Blackguards was, for me, one of the biggest surprises of E3. Going into the show, I’d never even heard of the game yet I left with it taking a prominent spot on my radar and registering near the top of my “Most Anticipated” list.
According to the developers, Blackguards is based off of a PnP RPG system known as Dark Eye, a system that we’ve been told is very popular in Europe. In particular, Blackguards is a darker take on Dark Eye, and this is apparent right from the beginning. The game begins with your (fully-customizable) player character protecting a baroness who is being attacked by wild, dangerous wolves. Unfortunately, you’re not quick enough and the wolves kill the baroness and then disappear, leaving you on the hook for her murder (after which you’re quickly imprisoned and sentenced to death). It’s after this short intro that the game begins, meaning Blackguards jumps right into the action from the get-go.
The developers demoed the first real mission of the game – a prison break – and showed both story scenes and battle scenes. The first thing that becomes apparent is that you’re not dealing with the usual heroes you’d find in RPGs; all the characters I saw were criminals that you helped break out of prison. They’re definitely not your typical “good guys”, and the guys at Daedalic informed me that they wouldn’t act like them. As I was told, “The decisions you make aren’t about being good; they’re about being bad or worse.” Speaking of decisions, I was told that there would be a lot of them, and that all the choices the player makes will matter. Blackguards will feature three different endings and multiple branching storylines to help you arrive at one of the endings.
During this prison section, I got to see the battle system of Blackguards – a turn-based, hex grid affair. Your party and the enemy party take turns moving, attacking, casting spells, etc. in a tactical overhead view with up to seven party members at one time. I only got to see the battle system functioning with three party members (since this was early in the game) and a handful of enemies but I was told that, later in the game, battles will get huge with 10+ enemies at a time. The most interesting part, however, was how the environments feature a degree of interactivity. Most prominent was that tables and furniture can be destroyed by combat, and doors can be opened or closed. I also got to see a cool scenario where the player party cut a rope holding up a chandelier and sent it crashing onto the heads’ of their enemies. Even better, these options aren’t only open to the player; enemies can and will use these interactive elements against you if given a chance. The combat system is also based off of Dark Eye, and it constantly rolls a virtual dice in the background to determine all facets of battle. By default, you can’t see this but, at any time, you can open the console to see the results of each and every roll.
Finally, I was shown the world and town maps featured in Blackguards. They’re mostly non-interactive, with the world map existing merely as a map of points that can be traveled to and the town maps as a graphic of the town overlaid with a list of important people and shops. The world map opened up more as more villagers were talked to and quests were acquired, allowing the player to essentially choose their own path through the game.
So far, Blackguards looks to be an incredibly interesting take on the RPG genre. Playing not as heroes but as a group of villains looks to be a fresh perspective on the genre, and the combat system provides near limitless tactical potential. Even the equipment system looked interesting, with every piece of your character being equipable and customizable, including combat style being set to either offensive, defensive, or balanced for each weapon class. Blackguards has a lot of potential and is worth keeping an eye on.