by Ingvi Snædal
previewed on PC
System in shape, characters not so much
Blackguards was a very good game. That being said, it was not without its flaws. I for one am extremely unlucky when it comes to any element of chance and kept having spells fail as I tried to cast them, causing me to rage-quit more often than I can remember (You're not alone -Ed). This, however, as well as many other problems have been addressed in the sequel, in addition to multiple other improvements which will undoubtedly make for a thoroughly familiar yet foreign gameplay experience.
You'll play as Cassia, an ambitious woman who seeks the Shark Throne for herself and decides to recruit the legendary defeaters of the Nine Hordes to her cause. Time has not been kind to our heroes, however, as they've all found themselves out of practice, out of hope, and out of touch with their inner warriors. It is up to you to bring them about and show them that there's still glory to be had. Although the characters are familiar, you will regrettably not be able to import your companions from the previous game into this one. They will need to get back into shape to be of any use to you.
Improved battle mechanics
The game will feature the familiar Basic and Expert modes, the latter of which will allow you to customise your character class based on the detailed rules of The Dark Eye RPG system. Unlike the first game, however, the world map is freely explorable from the start. As Cassia and her team of Blackguards attempt to secure the Shark Throne, you'll have to engage in territorial warfare as you attack cities and defend those you've already captured. You'll be able to make informed decisions before you attack, as the results of successful attacks are clearly displayed before an attack is made, in addition to its difficulty level, allowing you to easily make decisions based on the risk vs. reward factor of each stronghold. City defences can be customised to a certain extent. Traps can be lain, units placed, and walls can be built to halt an aggressor's advance. The path you take to reach your goal is yours to choose. Be warned, though: the decisions you make have an effect on the story and you can easily make the wrong choice, resulting in serious harm to your cause.
Before each battle, mercenaries can be hired to boost your forces. Up to 10 friendly units can partake at the start of each battle but as with the previous game, some maps feature captive characters and creatures that can be released to fight on your side. Demons are introduced to the game which, although initially hostile, can be charmed to fight on your side by solving environmental puzzles on the surrounding battlefield. They can jump from one part of the map to another, so they are not only extremely dangerous foes, but make for handy allies. Four-armed insectoids will also fight against you, carrying four weapons or two two-handed weapons, which are also able to fly from one end of the map to another. These fast-moving, hard-hitting foes are sure to pose a challenge to even the most accomplished tactician. At the later stages of the game, you'll even be able to use spies to your advantage.
Starting units can be placed freely within a predetermined area on the map at the beginning of the battle, which means you'll never have to start a game with your archers standing in front of your rushers, or mixed up randomly as though you'd just dropped in like a bunch of amateurs. An endurance bar has been added to the character portrait during battle and will limit your character's stamina during engagements. If you run out, you won't be able to do power blows, for instance. Statistics and changes in character abilities have been made much easier to read and manage as every statistic and outcome is displayed clearly in the interface. The weapon skill system has also been made easier to read and attributes made much more legible. In addition to new weapons and gear introduced in the game, your weapon's health will also play a role in its effectiveness. Cover mechanics have been implemented as well, which means that characters can take cover behind objects and mêlée fighters can take cover behind their shields. The newly implemented line-of-sight tool will allow you to see how easily an archer will hit his target and where specifically on the map he can shoot at any given time.
Importance of logistics
When outside of battle, you'll always be able to enter your party's camp. There, you will have access to a merchant, a trainer and a healer; functional characters that used to only be accessible in towns. As you progress in the game, more and more characters will join your camp allowing you to do more of the daily errands straight from there as opposed to travelling into town. In the camp, you can also interact with prisoners you've captured along the way. You can question them, torture them, bribe them; anything you need to get information about the enemy's defences, placements and movements, to name just a few examples. The information gathered from one prisoner during the presentation, for example, gave the player the opportunity to flank the enemy right from the start by giving him an additional area on which to place his soldiers at the start of the battle.
The word “streamlining” always bears with it the connotation of dumbing things down, making them simpler and therefore less intellectually stimulating. Considering the amount of elements the developers have added into this game, however, I'm going to use the word “tweaking” to describe what they've done here. Blackguards 2 appears to be quite an improvement over its already good predecessor and we look forward to seeing more of it in the months leading up to its release.