Taken individually, these turn-based skirmishes are fun enough (when the UI isn’t ruining it), but Daedalic works hard to ensure that the formula never grows old. Whether you’re traversing a booby-trapped warehouse or dropping an immense iron cage on a rampaging gorilla, most battles have a unique twist to them. It’s these wrinkles that keep the core gameplay fresh for Blackguard’s surprisingly long campaign.
The length actually works against Blackguards after a while. Once you get settled into the core gameplay, you’ll start to notice the cracks in the shell surrounding it. Travelling involves little more than clicking a spot on the world map, and once you arrive at your destination you’ll find little to do there. You can try having a conversation with the locals, but the limited dialogue options eliminate any sense of role-play. The inventory is a byzantine mess with no way to sort or filter to find the items you want, and the journal only rarely gives you the information you need. What’s worse is the number of bugs. The “Head” and “Feet” armor icons are reversed on the inventory screen. The in-game rulebook doesn’t work. Some dialogue options are still shown in Daedalic’s native German. Like the problems with the UI, none of these are game-breaking, but they do nag at you whenever you see them, and you see them pretty often.
As annoying as the bugs are, its the loading screens that will grind you down. Viewing the world map? Loading screen. Entering battle? Loading screen. Leaving battle? Loading screen. They are everywhere. You can not escape them. You will see the same five images and read the same five “tips” so many times that they will be marked indelibly into your mind. You will carry them for all of your days and in your dying moments your final words shall be “Remember, quicksave often! (F5 to save, F9 to load).” Which is funny, because you can’t actually quicksave during the battles--once you start a fight you have to see it through to the end or start the whole thing over.
Daedalic’s artists clearly tried to imbue Blackguards with their own Ottoman-inspired aesthetic, but the nice visual style can’t cover up the lackluster gameplay. The (seemingly) hand-drawn world map is beautiful, but cities and towns are little better than the lightly animated landscapes of a point-and-click adventure game. Once you get into battle, Daedalic’s stylized intentions are disappointed by technical limitations--models are ugly and all wear the same vacant faces, even when talking. Everything--and I do mean everything--is shown under a depth-of-field filter that leaves most of your screen blurry and out-of-focus. Battle effects and animations are nice enough, but Blackguard had trouble keeping the frame rate up when things got busy.
Blackguard had a lot of promise--The Dark Eye provides an interesting setting and a compelling set of tactical mechanics for a turn-based strategy game. And if you’re looking at just the combat, Blackguards works--it’s just a shame that everything is so unpolished. You’ll find incomplete translations; an awkward, imprecise control scheme; and frame rate issues, all of which keep Blackguards from realizing its potential.