Blackguards 2 is a game that embraces the slogan, “Evil is more fun.” The Blackguards series seems to enjoy placing you in the role of a morally evil, although sympathetic main character who subscribes to the belief system that the ends justifies the means. Blackguards 1 was favorably reviewed by critics for it’s adherence to The Dark Eye lore and it’s interesting single player story wrapped into a nice strategy RPG package. Can Daedelic Entertainment hit the same high notes of it’s first game or does it suffer from the sophmore slump this time around. Keep reading for The Dadcade’s review of Blackguards 2 on the PC.
Blackguards 2 begins with a very dark event. Main character Cassia is a noblewoman who’s husband chooses to cast her into a dungeon instead of divorcing her. Her fate is to go mad in the solitude or die by one of the many beasts found in the area. Four years pass and Cassia escapes, but with her mind a little worse for wear and her face…well, let’s just say she isn’t pretty anymore. Her quest for revenge will take her to far away lands and dangerous circumstances to recruit members to her party. Cassia isn’t a very nice person (at least not anymore), but you are sympathetic to her plight. For seemingly no reason, she was cast to the dungeons and left for dead with only poisonous spiders as her companion. She does some evil things, but you’re rooting for her from the start and you’ll find yourself agreeing with some choices that, if done by others, might not elicit the same type of response. The people who will join your party are equally dubious in moral standards, but each have a reason for the way they behave. They aren’t evil for the sake of evil, you can understand their concerns and why they act the way they do. The story was easily my favorite part of the game and is the reason I’ll be returning to it. I’m not a huge fan of strategy RPG games, but if the game has a solid story, I’m hooked from the get go. Being able to watch Cassia go from her lowest of lows and rise up to fulfill her mission of revenge is satisfying and will keep you playing when other games may have lost you with sub-par plots.
Strategy RPGs have a tendency to get a little complicated in some games. Blackguards 2 is definitely one of those more intricate strategy games that require a lot from the gamer from the start. The game is hex based where you’ll position you characters on the map and then proceed to complete an objective while taking turns with the enemies. If you played XCOM, you’ll have an idea of how it’s handled in Blackguards 2, except without aliens and their crazy guns. You can either move a set amount of spaces and perform an action or move further and forego your action in order to move further in a direction. In the beginning, it will just be Cassia as you begin building her into whatever character you like. I chose to make her a mage type character who used a sword and put a ton of points into her spell casting. It took a little to understand how to cast certain spells and the interface isn’t the most user friendly in the beginning. For starters, nothing is hotkeyed. You have to create your own hotkeys and shortcuts based on the skills you unlock. This isn’t a huge problem, but when you recruit new characters, you’ll spend time digging through a menu trying to understand how they operate. The learning curve is another thing that took some time to get passed. If you aren’t familiar with strategy RPGs, Blackguards 2 can be a little daunting in the way it approaches combat. You are thrust onto a map and not given much information on how to proceed. This will either be music to your ears or an absolute nightmare depending on the level of complexity you enjoy in your games. Even if you don’t dig the combat in the beginning, you should still give it a couple maps to sink it. I was extremely put off in the beginning but after a couple battles I was used to the controls and the UI and the battles flowed a lot more. The one thing that didn’t flow though was the length of battles. If there are a lot of enemies on screen, you’re going to have to wait for each enemy to move. Again, this isn’t a major knock against the game, just a minor annoyance if you’re impatient like I am. I found myself alt tabbing out of some matches waiting for the enemies to take their turns. It doesn’t take more than a minute or so, but when you have 3 characters and each do their moves quickly and then you have to wait another minute to play again, it can get a little tiring.
The characters and the world that Daedelic built is wonderfully realized. The dungeons are dark and foreboding while some of the outside maps are bright and beautiful. Each character that joins your party will bring a unique look and personality to your team and the interactions that take place in the hub worlds between maps are interesting to read. Through combat, you’ll earn experience points to unlock skills and items to equip for each character. These RPG mechanics are really well done and you can create each character how you want them to exist on the battlefield. As I mentioned earlier, Cassia was a mage with a sword in my party so I unloaded most of her skill points into the magic tree, but my gladiator guy was more of a melee fighter and I focused on attack and defense for him. There is a staggering amount of options to put points into and each further develop your characters and gameplay into new and meaningful ways. You will also unlock a ton of loot along the way and be able to equip your characters as you see fit. Most of your loot will be found through battles and in chests, but you can also buy from merchants in the hub worlds that exists between battles. The items start trivial, but over the course of the game they will become more interesting with some serious saving needing to be done in order to afford some of the better ones. You’ll see your characters change in appearance too as they equip new items, which is always great to see in games.
PC games are usually some of the most “dad friendly” games in existence. Strategy RPGs are even more friendly because of the slow nature of gameplay and the ability to let a game sit while you change a diaper or rock your child back to sleep. The game has a lot of violence in it (sword swinging, shooting arrows, etc.), but it’s nothing too gruesome that you’d need to shield your children from it at all times. The cutscenes might be a little dark, so that isn’t something I’d broadcast to the family. The game is very dark and has some strong language, but for the most part it’s not something you need to hide from your kids as actively as you would if it were Grand Theft Auto. I wouldn’t allow my child to play this game until he was older, but if he’s in the next room while you’re playing it won’t be the end of the world.
If you aren’t a fan of SRPGs, Blackguards 2 isn’t going to convert you. It’s for the more serious strategy gamers out there and the time investment to learn the mechanics, upgrade your characters, and experience the story should really only be for those who actively enjoy this type of game. There are many other “lighter” SRPGs on the market, especially the recently released Valkyria Chronicles, that may be more to your liking. On the other hand, if you crave a solid strategy game with a dark, but strangely compelling story – Blackguards 2 will be right up your alley. Cassia’s tale is dark, but it’s also not without sympathy on the part of the viewer and you’ll look forward to where her story will lead and not realize that the slaves you just acquired might put you in a morally suspect bucket. Oh well, there is vengeance to be wrought and these battles aren’t going to win themselves.