↵It ain't a masterpiece, but I couldn't stop playing.
Daedalic's Blackguards 2 is the best game I've played… that begins with a motion comic of an armed guard murdering a cat and throwing it out of the window of a high tower. If this sounds a little facetious, it might be because Blackguards 2 originally was so frustrating that I was prepared to give it a 1.5-star rating.
The game stalled out in battles on enemy character turns, occasionally it simply froze, or sometimes the conditions for winning a battle would be met but the game would continue until some extra, unnamed condition was met. This was particularly problematic in the final boss battle, where petrified enemies would remain active in combat, even though they were impervious to harm and permanently taken out of combat, making the game unbeatable in many circumstances. But then Blackguards 2's Patch 2.0 released, and there was much rejoicing, as it fixed massive bugs and balancing issues.
Blackguards 2 is based on the European pen-and-paper RPG alternative to Dungeons and Dragons, The Darkest Eye. If you've played a pen-and-paper RPG, the story of Blackguards 2 will be quirkily familiar and feels like it was ripped right out of a dungeon master's notebook. The player characters waste no time getting together on an adventure that at times feels as much about seeing what they'll say to each other as it is to stat-boosting and min-maxing for maximum damage.
You play as Cassia of Tanos, imprisoned for an unknown reason in a labyrinth beneath the gladiatorial arena in the city of Mengbilla by its ruler, Marwan. The game starts during the events of the original Blackguards and then pick up again three years after when Marwan has conquered the land of Aventuria. Cassia's escape prompts her to seek the aid of the original "heroes" of Blackguards, a rogue's gallery of petty villains who in their prior escapade, sort of lucked into saving the world.
The game plays as a turn-based tactical RPG with a high number of units on the board at once. You generally control the four heroes: Cassia. whom you can customize; the axe-wielding Dwarf tank Naurim; the spear-wielding gladiator Takate; and the caustic wizard, Zurburan. You can also control up to nine mercenary units in combat. Missions are laid out on a faction map, and as you control more territory, your mercenary units upgrade based on the areas captured.
Combat tends to involve a fair degree of strategy. Marwan not only has a regular army of enemy units but also monsters cobbled together by The Creators, Aventuria's mages, whom you must defeat in order to gain control of the creatures. In addition to the bug fixes, the patch massively fixes balancing on these mage boss battles (particularly the battle with Sand Ghost creator Adamant, which originally was ridiculously difficult).
When I downloaded the patch, I half-expected that I was going to just go back and play the ending and section boss battle with Adamant, but found myself playing through the entire campaign and thoroughly enjoying it. While I found the story to be somewhat milquetoast pen-and-paper fantasy fare, I enjoyed the gameplay much more the second time around, and found myself nodding my head along with the battle tracks.
The soundtrack by Peter McConnell does a solid job of creating a sense of place and establishes both tone and resonance for only being 27 minutes of music for a game that lasted (on average on both playthroughs) about 25-30 hours, without getting old. It has one of my all-time favorite battle themes, and honestly pushed the rating up a half-star.
Blackguards 2 had a rocky launch, but the 2.0 patch release fixes virtually all the technical and balancing issues that I encountered with it. I found its story to be a little pedestrian, but really enjoyed the gameplay and customizability of the characters. Blackguards 2 is available for Windows for $34.99 on Steam and GOG.com.