A strategic RPG with novel turn based combat and plenty of atmosphere, Black Legend is let down by a lacklustre narrative and severe difficulty spikes. The Finger Guns Review.
For a Turn Based Strategy game to stand out these day, it has to do something really special. This is a genre that’s bursting at the seams with high profile, top quality titles (XCOM, Total War, Civilisation, Into The Breach, Wargroove, etc) and it’s easy for new games to get lost in the pack without a hook, a spark or some magic ingenuity. If there’s one thing that will separate Black Legend, a new TBS RPG from Warcave, from the other also-ran’s in this genre, it will be an inventive combat system or the thick atmosphere it creates. It’s a shame that the same complements can’t be paid to other aspects of this game.
Black Legend is set during the 17th century in the cursed city of Grant. A being called Mephisto (yes, like the one from the Faust legends) rose up against the city and summoned a thick fog which blanketed the area. This mist drove many of the occupants of Grant mad, drawing them to Mephisto’s side as blood thirsty cultists dedicated to his cause. Those that weren’t driven crazy were either killed by the hordes now roaming the streets or corrupted into something much more sinister. Only a few regular people remain alive in the city and they’re either in hiding or doing what they can to offer some resistance. Since then, it appeared that Mephisto had left the city, leaving the chaos he created behind him. Or so people thought. This is where the player comes in. A mercenary leader along with his team forced by the King of the land to enter Grant, you’re tasked with ridding the city of the evils it contains. Do so and you’ll earn a pardon from the King for you crimes against him.
Outside of combat, you’re free to roam around Grant like it’s a third person adventure. The city itself is full of grim visages and macabre scenes that tell some chilling environmental stories. Rows of gallows line the streets with civilians dangling from their nooses. Graves lie open yet occupied by the recently deceased. There’s constant hints that the city was once bustling and beautiful. Now it lies in destitution which constantly raises the question “What happened here?”. Screams ring out in the distance behind the blanket of fog that gives the whole of Black Legend a claustrophobic feeling. While Grant isn’t an overtly detailed environment to explore, it’s obvious that focus has been put onto making this an atmospheric world to fill the player with foreboding. That focus pays off.
The turn based aspect of Black Legend comes into play when you come into contact with the villains roaming around Grant. Cultists, monsters and corrupted beings patrol the streets with vision cones protruding along their eye line. Once you’ve crossed into their sight (or walked up behind them so close that you could pat them on the back), a fight breaks out.
Once combat begins, the environment becomes grid bound. Enemies rove around in gangs and where ever they’re standing when you confront them is where they begin the fight from – a tactic you can use to your advantage at times. The player gets to deploy their 4 strong team within a glowing box where any unit can be placed wherever they will be most useful – again, a strong strategic element. Each unit, both friend and foe, have movement and action points which can be used in any order. You don’t need to move then attack here or vice versa here. Units take their turns based on their initiative stats and the aim is to be the last team standing.
On the surface, this combat looks identical to what you’d find in Phantom Doctrine or XCOM. There are some important differences with the fighting in Black Legend however. The most obvious is that there are no RNG elements here. There’s no miss percentage on any attacks. If you can direct your unit to land the hit, they’ll land their hit (unless there’s a nerf/buff in play to prevent it). Positioning and the use of space are also very important; attacks from a flank or from behind do much more damage than those performed head on. Some fights can turn into a dance as both sides attempt to run around their opponent and perform a backstab. If you were to play the Cottoneye Joe song while playing, you could easily recreate the music video with the amount of line dancing and spinning that goes on.
Take 3 leeches and call me in the morning
The most important aspect of the combat in Black Legend is the most unique – balancing humours. Based on the medical understanding of how the body worked in the 17th century, you’re able to upset the bodily balance of the 4 elements – black bile, yellow bile, sanguine blood, and white phlegm – by using abilities and attacks. The abilities can stack and when you manage to upset 2 corresponding humours at the same time, you can unleash a catalysing attack which can double, triple or even quadruple the damage done. The greater the upset in the humours, the more damage you can dish out with a single catalysing attack.
