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Black Geyser: Couriers of Darkness is an isometric, party-based, real-time with pause RPG from GrapeOcean Technologies that was successfully Kickstarted back in 2018. A quick glance at any of the game’s screenshots makes it obvious that it draws its inspirations from the old Infinity Engine games, but also Obsidian Entertainment’s fairly recent Pillars of Eternity series.
Right now, the game is expected to launch before the end of 2020. And with that in mind, we decided to check out Black Geyser’s recently released Backer Beta and report our findings to you.
Story and Systems
By the looks of it, this beta represents a vertical slice of the actual game and not some standalone adventure. It lets you control a small group of premade characters and engage in diplomacy in a hostile city that’s being ravaged by a bunch of misfortunes. A plague, a rebellion, mysterious disappearances, cultists trying to summon all sorts of unpleasant things. Even the local mines are running out.
Speaking of the latter, you would think that a game inspired by Baldur’s Gate, a game that itself abbreviates into BG, would at least have the decency to not copy the basic premise of the Bhaalspawn saga. You see, while most of it takes place before the beta starts, based on some conversations and the quick manual bundled with the beta, I’ve managed to piece together what happens during Black Geyser’s intro.
You discover some truths about your origins and set out on an important journey. You predictably get ambushed, and before you know it, your half-brother you never knew you had kills your noble father. And this lands you inside a town that’s having problems with its mines.
If that description fills your mind with words like Gorion, Sarevok, and Nashkel, I don’t blame you. And if you add on top of it the fact that while never explicitly explored in the beta, Black Geyser separates its characters into Mortals and Demigods, these story similarities raise all sorts of alarms.
Admittedly, Black Geyser’s presentation, general atmosphere, and the actual sequence of events never actually devolve into a carbon copy of Baldur’s Gate. It’s just that once you look beneath the surface, the similarities become too apparent to ignore.
At the same time, the beta might not be representative of the final product. The above events may simply be a quick nod to Baldur’s Gate instead of the game’s main conflict. And finally, all of this may still very well change before the full release.
The beta itself lets you explore a handful of areas while working on a fairly robust quest chain and a bunch of minor side quests. Overall, you get a decent idea of what Black Geyser has to offer, even though the actual areas seem a bit on the unfinished and sparsely populated side at the moment.
And while the side quests are nothing to write home about, some of the twists and turns of the main quest chain show a lot of promise. One quest in particular, where you have to travel through time while dealing with certain limitations of time travel was very engaging. Especially if you consider that in order to resolve it positively, you'll have to pay attention to some seemingly random lore you stumble upon earlier on in the beta.
The moment to moment writing is also quite decent for the most part. I wasn’t sold on the beta’s call to action as you have no good reason to help the guy sending you on your big quest, but the lines themselves were fun to read.
However, one big issue I have with the game's writing is its naming conventions. Black Geyser takes place in a fairly standard fantasy setting, but for whatever reason, it pretends very hard that it doesn’t. It's like, if the game's story is based on Baldur's Gate, its world definitely follows in the footsteps of Pillars of Eternity with its unpronounceable pŵgras and fampyrs.
And I’ll be honest, I’m really not a fan of all these funky names that have no good reason to exist. Traditional fantasy names have had decades to establish themselves and so you generally know what to expect when you see a Rogue, a Barbarian, or an Elf.
You want to come up with some cool backstory for your world, an assortment of unique traditions, factions, and kingdoms? You go right ahead. Just don’t mess with the names. Calling your Elves Feldegugs doesn’t make their ears any less pointy, it just creates needless confusion.
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