip them for upcoming fights, interrogate prisoners that you will capture throughout your conquest and purchase new skills from the character sheet via Trainers. The skill tree in this game is fairly large and varied enough to cater to all playstyles but is really restrictive in terms of usable skills excluding spells as most of the skill variety is in the passive trees. This leaves melee and non-magical ranged combat rather stale at times offering little variety or nuance, even dual wielding feels limp and lacks the badass feeling of wielding two mighty weapons at once as it’s just sword and board without the board. Magic on the other hand has plenty of options, from healing spells and buffs to powerful arcane devastation that has very nice effects and impact.
Magic is easily the best thing about this game especially the fire spells, they have the most impact, they do the most damage, they look really awesome and did I mention that magic cannot be dodged? This is a double edged sword however as enemy mages will lay waste to your forces. However there is a caveat to using magic, you have to keep a mobile mini bar filled with Astral potions wherever you go because you will run out of Astral Power(or Mana) very easily if you use your magic too frequently especially if you use the higher tier spells. I’m guilty of doing this as the temptation to just spaff magic everywhere is very enticing but it comes at the risk of not being able to deal with more dire situations because you’ve used up all your resources and passive regeneration can only do so much for you.
Aside from magic and melee skills what the skill tree also offers are skills involving detecting, disarming and laying of traps, initiative boosts, armour skills and weapon skills all of which cost AP or ability points which are acquired from beating encounters. Interrogation is one of my favourite features of the camp, after you speak to a prisoner you have to guess what will make them reveal their secrets by listening to their reactions, you can intimidate them if they’re cowardly, you can lie to them if they’re resilient but naive or you can make them an offer if they’re not swayed by the previous options, once you learn their secret you can either let them go or you can hang them because you don’t trust them, or you can do neither and they will just sit in your camp until you either kill them or release them, my only gripe with interrogation and interacting with prisoners in general is a lack of torture but it’s only a minor issue and it didn’t hurt my experience.
Much like everything else in this world it is not perfect, there are some minor gripes I have and one rather major criticism I have. As far as the minor gripes go I found that some enemy abilities are not very well balanced such as one particular type of unit can relocate to anywhere on the map with no cost whatsoever, movement is perhaps too streamlined and is very unforgiving towards misclicks but there is no way to undo your botched attacks, while movement requires two clicks to initiate, attacking only requires a single click and when an enemy occupies the same hex as the hitbox for a bridge say, it’s very easy to accidentally click on the enemy instead of the bridge and you cannot undo that mistake without restarting the whole battle, in a game like this misclicks are very common but this game’s attitude towards this is to just deal with it. I can see why they made it that way but it did hurt my experience a little.
There is also a minor hangup with the camera, you cannot zoom in or out or pan the camera, it’s fixed on a single position which can get very perspective screwy at times and it makes line of sight difficult to read.Another problem with it is, going back to my misclick point, it’s very easy to accidentally click on a destructible object when you intended to move, you can alter the camera pitch to a purely overhead view but this limits battlefield visibility. However my biggest problem with this game is that many encounters just feel artificially padded, certain encounters will just constantly drop enemies on top of you until the game is satisfied with your Rambo-esque body count. It often feels arbitrary and like the game is just dragging its heels just to pad the play time, one encounter near the end is notorious for this and it just wore on my patience heavily.
With all that said though, I did enjoy my time with Blackguards 2 and hope to play through it again on a higher difficulty with a different build, sure I got frustrated at it but that’s not because the game was unfair or poor. If you enjoy turn based strategy RPGs then definitely pick this up, the game clocks in at around 20 hours if you choose to conquer all available settlements and cities. It’s challenging, well written and paced and very very satisfying, the ending in particular was something special and very memorable.