There’s no shortage of episodic and multi-numbered titles in today’s gaming market. From Mass Effect to Dark Souls to our beloved Final Fantasy series, numbered titles are often heralded for their new stories and updated rosters. While Blackguards 2 is indeed a follow-up to the well-received original, it unfortunately stumbles on top of itself while trying to remain true to its predecessor.
Blackguards 2 follows the story of Cassia, a young woman thrown into a dungeon full of poisonous spiders with no explanation of her crime. Originally the trophy wife of Marwan, she goes mad and embarks on a quest to seek revenge against her husband, who now rules as king. Following our escape from the labyrinth-like cage beneath the capital, we begin raising an army. Fans of the previous Blackguards are immediately treated to returning faces Takate, Naurim, and Zurbaran. However, this is where my first and primary issues with the game arise. While these characters have of course fallen to different destinies since Blackguards, they are new and unfamiliar to those who haven’t played the original. With that in mind, any semblance of character growth is assumed to be pre-established. You’re given a few slight clues as to how far the mighty have fallen, but with no knowledge of their previous triumphs, I’m left with shallow characters who seem to have chips on their shoulders for no apparent reason.
Still, I came to know and appreciate the different temperaments of each of my new allies. However, I found myself enthralled with the main character, Cassia, far more than anyone else. As a vessel for character growth and a moral crux, Cassia’s story left me wondering who I might be if ever faced with similar circumstances. Like many, I typically err towards the kinder and forgiving protagonists. However, Blackguards 2 brought out a side of me that was unforgiving and brutal. Those who crossed me were taught lessons, and those who stood in my way, obliterated. More than once I was given the opportunity to let someone live, but if the blood god demanded death, I was more than happy to oblige.
Character progression and skill trees are simple and rewarding aspects in Blackguards 2. While each character isn’t completely customizable (you can’t make your warrior a mage, for instance — boohoo) leveling up and allocating skill points is an easy, streamlined experience. And it directly translates into how your characters control in combat and provides you with the opportunity to become a focused powerhouse. I opted for the fireball-slinging wizard route, and I was not disappointed. While controlling characters is a treat, waiting on enemies to take their turns is quite the chore. More than once I became stuck waiting on more than seven enemies to make their way across a large grid-based battlefield a few tiles at a time. These long battles are further complicated by the fact that several fights require specific objectives and strategies for victory. It may be necessary to race across the battlefield, or destroy specific objects, which can be frustrating when you figure those things out 10-15 minutes into a battle. Once I entered a battle with enemies that weren’t even on the grid, which left me spamming spells against them with one or two characters while the rest of my team was forced to skip turns and wait patiently. I also participated in more than a few fights with enemies that would continually spawn or heal to full each turn. While not the first game to use such a method for establishing battle parameters, the longer battles just become that much more tedious because of it. These gimmicks artificially increase playtime and cause battles to take much longer than necessary, which kept me from the story I had genuine interest in. While not always an issue, I became extremely familiar with the “Restart Battle” option because of this. Furthermore, you’re also tasked with defending previously captured camps. Yes, you heard that right; the game asks you to return to previous battles and participate in combat that won’t further the story at all.
Outside of battles, the art and dialogue of Blackguards 2 is engaging and fun. I thoroughly enjoyed the stylistic book theme included with each cutscene, and the narrator specifically does wonders for setting the tone. However, these great details can’t overshadow the artificial playtime and frustration involved with the battles or the lackluster amount of character depth. After reviewing the sum of these parts, I’m left with an experience more akin to DLC than an entirely separate game. Fans of the original Blackguards should most definitely play this title, but in a sea of amazing triple AAA titles continually releasing each week, most players are going to be more inclined to devote their time elsewhere.