Black Legend, by Warcave, is a turn-based tactical RPG set in a 17th century city reminiscent of those in the Low Countries of Northwestern Europe. A mysterious, since vanished character, known as Mephisto, founded a cult that has conquered the city. A fog, which corrupts those who come in contact with it, covers the city and keeps those who have not been driven mad by it in hiding. You play an external mercenary who leads a team of four into the city in order to stop the fog and liberate the city.
The game follows a pretty standard exploration -> fight -> exploration loop with little variation in between. The games regions open up in a linear fashion, with new neighborhoods becoming available as they are relevant to the main story. Exploration is encouraged by the presence of rare side quests and chests, both of which provide special gear and items that are important to maximize character power level and to unlock additional capabilities.
Neighborhoods are built on a bit of a grid, with individual sections having the chance to generate a squad of 2 to 4 enemies. These enemies wander around in their particular location, with combat triggering when the player wanders into their line of sight. A lot of the time you can wander at the very edge’s of a particular squad’s area making it so many of the random encounters are optional.
Characters have five attributes: strength, marksmanship, skill, agility, and stamina. Strength and marksmanship are exclusively used to determine damage for skills using melee and ranged weapons, respectively. Skill is used for support skills and for determining alchemical catalyst damage. Agility determines both move distance as well as how quickly a character gets actions. Stamina is used to determine a character’s hit points. Characters attributes are determined heavily by class, with level ups providing uneven boosts based on a character’s class. So, for example, the basic mercenary class has D growths across the board, making them a pretty poor class to spend any time in, while the Rogue has D and E growths across the board outside of Skill and Agility, which are the quite reasonable B and A.
Each class has six active abilities and three passive abilities, with the ability to equip three active abilities from other classes. The passive abilities tend to be strong and impactful, with many of them providing strong reasons to choose one particular class over another and, between them, the single active ability that is class exclusive, and the growths, this results in a variety of different viable options and builds.
Weapons and armor have three purposes. All items in the game provide stat modifiers. This allows for more potential customization and specialization. If you are using a character who has a melee weapon in one hand and a ranged one in the other, then you will frequently want items that give bonuses to strength and marksmanship. On the other hand, a character wielding a two handed weapon of one type or the other will want a weapon that is more specialized. Most weapons provide learnable abilities. These are how your character develops capabilities, with classes being unavailable until you have at least two weapons that provide the class’s abilities. Finally, some end-game weapons, and many pieces of armor, provide special passive effects, although the weapons with these passive effects do not provide learnable skills, so are most useful when you are happy with your kit and just want raw power.
Beyond weapons and armor characters are able to equip consumable items and trinkets. Items provide one shot benefits, that are either low impact status modifiers plus damage applications, or big impact healing items. Trinkets are accessories which modify actions or provide some sort of special benefit, mostly related to the alchemy system. The effects are usually not huge, but are noticeable, particularly if you are specialized in specific humors or sets of humors in the alchemy system.
The alchemy system works kind of like a combo system. Each attack provides zero to two to different humors on the target from a selection of red, yellow, black, and white. Each humor has two humors it combines with and one that it does not. The combinations have names, and all of them have at least one trinket that provides a bonus related to attacking enemies with that combination. Additionally, each character has a catalyzing melee or ranged attack that does mediocre to poor damage on its own, but can do bonus skill-based damage if the target has one or more combination levels.
Combat is a turn-based affair with the order and pace of characters being based on agility. On a given turn a character has a number of movement points, determined also by agility, and three action points, with some potential to generate more from passive abilities. Fights are usually pretty fast due to the small number of comantants on each side, and tend to be brutal, particularly once you get to higher levels and have more refined stat distributions. Unfortunately, there is not a large variety of enemies, as most enemies are simply variants of player characters, with a single class and maybe a unique ability related to their unit group. There are also a few canine units, and every so often you’ll fight a boss unit, which generally has a very unique kit. In these situations you can face more than the usual range of two to four enemies and have an encounter with five enemy units instead.
Weaknesses and Limitations
Black Legend has problems. The balance is not good. The UI and system clarity both need work. The battles are boring and repetitive. None of these individual things are good on their own, and together they put Black Legend into a poor place. There are things to like, which will be covered below, but they are far overwhelmed by the game’s flaws.
