Daedalic Entertainment released the demo for Blackguards to help convince gamers that the new title is worth investing in while it trudged out of the Early Access program. I put in some time with the demo and managed to gather a little bit of an idea of what's in store.
So first up, the game's general design philosophy is quite similar to Final Fantasy Tactics, Fray, Betrayal at Krondor or, more accurately, a medieval fantasy version of Incubation. The hexagonal battlefields share a similitude to the early Fallout entries, and the game itself is heavily story-oriented.
Players will create a character, male or female, and have the option of outfitting their character with a stash of equipment, talents, skills and abilities. It's very similar to tabletop RPGs, as outlined in the recent article about the game's demo release.
I like the idea that you get to start and outfit your character with what you think best suits them, as opposed to the pre-roll stats and equipment you get whenever you select a certain class. Nice move, Daedalic.
After you go through picking your stuff, the game sets your character up as a murderer. Your first action in the game is punching a wolf in the face after it disembowels a princess. That's a rather unpleasant way to go... especially for a video game princess. Princesses usually just get kidnapped by giant lizards or apes. This is the first one to get gutted by a wolf, to my knowledge. This gory scene makes one thing very clear: this is no fairy tale.
After the main character gets mildly tortured, the player then transitions into fighting off some guards and then traversing through a prison to get some decent gear and get out of the place.
Now let me stop right here and explain that other than the combat sequences, players have zero control over the actual gameplay. There are some multiple choice segments as far as dialogue sequences go, but in between fights – for as far as I've played – the only choices you get is which mission node you're going to tackle next.
The large majority of the early part of the game consists of tutorials and setting up the story. Sadly, I'm interested in neither at this point of the demo, but I'll eventually transfer over my save game and give the game a more thorough whirl in the review copy that Evolve PR provided us with.
As for the gameplay itself... I like it. The hexagon combat is straight out of the 1990s, but the new-age addition of a wheeled option menu for skills, attacks and character choices on the battlefield is pretty neat evolution of the turn-based concept. Usually the entire bottom quarter of the screen is littered with boxed tabs containing skills, items, stats and a bunch of other stuff. The MMO-clutter effect, so to speak. Blackguards doesn't have any of that garbage and it's a welcomed addition, for sure.
In addition to basic stat-based combat, the game also sports environmental interactions, so you can do things like trip up opponents by forcing them to walk through mud, where can spend a few turns beating the living crap out of them while they struggle to stand up. You can put ropes on fire to drop chandeliers on enemies, or even free prisoners that might help you out during battle. I thought Daedalic did a pretty awesome job elevating the turn-based mechanics beyond destructible environments and the ho-hum cache of skills you get in just about every other fantasy medieval title.
Whether or not the game will elevate its momentum or become something more remains to be seen. But as I evolve from the demo to the full version we'll see whether or not Daedalic has a fully fleshed out world worth exploring for the price of entry.
The game is available right now but you can learn more by visiting the official website.