DAEDALIC ENTERTAINMENT: THE DARK EYE: BLACKGUARDS 2
The Basic Storyline:
Cassia, main protagonist of Blackguards 2, is looking for them: Cassia’s only goal is to rule from the Shark Throne at all costs, even if it’s only for one day. In the Blackguards she sees the fighters and the power she needs for her plans, even if they are a shadow of their former glory: Naurim became fat and lazy, but also more cunning; Zurbaran lost his self-confidence and Takate seems to have lost his killer instinct. Together with Cassia, the three remaining Blackguards will be the main characters of Blackguards 2. In many quests the group will travel through South Aventuria to fulfill Cassia's dream.
The main player characters in the first game were:
- Naurim, a dwarven bootlegger
- Zurbaran Florios, a decadent black magician
- Aurelia of Neetha, a witch
- Takate, an indigenous gladiator
- Niam of Mikram, a drug-addicted half-elf huntress
Visually this is a fantastic game. It is based around a role-play game book's rules - "The Dark Eye" created by Ulrich Kiesow and launched by Schmidt Spiel & Freizeit GmbH in 1984 as Das Schwarze Auge - it soon went on to become the most popular RPG in Germany, even overtaking Dungeons & Dragons according to many statistics.
In BLACKGUARDS 2 the main antagonist is CASSIA. She appears to be a thief or ranger type. The game begins with her being put into a dungeon complex by a shady high level authoratative character called Marwan - soon to change his name and rule the land. Cassia has nothing except her wits and strength and your skills at recognising what to do and how to do it. The dungeon is a beautifully constructed series of platforms and islands joined by various types, shapes and sizes of bridge. By pressing the V key objects that can be activated or operated, hit or searched etc will glow red while the key is depressed. Mainly, in the first part of this labrynthic dungeon. these objects are barrels - which usually hold little except a few coins or similar - blockages such as mechanical gates, and the levers which operate those gates. Cassia has to move next to and use action points to operate these levers.
Also by pressing V you can see the hex path that Cassia can take. The idea of the first section is to get used to the using of APs, plus basic movement and combat. Move the cursor to any of the shown hexes and she will auto-move there to that hex. If you aren't pressing V then just move the cursor along the ground and when it changes from blue to a Red dot that dot is one hex too far. If Cassia is next to an enemy, in the first instance - the game's prologue as it were - these are spiders - she can expend all her APs on striking it. Generally one hit will kill a spider whilst Cassia has about 40 life which she can regenerate at Health Fountains or through using Health Potions. When Cassia fights, you simply click on the hex containing her target, this exhausts her APs for the turn. You can also end her movement early by double clicking on the required hex or moving her to the required hex and pressing [Return].
By using the Arrow Keys you can move the screen up, down and sideways, giving you a breathtaking view of the entire dungeon.Doing this shows you not only the depth of the artistic design but also the fine detail that has been put into everything, even the most inanimate places and visible but non-usable structures.
Apart from the action onscreen you can also see the portraits of the player characters and adversaries. These are lined in a row and show the order of action, thus the portrait on the farthest left will be the first to act onscreen; this is known as the Initiative Bar. Other information you can see on this includes the life points, the wound level and buffs etc that the characters may have.
Once you have found your way to the exit ramp, after finding and reaching all or as many as you want of the treasure chests etc, you feel ready for the next step, the next area of the dungeon. Yippee!! Sadly your elation is short lived for as you take the first step onto the wooden ramp a cut-scene sequence cuts in and you watch Cassia walk another few steps and then run back as the ramp disintegrates leaving her stuck. The game then begins in earnest.
Cassia sits on the stone floor framed in the light of a cross-corridor. Next to her sits a spider. It has been 4 years since she entered the dungeon and the spiders are now her friends. Unseen is a guard that Cassia can talk to. He tells her some of what has been happening in the "real" world and that Marwan has introduced certain monstrosities to the dungeon. Through boredom and her adventurous nature, Cassia decides to go seek them out.
You can now speak with "the Merchant" (another unseen entity) to buy weapons etc, and you can also spend your Experience Points on Spells, Weapon practise, skills and abilities, purchasing these in levels - though to buy Level 2 you must first purchase Level 1 (ie you cannot jump straight to buying the next Level). All of this and much more in the gameplay will be quite familiar to regular tabletop role-players of almost any RPG, character building.
I am playing a preview version with no documentation. It is possible I may have missed some onscreen instructions or it is possible that because this is a preview not all of the actions available to Cassia have been implemented, but although I can raise the Inventory and the Character Sheet I cannot discover how to load the Weapon Sets or change weapons etc. My character owns a sword, bow and arrows, a staff and a club - the club is the weapon in her hand and no matter what I try - drag & drop, double-clicking etc I cannot exchange the club for the sword or the bow & arrows and without being able to use the bow especially I am not getting past the second stage.
If you right click on Cassia you get an Action Wheel that offers various possibilities. Three of these are Weapon Sets which, I assume, you should be able to setup so that you have Bow & Arrows in one, Sword in the second and maybe the Staff or Club (possibly even spells) in the third - this is how it works in other online RPGs and that's why I expect it to be similar here. The icons for these sets are then placed in the Character's Action Bar so that clicking on them will automatically arm the character as required. Because I personally cannot discover how to operate this system doesn't mean it isn't a good idea. In the second phase (stage ?) Cassia begins with a spider as a pet (as a fighter it is absolutely useless but it may weaken an adversary before it dies, but die it will) and also a Lost Man on the same screen but starting in a different place. There are also bow & arrow armed skeletons and a couple of other undead type creatures. To reach each other the Lost Man has to defeat a monster, dodge or suffer the arrows from the skeletons and reach the lever to bring down the joining ramp. Cassia has to keep away from the flying arrows - which almost unerringly hit - go through a door and down the slope. Unfortunately when the Lost Man uses the Lever two ramps lower, one to an area filled with other creatures which move towards Cassia when she comes down the slope. This is as far as I can get in the game, for once here, the arrows and hits have already taken out the Lost Man and the Pet Spider and there are too many enemies for Cassia to take on solo. I am not blaming the game in any way, it is my inefficiency at this type of strategy game, though I do think that if I could get the bow & arrows into her hand she could at least take out the skeletons and thus give the Lost Man a better chance of survival.
One thing that did impress me was the character advancement. You gain XP throughout the game and can spend it as I explained earlier. It is the way you spend those points that make your character who she is and how she can act. Once spent you cannot get these points back, there is no do-over, so look through all the options available to you first and if you can make notes of all the costs so you can budget your spending.
Graphically and visually this is a super game. The combat that I have been involved in has been plain and unimpressive, very basic with no sweeping moves or dynamic visuals, although the screenshots from the Daedalic Entertainments site and other online sites seem to show that this will improve for the better when the game goes live.
For the $22.99 it costs to pre-order it is very good value for money and for playability as an action adventure game.