Review | BLACKTAIL
The Baba Ayayaga
BLACKTAIL is the first game from Polish Studio The Parasight S.A. You take on the role of Yaga, a young woman looking for her sister in a beautiful, dark fairy-tale world. Through a mix of crafting, archery, platforming, and spellcasting you’ll spend 10-15 hours trying to uncover what has happened to your family and friends. Will you become the protector of the woods or the nightmare that haunts them? Let’s find out.
Good and Evil Are Just Constructs
Yaga, the protagonist is the heart of BLACKTAIL’s story. With the backing of publisher Focus Entertainment this is a dark, mature, and wonderfully told tale where you choose the path it takes through your actions. It is a binary system of good and bad, and I struggled at first to guess how my actions would be taken. As Yaga, you will traverse the woods while looking for your sister and “friends”. Along the way, you’ll come across things like birds trapped by plants that you can either save (good) or kill both (very bad). Ants are looking to attack nearby humans; will you help them and be wicked or refuse and risk their anger while keeping your morals? It’s an interesting system, and one that has benefits both gameplay and story-wise depending on what you’re looking for.
If you are bad and try to go meet a noble mushroom knight he’ll attack you on sight, but if you’re good and meet with a nasty trickster the same thing can happen. It’s a good pro and con system for interacting with quests that extends to the gameplay as well. Being good affords you more resources while being bad makes you better at combat and offers up useful healing drops during it. Like many games, I found that being good ended up making playing the game far harder at times. You’re simply not that powerful in combat without either being very bad or grinding out a lot of the resources and side quests needed to level up your character. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, back to the story.
I ended up mainlining it pretty hard as my review window was filled with 4 other videos to work on. The map is huge, and exploration and side questing are encouraged. The game’s PR informed me that a full playthrough should take anywhere from twenty to twenty-five hours. I finished up in about ten, and I missed a lot of the side content. Each area of the map represents a different season and has numerous side-quests and unlockables to find. Both the main and side stories were of consistently high quality. The writing is solid, and the voice acting is great. Yaga, the voice inside her head, her sister, friends, and more felt like fully realized and deep characters by the end. For a game of this budget and team size they punched well above their weight in the presentation overall.
Yaga’s main form of defense is her bow, which eventually has three different ammo types that you must constantly craft. This is one of my main gripes with the game, as early on you’ll need to grab lots of wood and feathers as you constantly craft the base arrow type. With some side questing and resource grinding, such as the weird eyeball spiders that turn into just their eye after death, you’ll be able to hold more of everything at once which helps. Combat itself felt ok on a Series X with a small amount of auto-aim. I did have to up my sensitivity a bit and lower my dead zones in the controller settings. Yaga is fast with her bow put away (done by holding B), and can jump like an Olympian with a press of the A button. X is used for grabbing resources and interacting with the world, and Y will put down your broom. Yaga is a witch, after all, at least she’s constantly called one by the townsfolk that hate her, and you can craft this distraction device that will madden enemies into attacking it. I constantly forgot to use it, and after dying multiple times and remembering it became key to beating the game for me.
If you have an elite series 2 be weary, this game uses your bumpers a lot. The left bumper brings up your crafting screen and the right bumper is your extremely important dash. The dash is your main survival and movement ability and operates on a short cooldown. The triggers are used for aiming and shooting like you’d assume they were. Overall combat felt ok, but unless you make sure to upgrade it can be infuriating at times. Enemy attacks can feel cheap with how quickly they will swing or leap at you from far distances. Pressing down on the d-pad will put you into a crouch which I tried to use for more stealthy takedowns, but nothing big dies in one hit so it rarely worked.
To upgrade your character you’ll need a ton of resources to head back to THE HUT! Baba, the evil spirit of the forest’s hut is one of the main areas and plot points of the game. Baba has been gone for a while, dead or missing you are unsure, but the hut is still there and is slowly taking over the entire area with its roots. It becomes your home base of operations as you attempt to stop it (if you’re good) or help it (if you’re bad). In its cauldron, you’ll see the game’s large upgrade tree, one I barely interacted with until a solid 5 hours into the game. The items needed to upgrade feel tied to side questing and exploration and I sadly didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to do so. It feels like an incredibly light survival game at first, but it’s not that bad. This is definitely a title you want to spend your time with. Focusing on the main quest will leave you with most of the map unseen, and only a few of the upgrades obtained. It is also stingy with achievements, not even giving one for completing the campaign. By the end of my ten hours, I had 2 out of 32 unlocked.
Jeebus, That’s Pretty
BLACKTAIL is a visually striking game. Running on Unreal Engine 4 it is carried by a nice bit of future-proofing and an incredible art style. The graphical options here are fantastic to see and should guarantee improved performance through future console generations. You not only have a quality or performance mode, but you can set a framerate target, including unlimited. Few games have had these few extra future-proofing options and I hope it becomes a trend as our consoles become ever more PC-like.
The biggest thing people will talk about for this title is the graphics. It is a gorgeous title. Tons of color with deep saturation and a mix of almost cartoon-like but not quite character and enemy models create something that should stand the test of time. The skybox is one of my favorites in a video game with its massive drawing-style stars, sun, and moon shapes. All four seasons being represented means you get a nice diversity in the play areas, and I didn’t notice any issues with performance while playing through my capture card and directly to my VRR-enabled monitor.
The music, writing, and voice acting all match the graphics with only a few of the side characters feeling a bit out of place. Most of the characters have vaguely British accents, but a couple of Yaga’s “friends” sounded American. It’s not a big thing but it did take me out of it a little bit for a story I imagine as always being in Europe. The narrator ended up being one of my favorite parts, with his off-kilter deadpan delivery. The soundtrack is fantastic, and I wish I could have captured more of it for the video of this review. Deep melodies and orchestral music are perfect for the setting and story. One last thing is that his game is only $30 at launch, and it is well worth that price tag.
BLACKTAIL is a well-made, highly polished title that is easy to recommend. Make sure you have the time to properly level up and explore. This beautiful, haunting world is one I hope to come back to time and time again.
Xbox Series X
- Looks Gorgeous
- Solid Voice Acting
- High Quality Writing
- Great Music
- Combat Is Unfair if Not Leveled
- Slow to Start