Blackguards 2: review

We were more than happy with how Blackguards 2 was shaping up, save for a few minor hitches in the early levels of the game. Luckily, it’s still managed to keep its stride going into the full build of the game. It’s a challenging tactical RPG with a dark storyline, with no heroic protagonists. It’s very enjoyable despite the difficulty going awry in some areas.

The main characters in the game consist of a few who reappear from the original Blackguards but this time under the command of the central anti-hero, Cassia Corapia, a noblewoman out for revenge on her husband Marwan, who imprisoned her in the catacombs beneath his city. Left to rot, Cassia tirelessly searches for an escape, but sharing her new home with the spiders known as Corapias has led to their noxious bites slowly sinking her into madness. Eventually, she escapes and begins recruiting misfits to begin cutting a swathe through her ex-husband’s empire.

Before she gets to do any swathe cutting though, the early levels are arguably some of the most difficult, as they – much like the preview build – don’t give you much of an opportunity to drive character development in a way that will give you many advantages in these levels. It will likely still take a few attempts at these, just so you can meet the somewhat awkward-to-fulfill victory requirements.

The levels become far more lax in their difficulty once you break out into the world map. It gives you more direct control of progression and allows you to see to challenges when you want, to rather than pitting you against them when you don’t quite feel ready. There are times where you need to snuff out a threat early to gain a hefty reward but, for the most part, you get to do things your way. You do still get the occasional story battle that comes for you when you might not expect it, but at least it has the courtesy to let you prep your party.

A surprising amount of battles have more than just a ‘kill all enemies’ component and it makes for more interesting and memorable battles. “Bosses” in particular are quite interesting as they usually require a little more puzzle solving than most levels and may make you have to attempt the level multiple times before you crack a solution. Battles can degenerate into tedium at times, mostly when you fight to defend areas already claimed. These occur every three battles (unskippable story missions not included) and are Marwan’s attempt to reclaim lost territory; if you happen to inhabit the area chosen for attack then you can make use of your party, otherwise you have to rely on your mercenaries – whatever the state they may be in.

As you will only ever have proper control over the development of four characters, you have to make sure that you aren’t spending points frivolously when building them into their roles. Unfortunately they begin the game pigeonholed into those roles, with Cassia being the only exception. It’s two fighters, a mage, and whatever you want Cassia to be. Any remaining holes can be plugged by mercenaries later on.

The biggest issue with this is that there isn’t a huge variety of skills and specialisations for non-mages to delve into. You basically pick some skills to go with whatever weapon they are using and then work on buffing stats. It means that towards the end of the game they don’t really do anything that interesting in combat, other than fighting on the front lines by tanking damage and dealing out comparatively low damage themselves. By comparison, Mages have so much choice but so few skills to have at a level where they are particularly useful. It feels like there will always be a best choice of skills regardless of your wants and needs, especially as when you get a character, they already have points spent in a specific set of weapon or spell specialisations.

Moving onto equipment; it gives you a fairly large set of options but again, a lot of it is tied to skills as you will eventually be able to kit out most of your party with full heavy armour – if you can buy/find enough – without having to deal with many/any adverse effects. It doesn’t help that you often aren’t given new equipment to buy and even when you are you are you can’t always get a full set of an armour to get the much coveted armour set bonuses. Even mission or loot rewards scarcely get you much; often leaving you with really interesting parts but almost never full completed sets.

One of the most interesting features is the interrogation sections; usually if you defeat a particularly powerful foe who ties into the plot in some way, then you can give them the once over with your party once you return to camp. Each character has a different technique for influencing the prisoner and if you choose the correct one – which can be discerned through conversation or perhaps the compendium entry describing them – you gain at the very least some information. Unfortunately we only chose correctly once, which gave information that helped prepare for the mission the event led to but every other case left us devoid of any helpful titbits. So in those cases we had the choice of executing the prisoner or letting them go; we opted for the former in most cases.

It’s a dark and interesting story about revenge– which is also surprisingly well voice acted – and the way Cassia falls into madness is an odd delight, as you never quite know what she’ll decide to do next; it also allows you narrative freedom to be good or bad at any point without feeling out of character. That combined with plenty of interesting battles, a reasonably fair amount of character development and a rather challenging level of difficulty all the way through, makes Blackguards 2 a highly recommended Tactical RPG.

critical score 8

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Written by Sean P

I enjoy playing games and I enjoy writing things, so I decided to combine the two. I do bits here and there and have a twitter that mainly just announces things I've done as my life revolves around very little that is truly interesting.

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