Blackguards Preview

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Independent
Developer:Daedalic Entertainment
Release Date:2014-01-22
Genre:
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
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What helps to make the battles interesting is that you can find interactive objects on the battlefields.  Stacks of crates can be knocked over to create weak walls, treasure chests can be opened for loot, and chandeliers can be dropped on the heads of soldiers.  The interactive objects mean that some battles work like puzzles or mini-games.  For example, at one point you need to advance a character to the opposite side of the battlefield within five turns while your opponents try to stop you.  At another point you need to defeat some cave lice, but they keep coming up through holes in the ground, and you can't win the battle unless you push objects into all of the holes.  There are also environmental objects, like bee hives and mud pits, that can cause problems for the characters unwary enough to wander into them.

At the end of each battle, you earn some advancement points and usually some loot.  Loot comes in the form of potions, armor, and weapons.  The armor I saw was pretty basic, just affecting defense and encumbrance, and weapons were the same.  My impression of the Dark Eye setting is that magical equipment is supposed to be tough to come by, and if so then Daedalic is holding true to the source material, and they've resisted the urge to make the game into a loot-apolooza.  But some more variation would be nice.  My hunter saw short bows and long bows, and that was it.

To give you a reason to seek out the battles, there are of course quests for you to go on, including side quests for your companions.  The writing for the quests is good but not great, but nicely your companions get to take part in the conversations, and their lines help to give them more depth.  For example, the human mage is a smooth-talking lothario type, and his motivations differ wildly from the more straightforward dwarf warrior.  Most of the dialogue is handled by your character, though, and I didn't notice any instances where your skills or attributes make a difference.  Unlike some other Dark Eye games, Blackguards doesn't include the skills for fast talking or haggling or anything not combat-related.

Interface

The interface for the game is straightforward.  You use the WASD keys to move the camera around the battlefield, you left-click to attack, and you right-click to bring up a context sensitive menu that includes all of your possible actions (including special attacks, waiting, and skipping your turn).  You can also use hotkeys for most actions, including the spacebar for waiting, the enter key for skipping your turn, and the V key for highlighting interactive objects on the map.

Nicely, each character gets a hotkey bar where you can put their skills and spells.  There are 12 slots in the bar (mapped from 1-0 and including Q and E), which is more than you're likely to need.  It's always nice when a game has too many hotkeys available rather than not enough.  I found the interface to be effective during the time I spent with the game, and I didn't have any trouble running the battles.

Graphics and Sound

The graphics in the game are competent.  Cities are shown on one screen, where you just click on the people you want to talk to.  Each battle location is unique, and you visit a variety of settings for them, including a prison, a cemetery, and a swamp.  The character models made me think of the Neverwinter Nights engine, where they look nice enough from the game's most typical bird's eye view, but then not so much from the zoomed in cutscene view.  Among other things, the character models don't have moving lips (or any facial animations), which seems out of place for a modern game.

The sound meanwhile is of about the same quality.  All of the dialogue is voice acted (including everything from the male and female versions of your character), and the actors do a nice enough job with their lines, although at this point not much in the way of acting is needed.  If you don't like the sound or if you're hearing impaired, then the game also comes with a full complement of subtitles so you can follow along that way if you want.

Conclusion

Blackguards still has a lot of work that needs to be done.  Daedalic will need to continue polishing the text (it was in a terrible state when I first started playing, with typos, untranslated phrases, and missing text being all too common, but the first patch took care of a lot of those issues), working on the interface, and balancing the classes.  Right now warriors seem to be way more powerful than hunters or (especially) mages, but I don't know if this means that certain skills or classes need work, or if like in a lot of RPGs warriors start out strong but then get bypassed by the more complicated classes as the game progresses.

If I had to evaluate Blackguards right now, then I'd say it looks like it could be a fun little game.  It feels more like an RPG to me than a tactical strategy game (despite the structure), and a lot will depend on how well the mystery in the main storyline plays out.  You don't learn much about it in Chapter 1, as the majority of your time there is spent dodging the authorities and making your way south to meet with somebody who can shed light on your situation.  If the story can provide enough twists and intrigue to keep players guessing, then I think it and the combat can complement each other enough to make the game enjoyable.

Chapter 1 took me about 8 hours to complete, and so the full complement of five chapters might take around 40 hours, which would be fine for the game's $25 asking price.  Look for the full version of Blackguards to come out sometime around the end of January.