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A Better Class Of Criminal: Blackguards 2

The original Blackguards was like a wax apple. I saw it sitting there in the fruitbowl of the internet - shiny, red and tempting - but when I plunged my pegs into it and tore off a mouthful I made a face like Stan Laurel chewing a wasp. I love tactical RPGs but the early missions of Daedalic's villain 'em up felt like puzzles with a single solution rather than reactive scenarios.

Enter the sequel, with a somewhat dynamic strategic map and increased scope for customisation of the main character. I've taken a bite.

Given the speed with which Blackguards 2 has been released, I expected the worst. Well, not quite the worst, I suppose, because I did like the idea of battle actually causing changes on the world map. It's now possible to take territories, hire mercenary defenders and then fight to reclaim them when the mercenaries get killed during a counterattack.

That change aside, the biggest difference appears to be the ability to mould the main player character Cassia into the hero/antihero/bastard of your choice. You can decide just how unpleasant she'll be once she gets the upper hand on the folks who have wronged her and, more importantly, you can shape her skillset and class as well.

And that, at least partly, is where the old problems persist. Given the right amount of devotion, Blackguards 2 may well be a rewarding game but I don't find the majority of decisions meaningful enough to keep my interest. Cassia's free-form development didn't feel it was planting me at a crossroads and allowing me to choose a direction - it felt like I'd been dropped in the ocean and left to flounder.

The tactical battle maps, attractive and replayable as they are, still retain some of the original game's sticky points as well. They're packed with interactive elements but I feel like I'm supposed to find precisely the right moment to use those elements rather than integrating them into a flexible plan. There's also an element of unwanted surprise when certain objects are activated. They don't always behave as I'd expect them to and even in the couple of hours I've been playing, I've ended up clobbering my companions a couple of times, without fully understanding why. It's as if I've selected a toaster expecting to make some toast and my character has inexplicably decided to jam a fork into the workings instead.

Despite all of that, I want to play more of Blackguards 2 and I hope I'll manage to ignore the wrinkles after a while. It may not be wax but I'd like it to have ripened a little more before harvesting.

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