by Ingvi Snædal
reviewed on PC
A welcome change
The relative success of our subject’s predecessor, Blackguards, was not only due to its faithful translation of the popular The Dark Eye roleplaying system into a hexagonal turn-based strategy game, but also the story, its setting, and the moral shadyness of the world and everyone that inhabits it. While most games covered by the ‘turn-based strategy’ umbrella have a clear ‘good guy - bad guy’ dichotomy (through visual representation, actions, or both), it is, at times, difficult to determine who’s who in this world. The mad spider queen Cassia of Tenos brings that choice to you as you decide just how brutal she is and how madly she behaves. How will you go about conquering the Shark Throne?
Insanity becomes her
Having been locked away in the catacombs under the city by a man she once thought she trusted, she finds the only companions available to her are the spiders that dwell there with her. Knowing that nobody has ever lived long enough to escape doesn’t deter her from searching, all the while slipping further into madness. Is it the poison left under her skin by the spiders that nibble on her as she sleeps? Or is it the loneliness of being left there for years with no one to talk to but herself and the spiders she’s befriended? Regardless, when Cassia finally emerges from the catacombs through pure strength of will, her only objective is to rule the kingdom, if only for a day, no matter the consequences. But who will help her? Who will join her cause? The legendary gladiators who defeated the Nine Hoards might be of service.
The fact that Cassia is insane grants the player an interesting power of choice. I’m a player who always ends up playing a good guy, regardless of the surroundings I find myself in. I have, for instance, never picked up a prostitute in a GTA game, let alone beat her up afterwards for a refund. Knowing Cassia is mad, however, gave me the excuse to play her as a purely evil character, executing everyone I captured (after a thorough ‘advanced interrogation’ session, of course) and cutting down innocent civilians left, right, and centre. The plot does introduce some mediating factors later on in the story that are clearly designed to bring her back to humanity, but the choice is ultimately yours.
Simplified, in a good way
Once you’ve reunited three members of the famous band of mercenaries: Naurim, the dwarf; Zurbaran, the magician; and Takate, the indigenous head-hunter, you’ll start seeing where Blackguards 2 differs from its predecessor. The abilities system has been reworked and is now nowhere near as complicated as it used to be; the stats for weapons and armour are much easier to see and examine, leading to a smoother process of gear assignment; and class segregation has been removed, leading to a much rounder character upgrade system. What all this adds up to is a game that focuses on the story and combat while requiring less time playing around in the game’s various menus. Fans of The Dark Eye’s original system are bound to be a little miffed, but I don’t see it as resulting in any loss to character development in the game. If anything, you’re more free to design the characters as you intend to play them as opposed to making the best out of their rigid predetermined class specifications.
Intriguing story, morally ambiguous characters, vastly improved combat.
Some frustrating set battles.