"It's dense, attractive, and it's one of my top picks for E3 2013."
Daedalic is developing a turn-based Western RPG that plays like the original Fallout, but with the Dark Eye pen and paper rules. Be excited. Thank God such games are still made. Blackguards is a "very very dark take" on an already dark setting (it has "dark" in the name for heaven's sake), and this seems to be the case. Not only are the playable characters all murderers, thieves, and other scoundrels, but the opening cutscene also features a woman staring wide-eyed at the player while a wolfish beast devours her innards.
We were shown a variety of battles and maps, but I also had hands-on time with the beginning of the game. The game features a static world map and area maps, and cities are almost point and click-like (which should surprise no one). The developers decided to remove the exploration aspect in order to speed up the gameplay. I enjoy exploration, but not every game needs it. I appreciate variety, and in reality, this makes Blackguards more unique. With exploration, it might feel a little more like every other fantasy RPG, but as it stands, it most certainly does not.
Since there's not much exploration, battles are the most important aspect of Blackguards. There are story moments and character development, and even choices that determine character relationships. Battles play out on a hex grid in turn-based fashion, and each character has action points to spend each turn. A character can move and attack, for example, or move farther and not attack. The system preserves what I love about strategic pen and paper RPGs without feeling overly archaic. There are, of course, skills and magic as well, and we were told that there will be over 120 spells in the game. This is reminiscent of the old Infinity Engine games in which the spell descriptions took up a hundred pages of the manual, and that’s a wonderful thing.
There are three character class templates, but the devs ensured us that this isn't limiting. Indeed, these three classes are merely blank slates, and there are something like 75 different archetypes known in the Dark Eye universe, and players can develop their character along one of these lines. Of the warrior, hunter, and mage, I chose the warrior for my demo, although the player controls all party members, so this isn't a damning choice.
We saw a variety of battles, all of which highlighted different aspects of combat, most of which involved the environment or battle structure. In one, cutting a rope brought a chandelier down on the heads of two prison guards. In another, the characters released prisoners that proceeded to seek revenge upon guards. There are swamp holes to fall into, enemy spawn points to destroy, and plenty of destructables as well.
When I got my hands on the game, it didn't take me long to become comfortable with the controls after I learned and made a few shortcuts for commands. I didn't experience much character development, but it seems complex and satisfying. For example, a character's fighting style can be manipulated along a defensive-offensive scale. I flipped them all to high offense, which may be foolish, but I also threw a fireball at two enemies instead of blocking them with a magic wall that would have allowed us to flee. I earned loot and "adventure points" from encounters, which I believe take the place of experience points. I put points into a few skills, and while I'm not entirely sure what they did, I can't wait to find out.
Blackguards is retro without being sweetly nostalgic. It's nerdy without being overly complicated and opaque. It's dense, attractive, and it's one of my top picks for E3 2013.