Blackguards 2

The latest installment of the Blackguards series, based on The Dark Eye role-playing series from Germany, has graced my computer screen for many an hour as I crawled through dungeons and hucked fireballs, one turn at a time. The follow-up to the original turn-based RPG is brings along some of the darkness that fans of the first game have grown to enjoy.
Blackguards 2 begins with the imprisonment of the noblewoman Cassia. Cruelly kept in the castle’s dungeon labyrinths for four years, her mind slowly falls into madness, she befriends giant spiders and soon begins plotting her revenge on those who wronged her. Her initial escape from the dungeon works as a tutorial, ultimately offering more atmosphere and story than a how-to for gameplay mechanics.

The game is a revenge story played out through mix of depressing dialogue and strategic RPG action. Things are dark straight the gate, and you are asked to grab the reins and bring the kingdom to Cassia’s justice along with her group of newly-recruited misfits.

The game alternates between battle screens where the party fights in a turn-based format on a hex-grid, towns where a player can purchase new gear or upgrade skills, and voice-acted cut scenes that push the story along.

The developers at Daedalic Entertainment seem intent on letting you figure out the ins and outs of many aspects of the game on your own. Pop-up tooltips assist you in your first few dungeon crawls, but some of the UI just feels a touch sloppy to navigate.

Combat takes place along a hex-grid, with each friend and foe on the field taking turns based on their initiative to sling spells or club each other in the head. A full ring of skills/commands can be called up on each character’s turn, but the user needs to mouse-over each skill set and then select the specific skill they’re looking for which can feel sloppy at times.

Character customization in Blackguards 2 is actually quite nice, and there’s a lot of it to be had. Numerous skill and talent trees are spread across multiple tabs, allowing you to build out your characters with spells or weapon skills as you see fit. Levels are eschewed in favor of skill tree upgrades which can be performed any time you’re in a town or area of rest. Since almost every basic skill or spell is open for upgrade at the start of the game with a small experience point investment, you can play around and learn what kind of style you’d prefer.
Towns are a welcome reprieve between battles, but aren’t much to look at. In each resting spot, you’re presented with a single screen with options for upgrading, buying from merchants, or simply talking to the townsfolk. You won’t be doing very much exploring here, but the atmospheres are varied and nice to look at.

I hesitate to use the phrase “fun fantasy adventure,” because the game is so largely depressing. You feel awful for Cassia’s plight in the intro, but none of the other characters you encounter are particularly charming. In the time I spent with the game, I found myself not really caring for most of the characters I had under my control. Storywise, I really couldn’t have cared about the fate of half of them. The combat is entertaining, but the difficulty ramps from nonexistent to moderately stressful in a matter of only a few fights.
This game’s a great match for fans of grid-based or turn-based RPGs, tactical mayhem, and those looking for a dark fantasy story. If you’re looking for fast action, Blackguards 2 likely isn’t your match.