Black Legend review: Grant me mercy

by Lars
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Black Legend is a tactical turn-based RPG from Belgian developers Warcave, and it’s an ambitious one at that. Taking place in Grant, an alternative history 17th century European city plagued by a maddening fog, players must assemble a powerful party of mercenaries to drive back a wicked cult. Everything is at stake – if you don’t find the source of the fog and stop it, it could spread beyond Grant’s walls and consume the world.

It all sounds pretty epic, right? Black Legend definitely has its moments. Grant is reminiscent of Bloodborne‘s Yharnam, just with slightly less gristle spread about the place. It has smatterings of Warhammer fantasy, too. The city drips with atmosphere and a suitably miserable score. Most of the city’s sane inhabitants have locked themselves inside, conversing with you through their doors in a very familiar manner. The city yawns, expanding in all directions, rife with peril and opportunity for brave mercenaries, and this is when Black Legend is at its best, when it is showing, rather than telling.

However, despite the game’s robust setting, the story isn’t exactly presented in the best way. When it is told, in the form of moderately long stretches of dialogue with average voice work, it unfolds in little text boxes in an oddly dry manner. For the most part, it seems that the citizenry of Grant have accepted their otherworldly plight as a mild inconvenience, like a sewage pipe bursting, or the nearest Starbucks closing down. Given that (at least in one sense) Black Legend‘s overall tone is fairly humourless, this results in some extremely bland characters and interactions.

The tactical battles at Black Legend’s core are both engaging and exhausting all at once. There’s a huge amount of customisation available – skills are imparted by equipping weaponry, but regular use allows them to be permanently unlocked regardless of equipment. With fifteen playable classes in total, this allows for a huge amount of diversity in build. Experimenting with this feature is a ton of fun, giving players an immense amount of choice in how they stack their party. This is further augmented by the game’s old-world take on alchemy, which is built around the concept of humorism – bodily elements which can be balanced – or unbalanced, more often than not – and then catalyzed by a strike for massive damage.

The catch is that your enemies can do this too, and boy, are there a lot of them. Exploring Grant is a very rewarding, tense experience, hampered significantly by the sheer frequency of enemy encounters. They’re not quickfire affairs, either – on higher difficulties each fight can easily take about fifteen minutes, and when you’re bumping into cultists every other minute it becomes a bit of a drag. Although the alchemy system is just elemental weaknesses with an appropriately historical theme, it works really well, and feels completely natural in the setting. Stacking up different combinations and exploiting them is a glorious way to carve your way through opposition, offset by the knowledge they can do it right back.

Enemies level up alongside you, so the challenge remains constant, and to its credit Black Legend‘s turn-based combat is deep enough to remain engaging battle after battle. There’s just so much of it, and it weighs down the urge to explore when you know how many scraps you’ll have to wade through if you go down that temptingly dark alley. There doesn’t seem to be a map, either – so a lot of the time chasing the storyline or one of many side quests will frequently run you into dead ends until you’ve learned your way around. That with an excess of encounters makes for more of a chore than an exciting adventure.

Black Legend – Wish Granted?

Black Legend is a good game that does too much in some areas, and too little in others. It has a gloomy beauty to it that few titles manage to capture, and the combat is built around a strategic back n’ forth of exploiting weaknesses before foes do the same thing to you. If you love this genre, Black Legend is a diamond in the rough, and it’s worth perservering through its issues. If the setting and story is what appeals, you might find it a bit of a slog, even with some very generous difficulty settings. This is an impressive achievement for Warcave, and I hope their next game takes what they’ve made here to the next level.

Black Legend is out today on Steam, Switch, PlayStation and Xbox. Read more of our reviews here.

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