Blackguards 2 is a turn-based strategy-RPG that promises to “deliver challenging hexfield battles and a gritty story filled with violence and crime”. The game starts with Cassia of Tenos being tossed into a labyrinth full of giant poisonous spiders that are guaranteed to kill or make mad anyone they bite. Cassia is a pretty hardcore dame though and fourish years and one 30 minute tutorial of spider bashing later, she is out, pissed and looking for vengeance on former squeeze Marwan.
The game is split between a number of hub zones where you can banter with your buddies, execute people and shop – pretty standard RPG fare and the battle arenas where you drop in a team and take turns beating on people until only you survive (hopefully anyway). The battles themselves are pretty fun and surprisingly tactical. Quite often it took a couple of turns before I knew the best way to beat my enemies, protecting a lever here or focusing attacks on a particular foe there. The first ten or so battles moved on at a good pace with me leveling up my heroes and kicking the old ex-hubbies butt. There were a few AI blips where enemies would inexplicably not fight back, preferring instead to crouch as you slaughter their friends then turn on them, but largely the computer was pretty canny.
Most battles have some props that you can use to your advantage, like bear traps, poisonous ground water or a big crane that you can drop on someones head, but don’t forget the enemy can use them too so it pays to keep an eye on your surroundings. Battles are rated in difficulty so you know where it’s best to go next. In the camp hub you can practice your tactics to make sure you always come out on top.
The hub is also where you’ll do your character customisation and there are a ton of options here for serious strategists to get their teeth into. Cassia can be a mage, an archer or straight up soldier or anything in between with a host of spells, perks and weapon talents to choose from. The rest of the crew come with some basic stats but you can really trick them out to best suit your own gameplay style.
Your mates in camp are a varied bunch, but they are all basically bad people, drug dealing dwarves, murderous mercenaries and lazy slaves. Take a town and the head of your mercenaries will want to loot and plunder, crushing the traitorous ‘maggots’ who continue to work to undermine you. You can lop heads off prisoners, slaughter innocents and set your own people against each other.
The characters come across well with some good voice acting and decent scripting. The wider story is enjoyable, if somewhat sparse on the details. I never really understood enough about the creators or some of the side characters to care about torturing and killing them.
So deep customisation, interesting characters and big wide world to conquer and ravage so far so good; there were, however, some issues…
The first one I ran into was where, after one quite long and tough battle, the enemy refused to take its turn, so I had to do the whole mission again from scratch. This was particularly annoying because there were a ton of enemies on screen and so each turn seemed to take an age while you waited for people to wander about. Similarly you move the screen using the traditional WASD or by moving your mouse but it moves painfully slowly and there doesn’t seem to be a option for speeding it up. However, all of this pales into insignificance before the might of the Adamant’s Fortress mission.
It’s a massive shame. I was really enjoying playing until I got to Adamant Fortress and the second part of that level is just broken. Playing it, you just feel cheated. It’s not tough but rewarding in a Dark Souls kinda way, it is just broken. You have to crack a bunch of crystals that are hidden behind some spikes controlled by levers and an effectively invincible sand ghost protects the end. If you’re lucky, you can get by and flip the switch but when you do they’ll just mind control the folks behind you before you can smash the crystals. Either that, or it’ll get the ghost to sit on them so they can’t do anything. Even knocking the difficulty down to easy it is still impossible. A dozen attempts and I got nowhere near beating it. Maybe if I’d come to it later in the game I’d have figured out a way to do it, but according to the hub it was the easiest mission I could take on! Unfortunately, it was so maddening that it totally sapped my interest in playing anymore.
The Good Stuff
- Interesting story and characters.
- Loads to do.
- Fun battles.
The Bad Stuff
- The Adamant Fortress mission is just plain broken.
- Combat can take a long time if there are lots of enemies.
- Some shonky enemy AI.
Blackguards 2 showed real potential, it had that ‘just one more turn’ gameplay that you get from games like Civilization, but there are also interesting characters, story and a richly realised world. Unfortunately the slow combat and broken Adamant Fortress mission really ruined the game for me.