Black Book - XB1 Review

Black Book
by developer Morteshka and publisher HypeTrain DigitalMicrosoft Xbox One review written by Nick with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Black Book is a fascinating mashup of genres steeped in Slavic lore. There is a bit of a learning curve to be had here, both with the game’s mechanics and heavily steeped mythologies, but it is absolutely worth the effort. There is an engrossing story to be had here and experience absolutely worth exploring.

Our protagonist Vasilisa, is an engaging one from the start. We are introduced to a nineteenth century Russian countryside that oozes a creepy, dark style that follows the orphaned Vasilisa on her path to becoming a witch after tragedy strikes. Her quest sets Vasilisa on an adventure to break a series of seals so she can have a wish granted.

All of this can take a bit of time to wrap ones head around. There’s terminology in here that I was in no way familiar with. After a time, I began to make the proper associations between words or phrases, and from an aesthetic standpoint I’m glad the in translating the tale to English the heart of the content remained true to its roots. It’s just that it took a bit of time to build up familiar word associations during the early hours of gameplay.

There is a combination of deck building and morality-based decision making that sit at the heart of Black Book’s gameplay. She collects ‘Sins’ as she furthers her adventures. Her quest starts out as a labor of love, but she has to quickly determine how much of the weight she wants to carry herself… or whether or not to let the demons she controls commit crimes out of a restless need to – well, to be demons really. It’s a slowly degrading scale. This is not Mass Effect’s good vs bad paragon system. This is more a matter of: how bad do you want Vasilisa to be? Because she suffers penalties when not sending demons out, and using them collect money or give Vasilisa other benefits – at a cost to her soul.

Combat itself is a card game, that is fairly simple during its early stages. This makes it easy enough to learn the basics, but as you get deeper into your Black Book, you gain far more spells and modifiers that complicate the gameplay. The learning curve (outside of a handful of rather nasty boss fights) was gentle enough in its difficulty curve that I seldom got frustrated. That is surprising given the somewhat random nature of card games of this nature, which attests to the overall balance of the combat. You have offensive and defensive cards and winning matches means getting more cards. Early on the pickings are a bit on the slim side, but as you continue to expand upon your library of cards, you start to see some fun and unique synergies. I just with the boss battles were a bit more balanced. I’m okay with having to come at them from a slightly different angle, but there were a couple that just made me toss out everything I thought that I knew about how I was designing my decks and became something of a frustrating puzzle in and of themselves.

Outside of combat, you are advancing the story to find clues and try to solve the riddles that make up the seals. Each of these seals creates a sort of chapter that is a separate entity from the others. There’s an overarching storyline here, but your focus is on getting through conversations and tasks that allow you to eventually best the seal. I was pleased that the Sins counter had a tangible impact on things like conversational choices and even the game’s endings. This certainly provides some replay value for those interested in seeing the more extreme levels of the counter (which is something that had me playing games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect multiple times in the past).

The overall presentation is pretty impressive. The deck building component of the game looks really sharp. Card art is impressive, and they inject life into the combat component. The visual style is not super detailed and technical, but the use of colors and inky blacks really give the game a creepy atmosphere. The music score is often subtle but complimentary to the graphics as well, really setting the stage for a bleak story that I wanted to see through until the end.


Black Book doesn’t fit neatly into any one genre with its combination of adventuring, deck building, card combat and morality – which makes it a unique game that might not have a built-in audience but is definitely worth a look from those who like a creepy gaming experience that engages their minds. The pacing and a few of the boss battles can be a little uneven, but the overall experience was one I enjoyed far more often than not.

Score: 7.5 / 10



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