I enjoyed the first Blackguards game, which proved to be fairly deep RPG/strategy hybrid that used the rule set from The Dark Eye tabletop RPG series. In the first game, there was a ton to learn - the curve was a steep one due to the (at least to me) fairly unfamiliar gaming system behind it. Blackguards 2 looks as though it is going to account for that, with a streamline (perhaps too streamline) character advancement system while returning a very similar visual style mixed with the same kind of turn-based strategic combat as its predecessor.
There is a lot of references in Blackguards 2 to the original game, but not knowing the world's history is not a deal breaker by any means either. That being said, it feels like Daedalic Entertainment could have a pretty robust world to work with here if they keep mining the Blackguard series going forward. The storyline is a bit less rigid, with some moral choices sprinkled in here and there - and I am a sucker for those.
What I mean by the storyline being less rigid is that the first Blackguards game played out almost like a book - it was very linear in design. Here there is a much more open world map with nodes that encourage even more planning. To be perfectly honest, I think this is a tremendous win and I love the format. It feels more like a budding war effort than the more intimate affair that Blackguards was.
Combat is very similar to what we had before. It is still turn-based, with a focus on terrain, line of sight and range. The battles play out on a hex grid system, familiar to anyone who has spent time with the Heroes of Might & Magic or King's Bounty games. Things feel a bit more toned down here though. The first Blackguards was very challenging - those dice rolls that took place in the background could lead to some huge (or small) damage spikes. Combat feels a bit more metered here - likely as a result of feedback. I know a good number of players felt that these spikes were too hard to overcome in the original game. I am fine with it either way, but while the combat technically functions and interfaces like the prior game, there are some subtle tweaks in the math it seems.
Where Blackguards 2 sees even greater change is in how the characters advance. Again, it feels like Blackguards 2 is taking feedback and trying to make the game a bit more approachable for newcomers. I actually liked the character advancement in Blackguards quite a bit, though there was certainly a learning period. That being said, once I knew how everything worked with one another, the micro manager in me loved it (but then I still prefer the old point-based system for character development in World of Warcraft and hate how streamline it has become). Here things are easier, more streamlined and my choices do not feel quite as important, but the system still works - I just liked the old one better.
This being an early version of the game, there is still clearly work to be done and there is a lack of content and not necessarily an abundance of bugs, but the little critters are there in places. Visually Blackguards 2 looks a great deal like is predecessor. That is not a bad thing as I felt the first game was pleasant to look at, with a sort of hauntingly dark tone to most of the environments. Battlefields have nice detail while visiting a village or city is a generally static affair. Sound effects are there, but not terribly plentiful or varied. Blackguards 2 has a pretty rousing musical score. I have a tendency to turn music off in games during reviews because I like to hear the sound effects. Blackguards 2 - like most games - feels almost empty without the music playing in the background.
Blackguards 2 feels like it is leaning a bit more heavily towards the strategy genre than RPG this time around, with an emphasis on accessibility. It is an understandable direction given a good deal of the feedback after the initial game. My early impressions are favorable and I am looking forward to spending more time with Blackguards 2 once it is fully released.
Preview by Nick