If you’re trying to market a new game, then stating that it shares elements with the “Cthulhu mythos” is often a big selling point. The strange, paranoid setting can spring up in all sorts of environments and needn’t be tied to a time zone or genre. Black Legend isn’t rooted deeply into the mythos but it definitely has some shared elements.
Black Legend has a rather novel setting for this turn-based strategy/RPG hybrid – the mist-shrouded port city of Grant, set somewhere in the 17th century. Your band of brave or foolhardy mercenaries go in armed with swords, halberds and muskets as they battle cultists, wild dogs and far stranger enemies as they progress through the city.
In terms of gameplay, you create your first mercenary from a limited set of largely cosmetic options before outfitting the rest of your four-person band. You can also develop a deeper roster of others back at the barracks where they can be swapped out for more as you progress or find the need to replace the fallen.
Black Legend also has a rather novel approach when it comes to character class. Your choices for character class are based on the equipment they carry and can be swapped pretty much at will. The more levels a character gains in each character class, the better skills and proficiencies they gather, but you can swap between battles pretty much at will between fourteen different character classes.
Black Legend sees your party, usually represented between battles by just your character, wander around the city, knocking on doors where there are lit torches indicating that an NPC within may have a side-quest or other information for you. You can also choose to evade enemies who travel the map in real time with areas of observation around them, so no random encounters here.
When you do run into bad guys, which will happen very often, you will move to a turn-based approach that follows in the foot-steps of the legendary X-COM. You position your squad, taking care to keep an eye on facing foes as attacks from the flanks or the rear do extra damage, and then make your moves. Most characters can only make one attack per turn but can take some other actions, as well as making use of “one shot” objects such as thrown knives or grenades.
Interestingly, there is no RNG when it comes to your chance of striking an enemy. Every time you swing, you’ll hit, with the damage being the variable. Ordinary attacks will do damage but what you really need to do to succeed is to keep an eye on the “body alchemy” of the game. Certain attacks will give the target a stack of colour coded “humours”. If you can set up a matched pair of humours and then make a catalysing attack, you’ll do lots of extra damage, as well as some nifty status effects if you have the right skills or equipment.
Another strange twist on the theme is that there is no “zone of control”, so characters can freely move through the tiles around their enemies and break contact to move behind them. This means that you can almost always make a flanking or rear attack. Careful use of placing your characters close together can block some enemies from being able to make these moves, but then beware of area of effect weapons such as Molotovs, grenades or blunderbuss!
There’s a lot of combat in Black Legend, against a scaling number of enemies, as well as variations of them as the game progresses. You’ll often be outnumbered and this game will happily kill you quickly, even on lower difficulty levels, especially if you’re content to just stand face to face and slug it out with your enemies. You’ll need to balance the use of body alchemy, skills and weapons to win the day.
In terms of story, things are heavy on theme but light on choice and content. You’ll learn snippets about the history of the city and its curse by talking to NPCs and carrying out quests. However, you’ll rarely have any meaningful choices to make and the characters are generally fairly difficult to form any sort of relationship with.
Even members of your party are somewhat generic, both as they appear and are equipped. As everyone can multi-class, the only thing they really have going for them is that which they have gained in terms of expertise and the equipment they carry. Occasionally you can recruit and even control NPCs in your party but this is rare. This means Black Legend never quite has the same feel as its peer in X-COM where you identify with your team and the feelings of pride or fear as they take a desperate last gasp shot.
The dialogue, delivered in a decent range of voice acting, is nicely done but there are no real characters to get to know so Black Legend, as a pure RPG, doesn’t really deliver. But as an X-COM-style tactical game, it’s all a bit too samey and there are so many battles that you may find yourself growing tired with yet another battle with cultists in a misty alleyway.
Graphically, Black Legend is moody and has some lovely touches, from the gallows and execution sites to the bodies simply hanging as you pass by. The ever-pervading mist is also a nice touch. The character models are fine, though they all often look a bit similar. And further to that, the camera controls can be a bit iffy at times and the lack of zoom means that you are often looking at characters from a middle distance, again rendering them all “the same”.
In terms of some other minor nit-picks, Black Legend does not feature a map, and that is a big omission in a game like this. Whilst there are signposts that will tell you which street or district is where, this makes getting around quite hard. Combat also features a lot of hits, including gun shots at close range that fail to kill anyone. This can be a bit immersion-breaking for some but this is more of a matter of taste. Additionally, for those with visual issues, it’s rather hard to make out the “stacks” of body humours on the characters with the dim colour pallet.
Black Legend is an unusual game to find on the Xbox, yet it is a game that will scratch a tactical itch for some players, especially as its combination of theme, tricky tactical combat and gothic horror is potentially a heady brew. However, in practise, it fails to really deliver on any of these fronts as everything feels vague and unfocused, like the game world’s mists have shrouded Black Legend itself.
Still, if you’re after a stiff challenge and don’t mind a bland set of characters, then Black Legend may well do it for you and is worth a look.