The first issue is balance. Early on it is fine, though the problems with battle tedium are apparent even at that point. However, the later you get in the game, the more certain builds start to completely outclass not only the other character builds, but also every enemy in the game. By the end game, I was able to use my builds to kill the final three bosses before they were even able to attack. The problem classes I used were the Marauder and the Duelist. Both of these combine high agility growth with high strength growth. Keeping characters primarily in classes that focused on good agility growth, reached a point where my characters were taking two or three turns for every turn the other characters got. On top of that, the Duelist has an ability that gives them extra action points every time they get a crit, which further increases their damage output.With another one of their abilities, the class gets three attacks, so it is possible to get three crits and thus basically another free turn immediately after the first one. This is further exacerbated by the fact that your characters get XP based on actions taken. Therefore, it doesn’t take long for agility-based characters to rapidly outpace others and, by the end of the game, my Marauder and Duelist had 30+ levels on my other characters. This was absurd and basically destroyed any semblance of challenge that the game might possess.
My second major criticism is the UI. Mostly the UI is fine, but, at some point, the developers made a decision to hide information from you and, while some of this is potentially not important and you can mostly surmise how good individual attacks are by seeing their performance in battle, there are details that are neither conveyed nor explained. I discovered there was a stat named adrenaline based on some trinkets I discovered, but it is explained nowhere in the game and there is nowhere to tell how much adrenaline a character has. I was able to discover what it was based on a description in a design diary, but a player should not be required to investigate what something does in a design diary in order to understand it. The problems don’t stop there either. There are tooltips that explain what each stat does, but only in combat. Also, it seems like they put the maximum ability scores at three digits in the character view but to four digits in battle, so I had multiple characters who showed 999 for their ability scores until I went into battle and then they showed what these ability scores actually were.
Battle tedium is the biggest problem of all and the one that feels like it is the least likely that the developers will be able to actually fix with future updates. The tedium starts pretty early on with the healing system. Essentially, HP is not restored automatically after a battle and the only way to restore it is an expensive and relatively rare potion. However, there are a fair number of healing abilities, including one with which every character starts This means the most optimal way to end a battle is to kill all enemies except for one and then spend several rounds just having everyone heal up before finishing off the final enemy. Eventually, with superior healing abilities, this problem fades a bit and you end up with more out-of-battle healing than you need, but at this point the tedium of the actual battles themselves has become a problem. Part of this is due to low variance in the battlefields. The only thing that ever really shifts is the presence or absence of choke points. While choke points are good, they are pretty much the only variation that is ever really going on in the battlefield. Enemy variance is also really low. There are a couple different types of dog enemies, but beyond that every single enemy combines an enemy template with a character class, meaning you will be fighting Cultist Dragoons and Delirious Duelists throughout much of the game. Bosses are unique, at least, but there are few of them and eventually you may be killing them before they can really do anything.
Black Legend’s class development system is cool. There is a pretty wide array of abilities, many of which are doing interesting things, and which combine in fun and entertaining ways, at least until you reach the point where some classes overpower everything else and render pretty much everything else irrelevant. But, assuming the developers are able to figure something out with balance, it is fun to combine abilities together and, everytime you find a new weapon that unlocks an ability, there is a sense of excitement and discovery.
I also liked the alchemy system. Considering combinations of attacks and humors to put on characters to build synergies is neat. Using that as the basis for trinket-based buffs could result in interesting build decisions if it was not completely overwhelmed by the power of certain classes, such as the Duelist and Marauder. Granted, you will still sometimes use it just because you happen to accumulate enough humors and can get a big damage pay off. This is especially true in the early game before class builds really take off, but in an ideal world this would be true throughout the entire game. It just is not.
Black Legends is fundamentally unbalanced with an inconsistent UI and clarity. These things are fixable and hopefully will be in these last few days before release. However, the boring, extremely repetitive battles probably are not, barring some sort of fundamental redesigns that will almost certainly not be happening. For me, if the UI and balance are fixed up I could find fun over the course of the ~20-25 hours of gameplay, but the repetitive battles will leave it as a toy rather than a truly great and engaging game. I would generally recommend holding off on it for now to see how the launch and post-launch support go. However, the flexible class system and unique builds are engaging and those looking for that in a tactics game may enjoy the game as is and find it worth looking past the flaws.