Strategy RPG games have enjoyed a few breakout hits in recent years. Whether it’s the wild success of XCOM 2, or the surprisingly satisfying Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden, perhaps my favorite thing is when the genre experiments with new and interesting settings.
With Black Legend, turn-based tactics heads to the city of Grant, blanketed in a poisonous fog and riddled with cultists. An intriguing setup to be sure, but does this tale of mercenaries sent into a doomed city go toe-to-toe with the greats, or will the cultists win this battle in the end? Let’s find out.
A Diamond in The Rough For Strategy Fans
The setup for Black Legend is certainly enough to grab your attention. Playing as mercenaries sent by the king, you enter the town of Grant, which is covered in a thick fog and eerily quiet.
An evil alchemist by the name of Mephisto has somehow conjured the fog, which drives people mad if they aren’t given an antidote. As a result, the townspeople all hide in their homes, not even opening their doors for fear of exposing themselves to the fog, or worse, running into the cultists that now roam the city.
Throw in a literal bestiary for the various enemies and creatures that travel with them, and you have a great recipe for a horror-tinged setting.
With the huge potential this premise offers, it’s a shame that the story itself isn’t given more of a focus. Cutscenes and conversations play out from the same camera angle as the gameplay, with voice acting that meanders between decent and far too stilted to be believable.
One example of the latter is the way that certain explanations or tutorials are told to you via narration in addition to text. Having an in-game character talk about game mechanics or controls breaks the immersion for me.
While it is possible to customize your character and recruit different party members, none of the options are particularly memorable and there’s no real development to them from a story standpoint.
There are side quests and side conversations you can have with people through their doors, but the static delivery of the story really fails to capture the potential of the setting and the premise, which is a shame because there’s a lot of interesting details put into the enemies and the city of Grant itself.
There’s also incentive to explore the city, and despite the lack of denizens, the city has a sense of presence thanks to some smart audio design and the uncertainty of when you’ll run into a group of cultists.
Chests scattered around the various districts also give you incentive to poke around, but before we dive into the gameplay and mechanics, it’s worth noting that the game does not have a map of any kind.
Instead, there are road signs throughout the city that will point you to other signs and can be used in conjunction with your compass at the top of the screen, but it’s hardly a convienient way to navigate, and I honestly found myself getting lost a lot trying to get back to certain areas.
Despite this, discovering chests and unlocking shortcuts was exciting and interesting. Wells also offer a fast travel function later in the game. I realize the decision to not include a map could have been to make the navigation more immersive, but even just the ability to tag locations on your compass would have gone a long way towards helping the navigation feel less frustrating at times.
Despite the story and setting failing to reach their potential, the gameplay does have several things that are sure to please strategy RPG fans. For starters, enemies wander the map in real-time, with red circles to denote their field of view.
This allows you to spot groups of enemies ahead of time and either sneak by or position yourself in such a way that you can arrange your units at the start of battle in your favor.
For example, one thing I liked to do was trigger combat when I was near some crates because I could then position my ranged unit at a higher vantage point when the fighting began.
Once you’re into a battle, the UI and general layout feels good in terms of the information you need. The turn order appears at the top of the screen, while units each have health bars and symbols to represent their class and any alchemical instabilities.
Yes, you heard that right, alchemy goes beyond just the story in Black Legend. This was perhaps my favorite part about the combat. Instead of elements, your attacks can have one of four colored alchemy-related instabilities that apply that color to the enemy’s icon above their unit.
Certain combinations of colors are ultra effective, but they only trigger when you use a catalyzing attack to essentially reset the count in exchange for a huge damage boost.
This adds an extra layer of strategy as you gamble between placing more stacks of colors on enemies before a satisfying catalyst attack sends the proverbial dominoes falling in your favor.
Outside of combat, you can equip your units with various types of weapons and equipment. Interestingly, the weapons you choose to equip also allow you to alter your class at any time, so it’s not difficult to change up your party when needed.
Certain abilities become “learned” after a time as well, allowing you to equip them regardless of the class. This allows you to build some truly devastating combinations when you take into account the alchemy-focused aspects of combat.
Putting aside the issues I had with the story and setting, I must tip my hat to the developers at Warcave for the gameplay elements, because they are truly top notch for the genre and offer some satisfying levels of strategy.
Beyond the smart mechanics, combat itself isn’t wildly interesting as a result of simple and stiff animations. It is fun to see enemies collapse and ragdoll onto the ground when you land a finishing blow, but nothing about the combat is visually very enticing, which makes some of the longer fights a bit of a slog.
Black Legend’s gameplay shows a real aptitude for the genre, but everything else surrounding it makes it difficult to truly admire and enjoy what it’s trying to do. Setting aside the less than engaging story, it’s the lack of visual flare and the frustrating navigation that make it difficult to really get immersed in the world or the more positive elements of the gameplay.
Not Even Mephisto’s Fog can Hide Shaky Presentation
Black Legend’s presentation is a mixed bag, even playing on PS5. Textures take quiet some time to load in every time you transition from one area to another, which is very distracting. During combat, I’ve seen units get stuck on the environment while moving to a new space as well. They usually figure it out, but it’s another example of the cracks showing.
The text is also far too small for a big screen TV, but this is an issue with numerous titles. Even so, with the game conveying a lot of information solely through text, it’s very noticeable, even after pre-launch patches.
Black Legend is the kind of game that has spots of brilliance tucked between technical issues and a few puzzling design decisions. It’s a rough package all around, but fans of turn-based strategy who are willing to look past the flaws will find a lot to love about its clever mechanics.
Final Score: 6.5/10
A Copy of Black Legend was provided to PS5 Gamers for review purposes
Article by – Bradley Ramsey
Insert date – 3/24/2021