by Ingvi Snædal
reviewed on PC
Let’s focus on the killing
Where the game truly excels is in its equally challenging, yet faster-paced combat as compared to the original. The calculations for spells and attacks have been reworked as well, for the better. While melée and ranged attacks are still prone to fail, spells hit every time as long as the caster is within range of his or her target. The chances for normal attacks to hit are calculated based on weapon type, enemy gear and abilities (such as shield or parry skill), the character’s weapon skill, etc., and the resulting percentage is displayed under the cursor as you hover over the enemy. Special attacks are limited, thanks to the new Endurance meter, and these will usually have a lower hit likelihood than standard attacks. This way, you’ll always be making an informed decision before you click the button as to whether or not the attack is worth it.
Holding down the ‘X’ button will display range and line-of-sight of your ranged units, allowing you to move them on the battlefield knowing what opportunities the new position will enable. While spells are more reliable now, resistances and vulnerabilities play a bigger role in their potential effectiveness. The combat certainly feels like much more of a consistently entertaining experience than the ‘good’ old days when three consecutive “Missed!” notifications could force the player (me) to rage-quit the game and clear the desk in one swoop.
Victory through conquest
Once you unlock the campaign map, you’ll get to experience Blackguards 2 in all its glory. Deciding which way to go as you make your way from town to stronghold, inching ever closer to the throne at Mengbilla, is made easy as the difficulty level of each attack is displayed as you hover over it on the campaign map. Potential character or unit specific bonuses are also displayed, helping with the decision of who to take along in the fight. Most maps allow you to bring a couple of mercenaries along, while others force you to send one of your party members on special assignments accompanied only by mercenaries. Choosing who to send can be tricky, as it usually means one of your party members will be otherwise engaged during the next plot engagement, which happens at the same time, storywise.
Bumps in the road
As you conquer the kingdom one city at a time, you’ll occasionally get a message that a counter attack in underway. If your heroes are residing in that town at the time, they’ll be invited along for the ride, but if that’s not the case, you’ll have to defend the city relying only on mercenaries. This gives you the chance to play a familiar map in a defencive role, but these sometimes become a chore as they momentarily halt the progression of the story.
Most battles pose an interesting challenge, but others have a ‘right or wrong way’ feel to them. This refers specifically to escape quests or snatch-and-grab missions, where a constant stream of enemies pours onto the map and your objective is to make it to a specific zone with all your party members intact (and as many rescued prisoners as possible, preferably). These maps tend to be more for the puzzle-solver who, through pure brilliance or trial-and-error, manages to find the secret formula which allows for success. Luckily, these are few and far between while the more open tactical battles predominate. Here, the ability to position your characters at the start of each battle truly shines. On certain maps, you’ll also be able to position traps to slow your enemies down or funnel them into an area you hope will be of tactical disadvantage to them. Chests and other interactive elements also appear on the maps, allowing you to take advantage of your environment and potentially earn bonus loot at the end of the battle. Holding down the ‘V’ button will highlight these elements in the scene.
A worthy heir
Blackguards 2 is an immensely satisfying turn based strategy game that brings an enticing story and high-quality balanced combat to the table. A few frustrating battles are easily suffered for the experience the rest of the game offers. Paying a spy for rumours, only to capture the subject of said rumours in the following battle and using the information against them during interrogation, thus unlocking a second access point in the coming battle makes you feel like a master of intrigue, and using your environment to weasel your way out of a no-win scenario makes you feel like MacGyver with fireballs. Although the systems may have been streamlined (a word we take -very- seriously here), this not only feels like a Blackguards game, but a worthy sequel to a beloved game.
Intriguing story, morally ambiguous characters, vastly improved combat.
Some frustrating set battles.