Blackguards 1 & 2
Ever since I played “Das Schwarze Auge 3: Schatten über Riva” (I don’t have the slightest clue what the english title was) a full lifetime ago, I had a thing for the “Dark Eye” RPG whatever thing. So when I learned of the existence of Blackguards, I was interested right away. When they both were sold in a humble bundle for 5 bucks along some other games, while they were still ~40 on Steam each, I bought right away (yes I know, I’m a horrible person). I read a lot of bad stuff about those games (some of it turned out to be outright lies), so I went in with low expectations. So someone who paid 10 times as much as I did, might judge them in a very different way, but I have to say I was floored by how much I ended up liking them. These games are a very unusual mix of turn-based strategy, with RPG characters, story elements and decisions. I don’t think I have ever played a game which was exactly like this. While I know countless games focusing on any one of these elements, none of them really put all of those together in this way.
The game didn’t need as many combat encounters as it has (seriously, countless fights occur), but the mixture of exploration, overall story and character arcs kept me really motivated to see the end. Maps often deliver surprises and there are several cool little ideas in them. Arenas have traps, obstacles, enemies with different abilites, sometimes it’s necessary to understand how to attack/weaken an enemy, instead of just chopping away. The combat is surprisingly nuanced for such a game. Even in some other good strategy games it’s often merely shooting (the same) guns at enemies until they are done, move on and then repeat it in next battle too. With the inclusion of many familiar magic spells from the dark eye alone, this is a little bit more varied here.
What I also really liked is that they didn’t just repeat the formula exactly for Blackguards 2. In fact I was, again, quite surprised (the perks of going into something entirely unspoiled). Blackguards 2 offers a much more character centric experience. Where B1 was a more “open world” with side-quests and a customizable main character, B2 is all about Cassia and her struggles to get some revenge/justice. As usual with such priorities the story gets more intense and rewarding, but also more limited in some ways. B2 doesn’t really have the kind of side-quests anymore, that could be found in many places in the first game. But that’s okay, Cassia is a really well-written and intriguing character, but despite that there are still quite an amount of decisions left, that will allow the player to influence her path. They really did something with the dark eye license there. I always listened very carefully to her conversations with other characters and especially her awesome soliloquizing.
The fights too were amped up with even more variations and they now even incorporate more consequences from earlier player choices. I was really surprised when at some point, during an attack, local peasants showed up and yelled stuff like “For Cassia! Fight the oppressor!”. Of course they only do that if you didn’t loot their cities earlier. It’s moments like these that make choices feel meaningful and add to the fun of the game overall. Little decisions even shape the ultimate fate of Cassia’s companions. I was really sad to see it end, but was also glad to have played it. I finished both games in under 2 weeks, I think and I didn’t play anything else during that time. It always says a lot if I can stick with something until the end, not succumbing to any distractions. I even thought briefly if I should play these again (especially 2 makes me wonder – somehow it never feels right to me to watch alternative endings on youtube), to try different things, only the thought of the countless combats (they can be a lot of fun too, but… THERE ARE SO MANY OF THEM) made me curb my enthusiasm. :D Maybe in a year or two, cool-off phases are good. :)