An impressive tactical RPG sequel that's as dark as a blaggards heart
Offering some improvements over the flawed original, Blackguards 2 is an excellent fix of dark RPG goodness and tactical combat. With a more streamlined approach to levelling and upgrades this Dark Eye universe RPG proves that you don’t need wet-eared heroes to create an epic storyline with interesting characters and the tactical gameplay is what will keep you engaged and gripped.
An impressive tactical RPG sequel that's as dark as a blaggards heart.
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Coming barely a year after the original Blackguards it’s easy to be cynical in these troubled times that developers are after a quick groat and ready to milk their franchise and fans dry. Blackguards 2 is a prime example of how a small team at Daedalic has taken the criticism of their first game, stripped out what didn’t work and given you the freedom to design and shape your characters how you like. A dynamic campaign map and fascinating protagonist complete the improvements.
For those concerned that Blackguards 2 might be a closed loop, only offering players of the first an entry into the world then don’t worry - the game has a very gentle tutorial introducing its tactical aspects through an interesting first couple of hours. In this time you’ll get to know the game’s main protagonist Cassia and watch her descent into madness, torture and revenge deep within a dungeon catacomb.
Visuals are impressive with plenty of crates to blow up if needed
This being a video game it’s not long until you escape and after being hideously disfigured through years of spider bites you plot your revenge to overthrow King Marwan who threw you down there in the first place.
Sound dark? It is, but thankfully Blackguards 2 has a great sense of black humour that means it never gets po-faced about what’s happening to its characters but it also has enough atmosphere to convey the Dark Eye universe when it needs to. A few characters from the first game return and the way you can manipulate them into helping your cause is an interesting introduction for veterans and new players.
It’s this thematic darkness of the Dark Eye universe that gives Blackguards 2 a refreshing take on the tactical fantasy genre. Cassia is no hero and her disfigurement caused by countless attacks by spiders in the introduction gives her a fanatical bitterness usually reserved for the antagonists of such fantasy tales. That each of the main characters are a mix of humour, selfishness and arrogance driven by little other than negative emotions makes this a great relief from such overly heroic nonsense that gets spouted in Dragon Age and other RPGs. That is not to say Blackguards 2 doesn’t have any character development or touching moments - it does - but being wrapped in such a dark blanket of vice makes those moments all the more meaningful.
If you’re not familiar, combat is turn-based, taking place on a hex-based grid with a large array of spells, skills, special moves and tiered weapon training to unlock and use. This gives you a large amount of agency to craft each character how you want with only a few restrictions aside. Improvements here make it easy to apply the experience points acquired through battle. Direct levelling of talents and skills is now possible and magic spells are now always casted successfully (previously an extra roll determined a successful cast).
Each character will earn individual CP which is then applied to whatever spell or upgrade you wish. It’s easy, simple and yet allows for a deep level of character customisation. I’m not going to lie - I was overwhelmed at first as there are four screens packed with different abilities to level or upgrade. But give it an hour or so and you’ll be getting hot under collar for the stat porn you can handle.
Some battles see you face off against monstrous creatures
It’s not all pleasurably cutthroats and grimy-arse bandit fun though, in the beginning Blackguards 2 drags its heels in a very frustrating fashion with a slow tutorial and an even longer wait until you unlock the main map. This is not a game-breaking pacing issue, especially if you’re prepared for a decent sized game, but what will stick a shiv in your eye is how difficult these battles can be.
The first battle after the tutorial is more of a rout and introduces the element of trap setting which comes to the fore later in the game. But here you’re tasked with fleeing Naurim’s home from bounty hunters many levels above you. It took me five attempts to complete after dropping the difficulty setting down to easy. I’m not averse to challenging battles but it seems the attempt here was to teach you the best method for this scenario but making it take two hours rather than 20-30 minutes is a drag. Being so early on in the game this is an aspect that could put players off which would be a mighty shame as Blackguards 2 is an impressive sequel.
With Cassia’s motivation purely to avenge her luck in life it makes the aim of overthrowing the king and wresting control of the land much more realistic and bloody. Though I’m not a sadistic dictator in real life (don’t ask my kids) the chance to do this in a game is surprisingly satisfying, especially when you can interrogate prisoners at your camp for more information and decide if you want to be merciful or as ruthless as Cassia is unhinged. These have a baring in the main game as a successful interrogation can unlock new units or secret passages, broadening the strategic elements of the game into more political ones as well. Do you act mercilessly to solidify your alliance with the mercenaries or be more benevolent and risk appearing weak?
As I outlined in my preview, the biggest improvement comes with the strategic map in the campaign. Here you’ll wage war against King Marwan and you’ll both be grabbing land, cities and more from each other. Now those territories you claimed will need defending with mercenaries and the way control of strategic areas can change makes the campaign feel more… alive, than the linear focus of the first game.
With this campaign comes another new feature - the defensive battle. Here you’ll have to defend a location, city or otherwise from counterattack by Marwan. In that first post-tutorial battle the game introduced the setting of traps and how interactive parts of the combat area are. This is where you have to use them to stave off an assault. On paper it sounds fairly decent and there’s nothing quite like funnelling hapless goons into a zone where you can take them down easily.
The campaign map is where you'll decide to go next - invade or defend?
Unfortunately it also takes away from the main thrust of the campaign which, to be honest, I’d rather be playing than marshalling a defence. I mean, surely Cassia can pay someone to do this for her? If you fail at defending in this instance then you’ll be forced to re-take the map against an entrenched opponent - a potentially annoying and much harder battle.
Aside from this negative Blackguards 2 is every bit the sequel the first game needed. The improvements and alterations allow you to get into and enjoy the tactical battles more than ever and the Dark Eye universe creates a complex and, frankly enjoyable, miserable world of nasty people doing nasty things.
BLACKGUARDS 2 VERDICT
Coming so soon after the first entry Blackguards 2 is a surprisingly packed improvement over the original, giving you the chance to dominate and rule over South Aventuria with all the bitterness and rage such a task would need. It won’t suit all newcomers to PC TRPGs and yes, battles can be brutal and unforgiving at times, but for those with even the slightest bent towards getting knee deep in stats and tactical battles then Blackguards 2 is a worthy purchase.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Away from the battles, Cassia’s insanity and dark mutterings.