This hex-grid CRPG is one for the older PC gamer.
By David Wildgoose on June 17, 2013 at 2:35 pm
In an E3 full of “next-gen” 3D engines “taking it to next level”, it was somewhat startling to stumble into the tiny Daedalic Entertainment booth and be greeted by the sight of a humble hex grid. Startling yet, after three days of sprawling open worlds, incredibly refreshing.
Blackguards is the latest CRPG adaptation of the German pen and paper role-playing system The Dark Eye. Although relatively unknown outside of Germany, The Dark Eye has spawned a number of successful RPGs over the years, from the Realms of Arkania series to the more recent Drakensang, as well as the point-and-click adventure Chains of Satinav. Blackguards presents another RPG take on the Dark Eye system, mixing ’90s RPG sensibilities with a handful of more modern mechanics.
The E3 demo focused primarily on Blackguards battle system, since players will spend most of their playing time engaged in combat. Indeed, the developers revealed that combat is about 60-70% of the game. Battles play out across a hex grid in a traditional turn-based fashion. Each battle map — of which there are currently around 190, all with their own custom layout — occupies anywhere from a single screen to an area up to four times the size of your screen. Your party consists of seven characters at any time, five of whom can be deployed in combat, and the various battles we witnessed saw up to twice as many enemies on the field at the same time.
Each turn players can move, attack and use skills in a fashion similar to the recent XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Although born from one of three class archetypes — warrior, hunter and mage — each character in the demo we saw had their own set of skills, special attacks and spells that appeared to offer plenty of options beyond merely swinging a sword. You can also set in the inventory how aggressive or defensive you wish a character to be when using each weapon. For example, your warrior may sacrifice defence when wielding a staff in order to boost its damage output. However, in a nod to the realism that pervades the Dark Eye system, you can’t access items in your backpack during battle, just those you’ve readied in your quick-item slots. Another really nice touch is the ability when moving to set a specific path across the grid via a series of waypoints.
Battle maps aren’t simply static backdrops either. Some examples of interactivity we saw included: chests that can be looted mid-fight; barrels you can roll into enemies; beehives and swamp holes you can lure enemies into; even a heavy chandelier you can drop onto enemies. Some battle maps have optional objectives beyond defeating your opponents. One fight we saw took place in a prison where you’re able to free prisoners from their cells to fight on your side. The developers say that fleeing from battle can even be a valid option in some situations.
Outside of combat we saw a brief glimpse of the overworld map and the dozens of cities, villages and other locations you’ll fast travel between as you may your way through the game. The developers don’t give you an open world to explore, instead they want to focus on the important areas. In town you’ll be able to visit every key building or person from just a handful of screens, each packed with various points of interaction.
By eschewing almost all the “next-gen” features being spruiked elsewhere, Blackguards may not have attracted much attention at this year’s E3, but for those PC gamers hankering for a return to the kind of traditional tactical role-playing in the vein of Darklands it’s certainly one to keep an eye on when it launches in November.