The humour system can give battles a surprisingly odd flow. The abilities that upset the balances are, more often than not, low damage dealing. This can mean that early on in any scrap, it can feel like you’re getting crushed because the enemies are dishing out damage and you’re just chipping away at them, affecting their bodily balances. Once you’ve mixed them up enough, it’s then a swift few actions before all of the opposition fall to a series of catalysing attack.
This works as a double edge sword however. The difficulty levels of this game is all over the place. So long as you’re leveraging the humour altering attacks to your benefit, most fights are an absolute doddle on anything but the hardest difficulty. That is until you run into the boss battles. These offer huge difficulty spikes that are a massive step up from the standard scraps. These bosses can do massive amounts of damage with their average attacks so you’re constantly having to stay out of their range while trying to get your licks in. After utterly decimating every living and undead foe leading into the first boss battle, I then died 7 times fighting against an Eldritch sea monster… thing. I was playing on the normal difficulty. I dropped the difficulty down to Easy, purely to get through the game so I could review it. I died a further 3 times on this difficulty on the same boss fight, each drawn out and irritatingly bitty. It’s rare that Black Legend manages to hit that challenging yet enjoyable sweet spot. Instead it’s either far too easy or frustratingly difficulty. Thankfully the autosave system on this game is quite generous on the lower difficulties.
A sword mirrors its owner
Underpinning the combat and humour mechanic of Black Legend is a relatively deep RPG system. The lead player-created character, along with his 3 starting cohorts and anyone they recruit inside Grant, can be customised. Gear, consumables and more can be altered outside of battle. The most important aspect is their class which can be altered at any time. Each class is tied to available weaponry you’ve picked up or looted from chests around the city. It’s important to mix and match with the classes to get a variety in your team. That’s because each one has their own unique strengths and passive abilities while also opening up specific humour altering skills. The Plague Doctor class, for example, has base yellow bile stacking attacks while the default Mercenary type never unlocks an attack of that type.
Over time and with use, each character can learn the class specific abilities permanently. Three of these learned abilities can then be selected for use even when another class is active. You can form some quite inventive units with this system, like a heavily armoured Landsknecht that does increased damage when they’ve moved before attacking that also deals poison damage because of their time spent as as a Rogue.
Black Legend? More like a shady tale
With so much originality and depth elsewhere, it’s a shame that the narrative for Black Legend is so blasé and uninspired. Sure, there’s plenty of lore that’s delivered along your jaunt through Grant but the story itself boils down to “go here, do that”, “travel here, kill that” and other fetch quests. The window dressings to these quests are delivered by characters that are hard to care for, partially because they’re little more than two-dimensional quest givers and because the dialogue is delivered with some incredibly cheesy voice acting. This is exasperated by the audio levelling which is all over the place. Some of the hammy lines are piercingly loud compared to the rest of the audio in the game while others are barely audible.
Then there’s the glitches. Black Legend has a few of them that rear their ugly head during combat. Movement phases that become active but don’t allow the character to actually move, essentially wasting a turn. Melee attacks that register as “out of range” despite the target being directly in front of my Mercenary and within the target area. Directional markers becoming invisible. An enemy that simply disappeared behind a crate and apparently into the sea, forcing me to quit and then reload the last autosave because the fight became unwinnable. These bugs aren’t frequent but when they happen, they can really sour the experience.
What’s good about Black Legend is very good. The gloomy atmosphere and the novel turn-based combat based on 17th century medicine are well designed and smartly implemented. Everything else about this game is either bland, rough around the edges or straight up poor. Diehard fans of turn based strategy games that can overlook the issues will still get something from Black Legend. For everyone else, there are better alternatives.
Black Legend is available now on PS4 (review platform), Xbox One, Switch and PC.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
If you enjoyed this article or any more of our content, please consider our Patreon.