Blackguards 2 Review (PC)
In the opening moments of turn-based strategy game Blackguards 2, you bear witness to a scene of a kitten being murdered and thrown out of a window. It’s deep with implication, unpleasant, entirely unfun, and a perfect metaphor for what you’re in for with the rest of this game.
In Blackguards 2, you play as Cassia, a noblewoman dropped into a labyrinth and forced to endure years of torture as a prisoner until both her mind and body are broken. Once she's been sufficiently toughened (and deformed), she escapes and latches onto the only desire she can remember: the desire to rule. To accomplish this Cassia teams up with slavemasters, executes people, and causes quite the villainous ruckus. Make no mistake about it— you’re playing as the bad guys here… and that can be great when done correctly. In Blackguards 2, however, there are so many loose threads and empty patches of story that you’re unlikely to care about much of anything. Cassia hangs out with bad people and does bad things, but there’s very little explanation to the why of it all. These story flaws, though dire, would be a bit more excusable if there was any joy to be found in the gameplay, but it’s as black and shriveled as Cassia’s heart.
There are countless abilities to master and quirks of the turn-based combat system to familiarize yourself with, but Blackguards 2 does an absolutely abysmal job of introducing them all to you. Several aspects of the game are dumped on you simultaneously early on, making it difficult to absorb, and plenty of the more nuanced elements, such as character upgrades and abilities, get little to no explanation. Character customization is flexible and deep, and could be rewarding if you've the patience to stick things out long enough to figure out what everything does. Unfortunately, the combat is so unsatisfying you probably won't want to put in the time or effort. Characters attack and cast spells without fanfare; it’s all grunts and pops from start to finish.
The battles often take excessively long due to how restrictive character movement is, and the ridiculous inaccuracy of the attacks. Be prepared to miss a lot, and for no reason other than to artificially extend the length of battles. Many of the earliest battles come with victory conditions that actively punish you for fighting your enemies. Reach point A, throw lever B, cross bridge C, etc. During a time when the developers should be trying to reel you in by showing off how rich and strategic combat can be, you're instead rewarded for ignoring enemies and walking your way to victory. Later, more combat-oriented battles do feel better, but they still drag on far longer than they should, and don’t offer enough reward for the amount of time they’ll cost you. In comparison to more recent turn-based strategy titles such as X-Com: Enemy Unknown, Blackguards 2 feels archaic in the worst ways possible.
The audio/visual side of things don’t fare any better. While your main character is ugly due to the poisonous spider bites she endured during the prologue, the rest of the game has no excuse. Most backgrounds and characters are the sort of drab, uninspired low fantasy fare you can find in countless other games. The soundtrack’s primitive beats and chords fulfill the barest requirements to qualify as music.
With as many spiders as you face off against at the beginning of Blackguards 2, you might expect them to have caught some of the bugs plaguing this title, but alas, it isn’t so. Many of the graphics options took some serious fighting with to get them to work. You would select an option, the game would tell you to restart it to get it to go into effect, and you would confirm, only to have the game revert your graphics to the previous option. I had to repeatedly adjust the game to get its resolution correct, and getting it to work seemed completely random, as I did nothing different. Also, the game would occasionally lock up at the end of battles and not allow you to continue. With battles that can drag on for thirty minutes or more (during which you can't save), having to repeat what you've just done is an unforgivable error.
Blackguards 2's plot is an unpleasant, dull mess that’s grim for the sake of trying to seem mature. The combat’s boring, overly long, and lacks excitement, and the deep character customization seems to delight in its obtuseness. There's just not much to like here even for the hardest of hardcore strategy fans, and what little there is to like comes buried under hours of tedium. Skip this game with extreme prejudice.
This review was based on a purchased digital copy of Blackguards 2 for the PC.
[A previous version of this review used images from the first game, and have since been replaced with the correct images from Blackguards 2. - Ed.]