Blacktail PS5 review. It’s certainly fair to say that decent video games about fairy-tale witches that aren’t waifu bait, are few and far between. Happily then, I can report that Blacktail, the debut title from Polish studio The Parasight, not only deftly captures this concept with aplomb but also provides an excellent, if slightly flawed, first-person action RPG into the bargain.
Blacktail PS5 Review
Blacktail Is An Excellent If Familiar Debut Action RPG Effort For Polish Studio The Parasight
Cast as Yaga, a masked young girl accused of witchcraft and driven from her medieval home after the disappearance of her twin sister Zora, Blacktail tasks players with not only tracking down Yaga’s wayward sibling but also unravelling the mystery behind the evil spirits that seemingly plague her every step and every dream. With the action taking place from a first-person perspective, Blacktail has players wandering around a forest teeming with magic and life as they use Yaga’s powerful bow to vanquish a range of supernatural enemies, all the while exploring the landscape and uncovering the secrets that are embedded within.
From the jump, it’s abundantly clear that a whole lot of love has been poured into the visual aesthetic of Blacktail. Emboldened by broad strokes of colour throughout and not to mention a range of gorgeous particle effects and a super smooth framerate (when played in the dynamic 4K resolution performance mode – the ‘quality’ preset is far less stable), Blacktail’s evocative range of mythological folklore locations are brought to vivid life. From free-flowing meadows filled with all manner of natural and supernatural creatures bounding along their banks, through to deep caves encrusted with honey, to suitably spooky incorporeal houses and wooded areas in which all manner of flora and fauna abound, Blacktail’s penchant for injecting colour and vibrancy at every turn helps to cement its place as one of the most visually attractive games of the year.
Beyond its undeniably attractive veneer, Blacktail quickly reveals itself to be a resoundingly competent and deeply enjoyable, if slightly flawed, action RPG that essentially swaps out the firearm part of a typical first-person shooter and instead replaces it with a more elegant bow. In practice, Blacktail’s archery based violence is satisfying, with Yaga able to target foes with pinpoint accuracy and additional arrow types and abilities allowing her to widen her arsenal far beyond the standard wooden arrows that she begins the game with.
Likewise, Blacktail provides an ample variety of enemies for Yaga to deal with. Though the usual forest goblins are easily dealt with as they come mindlessly charging toward you, other enemies such as exploding wasps, plant traps, rampaging gnolls and more all provide a decent selection of foes for Yaga to deal with while also demanding a unique approach to each. In addition to Yaga’s trusty bow, she can also leverage her gauntlet to unleash devastating hexes on her foes too, providing a welcome additional dimension to Blacktail’s combat in the process.
Blacktail also boasts a range of boss battles too, requiring that players whittle down the massive health reserves of massive honey dragons, towering sentient mushrooms and more all the while learning attack patterns and mechanics that are sometimes unique to that particular battle. It’s a fairly well established template for sure, but the satisfaction you get from taking down an especially tricky boss is palpable (and the super quick loading makes retrying the more difficult fights a cinch).
Supporting Blacktail’s combat is a crafting system that again doesn’t really set the world alight from an innovation perspective but serves the overall design of the game well enough. By collecting various naturally occurring materials in the environment Yaga can fashion additional resources such as new arrows, poison antidotes and more on the fly thanks to a snappy radial based UI that makes crafting new items during exploration or battle pretty much instantaneous, neatly sidestepping the need to pause the action and go into a separate set of menus to do so. It’s fast, it’s neat and it doesn’t interrupt combat. What’s not to like?
Blacktail’s crafting also actually intertwines very nicely with the exploration aspect of its design in that it encourages the player to explore every nook and cranny of its world in search of precious recipes that unlock new crafting possibilities. Further afield, numerous hidden treasures and lore sheds light on not just the world that surrounds Yaga, but also Yaga herself as she struggles to work out who she really is and the nihilistic forces that seem hellbent on twisting her very soul.
Speaking of exploration, Blacktail does a pretty good job of not just incentivising you to investigate its enticing caves, forests, mountain peaks, shrines, abandoned windmills and more, but it also manages to make unlocking new areas a roundly satisfying endeavour as well. When you first begin Blacktail, much of the map is not only obscured by a fog which can be removed through exploration, but some areas require you to unlock special spells or abilities in order to progress in true Metroidvania fashion. In terms of Blacktail’s overarching design this approach really works because as you gain more capability to access previously inaccessible portions of the game world, you find yourself returning to previously explored areas to unearth secrets, recipes and loot that were out of your reach earlier in the game.
Sadly, if there’s one aspect of Blacktail’s exploration that isn’t quite as tight as it should be it’s the platforming side of the equation. Though Yaga can leap through the air easily enough, landing on just about any surface that isn’t completely flat feels a bit haphazard and equally, it’s all too easy to fall into the water and lose almost all of your health since, well, Yaga can’t swim. It’s hardly a gamebreaker, but Yaga doesn’t feel as capable athletically in this way as she perhaps should. Elsewhere, quest design in Blacktail is well if familiarly constructed, with the various talking mushrooms, forest creatures and other supernatural beings all providing Yaga with a range of main and side quests that she can take on in order to both further the story and progress herself. Relatedly, the morality system which sits at the very core of Blacktail directly affects the world and how the denizens within it respond to Yaga, depending on how she reacts to events that unfold.
For example, an evil ant queen might offer Yaga some precious recipes in reward for encouraging her to kill other forest creatures, but if refused, will provide Yaga with ‘light’ points that effectively send her down the more magnanimous end of the morality scale, whereas follow the ant queen’s bidding take Yaga towards being the nightmare of children’s dreams that witches are accused of being. Though the morality scale is binary with little opportunity for grey between its light and dark extremes, it nonetheless provides Blacktail with a degree of replayability too in order to discover the additional endings that the other moral extremes provide.
Further providing creative latitude to the player experience are the numerous skill trees that can be upgraded to match your chosen playstyle, providing increased damage, reduced cooldowns and other such benefits. Again, it’s all familiar stuff, but it does lend itself well to a game like Blacktail where there is a clear onus on allowing the player to make its narrative and experience their own.
In terms of that narrative, Yaga will discover lost memories at key points in the story which allow her to piece together her identity and these are often depicted as narrated two dimensional platforming sequences that while admirably different from the main experience, feel a little jarring and not as polished as the rest of the game. It’s also worth nothing that at just over fifteen hours long, Blacktail is something of a streamlined genre effort that never outstays its welcome, though as mentioned previously, the presence of a polarised morality system and the temptation to seek out every last secret (and the trophies tied to them), provide more than enough reason to embark on a second playthrough.
With its bewitching fairy-tale presentation, satisfying combat, enticing exploration of a beautiful world and a narrative that is lovingly inspired by dark Slavic fables, I really enjoyed my time with Blacktail. Though the various gameplay systems are very much inspired from what we’ve seen in similar games already and the platforming side of things isn’t quite as polished as I might like, Blacktail nonetheless is a thoroughly enjoyable action RPG that serves as a stellar debut effort for Polish developer The Parasight. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.
Blacktail is out now on PS5.
Review code kindly provided by PR.