I reserve words for certain games. Words which define the game itself and help encapsulate what I'm trying to get across. This game merits one such word, and that word is :
Here's the deal. Blackguards is a strategy game which has been dipped, liberally, in the world of The Dark Eye, think Dungeons and Dragons germanic cousin and you'll be in the right area. It's got a wonderful, thick, rich backstory, with a lot of history, gods, cults, personalities, politics and intrigue. This is a world that over the course of several games (Check out Drakensang when you get the chance if you find yourself a fan of Blackguards, it's worth the time invested) has become every bit as nuanced and subtle as the more accessible DnD counterpart. The operative word though is accessible.
The Dark Eye is to Pen and Paper roleplay what Dark Souls is to videogames. A stern, rock faced, cold hearted, unyielding dominatrix who seems impenetrable and who demands your complete and total servitude, and at the slightest folly will beat you bloody and raw and tell you to start over again. You will, multiple times, due to a flaw in your build that down the line results in your character ending up stunted and a fight proving a little beyond your reach or poor choices when you level your character.
But each time, you will learn, through the beatings and the whippings, much like Dark Souls, you will learn, and you will improve. Eventually once you get past the gatekeeper and once you've survived the rite of passage that is the near vertical learning curve of the games mechanics, you'll find a world that richly rewards, and deserves every minute you spend within it.
The graphics finally have shaken off a lot of the shoddiness and rough edges that have pervaded a lot of the TDE games, Blackguards is slick, smooth, and carries a glossy sheen with it, it's not QUITE melt your eyes gorgeous, but it's certainly pleasing to look at, and the spell effects certainly carry with them a definite sense of satisfaction as they connect and fly about the battlefield. So too has the voice acting and musical score improved, as presentation goes, Blackguards has matured TDE into a strong, and at last truly sellable product.
But it's not for novices. Noooooooo sir. This is not a new player friendly game. So far to date no actual "Roleplaying game" set in the TDE universe has managed to be even -remotely- new player friendly, this is not about to buck that trend, not when your character sheet runs to five seperate tabbed pages with more numbers to make sense of than the US Federal Budget. Not when the wheel that surrounds your character can offer dozens of possible options as to what action you might wish to take during a turn. Not when a conversation option can turn a story down a route that results in a fight you may not have been prepared for. This game does not go lenient on people who are not careful, not methodical, or not thoughtful.
The main story arc I'm going to leave spoiler free and focus on the mechanical side, the game follows a two-beat system, the world map, being a parchment map overworld that you zip around and visit static settlements to partake in various pleasantly rendered towns and villages, which offer side quests, conversation dialogs, healing and merchants. Then there's the meat of the game, a mix of single encounter and multi-encounter dungeons.
These take place on hex based maps which are closer to things like Kings Bounty : The Legend, however in this case, we're dealing with -single units-, and in this case the strategic rendering is done with TDE levels of detail. Characters are solid, so you can't shoot or cast spells through them, ditto for static objects and moveable objects. This means positioning becomes a factor, you can't just layer your melee in front of your casters, you need to play smart and ensure people are in the right place. Equipment too has significant impacts overall on the fight, with bows having minimum and maximum ranges before major penalties are applied. Spells have granular levels of "to hit" based on the casters skill... you get the idea. We're talking pen and paper levels of detail, rendered lovingly in the game.
Once you set up hotbars for your most frequently used abilities, fights run pretty smooth and fast, and the strategy element is as the word I used to begin with implies - "Chewy" - you'll be constantly thinking and rethinking your moves, and the AI puts up a respectable fight even at default difficulty. Environmental hazards too present a real and significant problem, and throw in an extra layer, thankfully there's no time constraint, so feel free to get a coffee as you ponder each move.
Do I recommend it? Yes. With the caveat. This is not a game that will appeal to everyone. It's a niche game. I celebrate it's existence. It's a strategy game for strategy gamers. If hexes, math, and stats excite you, get stuck in.