A grim, largely mundane city is overcome by the plague and a group of condemned are sent in as a last attempt to save it. The concept for Black Legend carves out a historical fiction niche often not explored, and does a fantastic job setting up the premise and its atmosphere; unfortunately it does little else to stand out.
At first glance Black Legend made me think strategy Bloodborne with far milder supernatural elements, and while that may sound like an amazing concept, it really is. Sadly I’m not here to review a concept though but the game built around it. While the muted tile set, ever present fog and palette that is almost entirely shades of grey definitely set the atmosphere as realistic and constricting, capturing the feeling of being trapped inside a box afraid of all the diseased crazies outside; it also quickly becomes unsatisfying, then remains there for hours.
One very common aspect of Souls games which share the atmosphere is a lack of map, leaving you lost, but creating a unique world with very memorable layouts, landmarks and enemy placements that make navigation far easier than one might expect. What happens though when nothing stands out, enemy encounters are all cultists and dogs, every zone is the same with streets between building clumps and sometimes a bit of shoreline, and aside from rare boss fights not a single surprising thing ever happens. Street signs with directions do help from getting lost, but do nothing to evoke interest when I reach a new zone only to find it to have nothing new to offer.
That isn’t to say there aren’t bright spots in the game, the combat is reliable, and I am a fan of the class system which lets you learn abilities based on weapons like in FFIX that you can then equip as different classes. Generally abilities are split into passives, support abilities like buffs and healing, and attack abilities which may apply debuffs. On top of being able to poison or set enemies on fire, there’s a combo system where abilities put one of four types of combo point on a foe, stack up to three and if you do a normal attack on that enemy it will use stacked combo points to deal considerable damage. This definitely comes into play on higher difficulties and against tough foes, and since the difficulty is fairly customizable letting you set things such as damage, permanent death for party members, encounter rate you can easily make the game a beast to get through and force you to really utilize the combat system.
As a strategy game at its core, it definitely accomplishes the strategy aspect and that will be very appealing to some players. Weapons and armour are just as immersive as the world, with an excellently mundane look, for example polearms have small heads instead of eighty pounds of steel no human would be able to hold that has become the norm because they look cool. Everything on a visual standpoint keeps the game grounded and I have a lot of respect for that, but there’s no question it starts to feel like you’re stuck in purgatory doing the same battles in the same streets with the same ambiance for dozens of hours. Chests also tend to hide in the background, and as they seem to be where you find new classes it means you have to be thorough in exploring every corner- but there’s not much excitement in carefully scanning terrain where everything looks the same.
All that said, the game is at its core at least decent, it’s playable and immersive. The frustrating UI however places such a damper on the game I’m not sure what they were trying to go for. Tooltips give considerable flavour information and too little simplified, useful information for quick use in combat- since you’re changing classes and thus abilities frequently, you never get used to what the icons do, so what would be most ideal for the combat tooltips would be just the debuffs and what combo stacks you gain in a simplified format, the extra information is extraneous and ends with a paragraph that basically gives so much info it gives none at all.
Buttons change what they do, for example in the main menu circle closes the main menu, and square toggles the class options- in the class menu, square closes the main menu and circle toggles off the class options. I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen something like this done, but it’s just annoying and counter intuitive design that wastes time. An even worse example is using abilities, it has no button memory and while for the most part you can use abilities by tabbing over them and pressing x, tabbing over a self buff automatically uses it.
I had one class where the self buff was the first ability, so the first thing I would always end up doing was using an action point to self buff simply by toggling into the menu in combat. The UI does a poor job overall of giving information, as they’ve chosen a system of either too much or none at all for all things, but even the design itself doesn’t give visual information well.
I gave mixed praise to the mundane, immersive design earlier, but in combat it becomes a detriment. When you’re looking at a bunch of small models that look relatively similar on a battlefield from above, the first chance of differentiation is colour schemes, many strategy RPGs have enemies us vibrant, different colours- but we’ve already established this game has the colour palette of a noir film. It’s hard to tell them apart and you start to require UI information to tell the difference.
So above every models head is a red square with an empty inside- interestingly the turn orders at the top fill in enemy boxes with red but on the play field they don’t. If you look closely when you cursor over an enemy, they have a dark yellow outline, while allies have a moderately dark yellow outline- it’s so muted it took a while to even realize it but as far as I can tell it’s the sole indicator and it’s only when you have them selected. There are many opportunities to make foes and allies stand out either through UI or model visuals and they did basically nothing. The UI generally hinders the game, but I do think with a few hours of play you’ll get used to it and am not going to grade it poorly based on it, as I do think this is a decent game with admirable dedication to its setting, and some players could find it quite appealing. Though I think it’s a bit dull, I can also see it having an audience, I could also see some UI aspects being patched.