Black Book (PC) Review

By Athanasios 25.09.2021

Review for Black Book on PC

If there's something this fantasy fan is tired of, is dealing with the same thing again and again. The same Tolkien-esque, D&D-flavoured, medieval worlds, with elves, orcs, and so on and forth. Thank Chernobog for indie devs like Morteshka, then, which goes into the rarely visited territory of Slavic myths, with a dark, RPG/CCG/Adventure hybrid that follows a young witch as she uses the forces of evil in order to resurrect her fiancé, and has you playing either an "anti-heroine" that tries her best to not be as villainous, or a master of the black arts that has wholly embraced her powers.

Vasilisa could be a witch. She has the required potential within her, yet she refused to walk down that path. Sadly, the death of her fiancé brought her back to her "true" destiny - thus she became a witch; embracing the dark arts to bring back her loved one. This turns her into a 'Knower,' who is basically something like the wise lady (in this case a very young one) of the village, who has the necessary skills to deal with the supernatural - curse the neighbor cows, have demons scare annoying guests who can't read between the lines and go home, and generally cause mischief… whether you want it or not. Oh, yeah, prepare for plenty of dark and dirty deeds, done dirt cheap.

Screenshot for Black Book on PC

Playing a lot like a traditional RPG, Black Book revolves around choice and consequence, with Vasilisa frequently accumulating a stat called Sins, which decreases in the rare occasion you are presented with a good choice. Most of the time, though, the only thing you can do is to avoid sinning, which in practice means that you'll lose the opportunity to gain more money or experience. Even worse, players have demons under their command, and if these aren't given a naughty (and then some) task, they will pester them, and inflict a number of mechanical penalties, like lower health and so on. The alternative, of course, is the steady income of coin, as well as sins.

It's super hard to get out of this clean and sinless, which is actually very exciting - in concept. Sadly, it turns out that this system of morality mostly affects the ending, rather than rest of the experience. It does "unlock" more dialogue options (occasionally), especially if playing a truly villainous sorcerer. In the end, however, you mostly role-play for the sake of role-play, with not many occasions where the adventure changes significantly. That's not to say that this whole idea of "be as less evil as possible" doesn't have its merits, it's just that the delivery is somewhat inconsistent. Pretty much like the game itself, to be honest. Black Book tries to be a lot more than what you would expect from a low-budget indie title from a newcomer dev. Impressive, but also disappointing due to its execution.

Screenshot for Black Book on PC

At its core, this is a CCG along the lines of Slay the Spire, which translates to turn-based battles, revolving around the use of cards that one collects along the line, which in turn represent a variety of abilities, ranging from plain attacks and protection spells, to curses, boosting powers, skill modifiers, and so on and forth. While fun, it's quite unbalanced, with players either hitting a brick wall, or being able to wipeout demon party after demon party with extreme ease, especially if they focus in getting specific types of cards. No, it's not bad. Far from it. The same goes for the adventure, RPG, and even visual novel aspect of Black Book. Unfortunately, this is one more occasions of a title whose goal was to be a jack of all trades, which inevitably ended up being a master of none.

At specific intervals, Vasilisa will have to explore an area, search for clues, items, or a way inside a building. These segments… shouldn't be here. They are simplistic beyond belief, as well as unpolished, as it's not always clear where one can or can't walk to, leading to some annoying pointing and clicking. Far more enjoyable are the 'knowledge' sections; questions during the visual novel-esque dialogue sequences, where the heroine is tasked with finding what the correct answer is, something that required paying attention to the events of the game, and especially of the many pieces of lore that will be acquired throughout - which leads to the best thing on offer: the dive into Slavic mythology.

Screenshot for Black Book on PC

Black Book is steeped in Russian folklore. That kind that emerged through the mix of old traditions and Christianity, which adds an extra tasty, pagan vibe to it. Due to the consultation by Konstantin Shumov, a scientific expert in the field, this is practically an encyclopedia; one that gets enhanced as you play. Extra points to the team behind it for not making any compromises with the terminology used, with words like 'zagovor' rather than spell, or 'chort' rather than demon - which, by the way, sounds extremely appropriate as most are charcoal-colored, imp-like critters than hulking beasts as those found in Doom or Diablo. The Russian voice-acting is neat too. The English one is laughable.

The atmosphere is top-notch as well. The nighttime, 19th century Russian countryside looks magnificent in all its low-poly simplicity, making you feel the weight of the pitch-black shadows and the silver light of the moon. Sadly, atmosphere and rich world-building can't save this from its last flaw: repetition. This takes too long to reach a conclusion, and by then you'll do everything there is to do more than thrice. The first chapters are especially sleep-inducing, as each step ends up being almost the same as the one before it - explore an area, make a choice, fight some chorts, move on to the next, and nearly identical location to do it all over again. Again, not a bad game, but a bit of a tough recommendation.

Screenshot for Black Book on PC

Cubed3 Rating

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

It's hard to rate something like Black Book. It's a mix and match of things that are generally fun and refreshingly new, but the whole thing carries with it a lack of polish and balance, which could make this dark tale of witchcraft and demonology shine much brighter. This is basically a high 6, or a low 7. A mediocre, repetitive CCG/RPG, with some neat moments that'll - barely - manage to keep you interested. If looking to experience something outside of generic medieval fantasy, though, do give it a try. Morteshka's creation is basically Slavic Pagan Mythology: The Game.

Developer

Morteshka

Publisher

Hypetrain Digital

Genre

Turn Based RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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