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[Disclosure: A review code from the publisher was provided for the contents of this article]
Dying is inevitable in most games; it happens at some point, sooner or later. You have to die. It's the way of things. Sometimes, however, dying is the sort of brought-about frustration that can make or break the charms of the game; the appeal of the game; the lifeblood of the game.
Demon Souls (or Dark Souls) carved out a niche as an action-RPG with balls. You died and you died a lot. Blackguards is the sort of game that aims to fit into that same category, except for turn-based strategy games.
Now, I've only made it to chapter 2, which is sort of early into the game. The good and bad is that Blackguards' combat works, the strategy works, the tension of hitting or missing the roll dice works (sort of), but it's all kind of tested against this absurdly harsh difficulty brought about from the game's linearity.
The story drives forward with very little player interaction, save for a few spots here and there. Majority of the choice only occurs in between story segments, where players will get to choose and customize equipment, skill stacking, stat tracking, talent trees and attribute attuning. Putting up one stat too high or too low could prove to make or break your team, which is why you can only save your game in between battles and not actually in the battles.
Even though I thought I was balancing out my team quite well, the problem is that I arrived at a point in the game where moderate stat balancing no longer mattered; you're either perfectly capable or not capable at all.
In all honesty, this design decision wears on me. I'm torn as to whether or not it's an artificial difficulty barrier or just me not better preparing for the unknown. In some way, the biggest blow in one part of the game is losing a key character for a time, which resulted in me losing my prime healer.
Unfortunately, the game doesn't allow for training like traditional open-map RPGs. You can't just grind some where and get stronger at your leisure or compensate by farming bad guys until the weakest member on your team is the strongest. Instead, you're subjugated to the battles that are confined to the narrative (or applicable side-quests). In result, this means that lacking the ability to grind up your stats or earn extra coin for certain niceties becomes restricted. In my case, I found myself in a huge pickle due to the restrictions of a certain battle encounter, and there's no real way around it because my team had been meticulously balanced around every character utilizing a specific role. Taking any single character out of the equation breaks the synergy of the team; and one of my teammates were taken out of the equation.
I'm not really sure if it's possible to recover my position where I am in the game, without doing some serious talent/skill/stat overhauls for some of the other characters. Unfortunately, I no longer have the spare attribute points or blacksmith access to make full use of my handicapped team. If there's a way out, it will require some serious thought-processing in utilizing a sound strategy to get the team through a series of incalculably difficult scenarios.
One thing is for sure: Blackguards doesn't skimp out on the strategy skill requirement. You will need to go in prepared and you will need to make sure your team is in tip-top shape at every turn of the board, lest you die and die again.
If the game sounds like your kind of thing, you can pick up a digital copy from participating e-tailers or learn more by paying a visit to the official website.