Monday, June 5, 2023

Blacktail Review – Mushrooms, Morality and Magic

We all grew up listening to stories. Folktales, myths and fairy tales are some of the oldest narratives known to us. These stories introduce children to magic, sorcery and mythical creatures over generations. Our imaginations run wild as we picture these unique worlds and captivating characters.

Blacktail is developed by The Parasite Team and published by Focus Entertainment. The Parasight Team was founded with a dream to reinvent folklore in its own way and adapt it to modern video games. Based in Poland, the studio is made up of many veteran developers in the industry. His latest project succeeds in blending an engrossing narrative with engaging gameplay. Let’s talk about blacktail.

I did my playthrough on PS5, and Blacktail performs surprisingly well. There are a few different display options available. There was no frame limit and performance on most of my playthroughs quality. I briefly reduced my frame rate to 30 with the quality on display, but there isn’t a great visual upgrade. There is a motion blur toggle that I turned off and for me, it helped my overall experience. Kudos because I experienced zero bugs, glitches or frame drops from start to finish. Even during the boss battles where most of the action happens, the game still runs incredibly smoothly.

In Blacktail, you take on the role of Yaga. She and her twin sister Zora grew up as orphans in a superstitious village that shunned her. He has an unusual birthmark on his face, causing the villagers to resent him. To conceal both herself and her scar, she wears a mask to hide from society. Tormented by troubling dreams, she hears a weary voice instructing her to find “The Hut”.

The story begins when Zora vanishes without a trace. With her protective sister no longer present, Yaga is forced to leave her village as she is accused of an unholy alliance with Baba the Witch. Rejected by her home, she sets out to find her sister and discover what her dreams really mean. He is accompanied on this adventure by “The Voice”, a mysterious guide who appears in his thoughts, while keeping his true motivations hidden. The story throws up surprises at every turn, so going in as blind as possible is highly recommended.

The narrative and dark imagery immediately caught my attention, and I cannot express how much I am a fan of this artistic subject. The world is bright and colorful, yet when you take a closer look things are not so rosy. The characters and designs are unique and fitting for the dark fantasy atmosphere. When you put all of these things together, it leads to the art direction being one of Blacktail’s greatest strengths.

The writing is excellent, as each character’s personality is revealed through dialogue and expression. Like other games, An Almanac lends lore and depth to not only the characters but the land as well. The lore is entertaining and I read every entry I unlocked, some I like but others don’t. Most of the dialogue is between Yaga and “The Voice” in her head, and both actors do a phenomenal job.

The gameplay is a mix of first-person archery and integrated magic casting. Blacktail does a great job of each part complimenting each other. There is no actual melee attack, thus magic is a great tool for keeping enemies at an advantageous range. The bow is consistent and becomes more versatile as the game progresses. The bow is your only weapon, so having a variety of arrows with different effects keeps the gameplay from getting stale. You can get different arrows by either picking them up in certain areas or crafting them from specific materials.

A major gameplay loop is gathering and scavenging materials to craft items and upgrade your skill tree. The skill tree contains perks and abilities that require specific scrolls to unlock that are hidden throughout the world. It’s a system I prefer over the experience-gated style. Finding materials is a necessity as aspects of gameplay and item crafting make use of them. Items are fairly scattered so the number of times you need a material isn’t very common, but does happen nonetheless.

Morality plays a major role in Yaga’s development throughout the play. The choices you make in Blacktail have consequences, and those decisions lead to gameplay skills. Everything from story dialogue to freeing a trapped bird have implications that affect how special skills function. Depending on your path, you obtain different titles that provide different benefits. For example, “The Witch’s Apprentice” ability uses sunlight or leech trap, depending on whether you have the title “Gracious” or “Corrupt”. The path is not clearly laid out before you. Many of these decisions are built into the land you explore, hidden until you encounter them. For example, while walking down a path, I saw a small creature with a fruit hanging from a branch. I plucked the fruit down to allow the creature to eat it, thus gaining “good” morality. There are no information or prompts, the player simply acts in his own world. I can’t believe I’ve come across a system like this, so it makes the game very appealing.

There is no room for improvement in Blacktail. The music in the game is limited in the number of different tracks. Having a great variety of eerie and tense music tracks will elevate the overall atmosphere even more. I also would have liked more enemy types. While the combat is satisfying, facing the same Cyclops and Bees feels a bit repetitive. I mentioned earlier that your bow doesn’t do any melee damage, and this feels like a missed opportunity. Gathering materials to make arrows is fine, but there are moments when running out of arrows means relying on magic. This creates problems when you run out of mana and are waiting for it to regenerate, as most magic attacks don’t do enough damage.

Blacktale is brought to life by its setting, characters, and narrative. The gameplay doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it doesn’t need to. It uses a system that works, and that compliments the rest of the game. Blacktail reminds me of Kenna: Bridge of Spirits which I played last year; A well-executed title that sets itself apart from the others, and one that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Blacktail’s art and captivating storytelling take the narrative genre in a whole new direction. Backed by a combination of solid gameplay and in-depth moral system, the game excels in almost every aspect.

-Noah Rigsby

Noah is a web dweller who spends most of his time gaming and watching anime. Her goal is to expand her skills while meeting new people. You’ve probably seen him kill the other team in an Overwatch comp or guess Star Wars and One Piece. Follow him on Twitter @RigsbyNoah.

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