Aside from being a fantastic and challenging game, Bloodborne really stood out for me due to its overall atmosphere and architecture. Eschewing the more fantasy aspects of the Dark Souls games, Bloodborne’s medieval-inspired environments are a joy to explore (apart from the hordes of monsters trying to kill you, of course). I was therefore excited to check out Black Legend – a turn based strategy RPG set in the fictional city of Grant, a city that is closely based on 17th century Low Country architecture.
The switch to turn-based combat seemed well suited to allow for more sightseeing, whilst the accompanying focus on alchemy sounded like a perfect fit for the setting. After some time with the demo (available on Steam) I can reveal that these aspects work really well, although there is still some room for improvement.
Visually, Black Legend really nails the early modern aesthetic. Gloomy and narrow streets, fog shrouded graveyards, dangerous dockyards, and only occasional well-lit respites all go together to create an atmospheric and effective setting. Overturned carts and barrels abound to provide necessary cover, whilst the twisting alleyways disorientate and confuse you. There are often optional areas for grinding and looting and these feel like they belong in the general city plan rather than being added in for effect. The result is a wonderfully coherent game world that really drew me in.
Gameplay-wise, Black Legend will be familiar to fans of games such as XCOM or the recent Wasteland 3. You gather your team of mercenaries and explore the city of Grant, frequently being forced into turn based combat. These battles are always clearly visible (no random encounters here), but are generally unavoidable as the game is almost entirely focused on getting you into a scrap. You do find NPCs who will give you fetch quests or battle challenges, but there is little in the way of conversation trees or dialogue to work through. This may well be a positive for many, but it left me wanting a little more narrative to engage with.
Fortunately the combat itself, being the real heart of the game, is a good mix of challenging and interesting. There are difficulty levels to help you get familiar with the systems before ramping things up and really testing your strategic abilities. Higher skill settings will require far more focus on the more intricate aspects of the mechanics – especially the alchemical system which takes the place of more familiar elemental powers and weaknesses. Mastering this is the key to progress, as stacking and combining ailments based on the four humours of medieval medical theory is the only way to inflict damage quickly enough to avoid defeat.
Your party is made up of a mixture of anonymous mercenaries and occasional NPCs who join you (sometimes AI controlled). Mercenary here is also a character class, alongside 14 other unlockable classes, all with unique abilities and equipment. Unusually, you unlock these classes by finding the right items to equip your characters through your adventure, a nice approach that definitely encourages you to explore off the beaten path. While the early fights can be managed with a single class party, you quickly need to diversify to include distance attackers, alchemy (magic) users and more defensive classes. The ease of switching between classes once unlocked looks to be a real boon for later battles, as there will be many ways of approaching difficult fights rather than just grinding levels and returning as is so often the case.
The battles require genuine strategy as well, since character direction opens up weaknesses to attack and the aforementioned alchemy system is used by your enemies too. Even at lower skill levels it is easy to make a mistake that leaves you vulnerable. That being said, the sheer number of battles, combined with how involved and lengthy they can be, did cause the game to drag a little for me.
I freely admit that I am more interested in the story and setting rather than the mechanical systems here so this isn’t necessarily a fault of the game itself but ironically it was most evident when playing on the lower difficulties as battles were no longer a threat but more a regular annoyance. I think this is a title that will reward the more ambitious player who is willing to take it on its own strategic terms. I’m still very interested in how it develops and look forward to the full release on all platforms – PS5, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series, Switch and PC – hopefully sometime through the first half of this year.