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Black Geyser: Couriers of Darkness Review

by Lackblogger, 2022-04-06

What is it?

BG, which is an acceptably confusing acronym, is a computer role playing game in the vein of Baldur's Gate and similar titles. Its an isometric, real time with pause, party-based, companion-based, PC role playing game. To help filter a few people here, no, there is no turn-based option. The game emulates the classics of the genre, Baldur's Gate 1 & 2, Icewind Dale 1 & 2, Planescape: Torment, Pillars of Eternity and Pathfinder Kingmaker. It also has some comparison with Drakensang: The Rive of Time and even Jeff Vogel's Avernum and Avadon series, and likely makes other subtle references to other games I haven't even played.

It's a small-team indy game with big ambition, but this is no Serpent in the Staglands, this is a nearly fully realised game with enough familiarity to the classics to make you perfectly comfortable with most of the UI, means to progress and general atmosphere. The camera doesn't require positioning beyond moving it around the screen so it's as if it were 2d painted backgrounds with sprites. You can, however, zoom in a bit if you prefer a closer look or perspective on things, which is nice.

 

Production Values

The quality of the game overall is much better than I was expecting, with lovely surroundings and nice sharp definition (though I have heard it might fall just short of 4k perfection). I found the graphics and design generally to be of a very acceptable (dare I say high) standard that should suit any fan of AA games. While it is not completely feature complete, it certainly is complete in the sense that you can have a full game with it and not be aware that some things are still being sorted out for a future time. The three most notable of these things being sorted out later are: Companion quests and interactions, player strongholds and a rejigged multiclassing system.

It's the vicious circle here though, because waiting for such things before buying the game would result in the developers not getting enough positivity (and money) to be able to improve the game to that point. I mean, sure, it's preferable to play Baldur's Gate 1 with the Durlag's Tower expansion, but, at the time, people needed to buy and play the rather experimental vanilla Baldur's Gate 1 in order to get there. As I will discuss later, the game has plenty enough replayability to enjoy it now and then enjoy it again down the road a bit anyway, so holding off on playing it for these reasons could be very counter-productive.

 

Character Creation

There is lots and lots of choices during character creation with ample opportunity for you to find the character you always play or experiment with something completely new to this game or to try and second guess what might be the ideal character for a game about global greed levels.

There's also lots of nice options to further specialise your character with various skills, like whether you want the talky option for your skill or the safe cracker option, etc. Where it falls a bit short is with the main attributes and the weapon specialisations. Well, I say fall short, but rather it's just a bit underwhelming. It's definitely more Advanced Dungeons and Dragons than 3rd Edition, put it that way. Your main attributes are capped at 14 during character creation, which is an odd and unusual number for the genre, and there's no pop-ups to describe in detail what raising a stat by one point does. Weapon Specialisations just give you more to-hit points but don't give any bonus to damage, as far as I could tell. And the extent of the improved to-hit is left somewhat mysterious.

 

Companions

Because it's gone the companion route, then it's going to be trying to appeal to the companion fan, but at this point in time it looks like these types of fans are the most disappointed. There are plenty of potential companions in the game who gradually reveal themselves as you progress. They all have different personalities and skill sets and their individual personal quest. As with a lot of Baldur's Gate 1's though, they are, at the moment, quite bare bones and only have one small quest and only interact with the main quest occasionally. At this point in time, things like romances, bickering and evolved quests are a plan for the future rather than a here and now. They do have enough personality to give you reason to like them though, even at this point in time.

Nevertheless, the game still does provide opportunities for sexual encounters, so fans of such-like things need not panic entirely. I, myself, was quite happy for the companions to be, at this point in time, quite minimalistic, as it kind of fits the overall aesthetic of starter-adventure that promises more in the future. The sense of charm when indies make a good job of actually trying. I was also more a fan of the Icewind Dale series than the Baldur's Gate series, though many will be happy to hear that this game is by no means just a combat crawler when I say that.

 

Reactivity

The game's strongest aspect is its approach to reactivity, choice and consequence and therefor general replayability. By having Greed as a core game mechanic, you, as the player, get to directly influence the state of the world. As such there are two extreme ways to play the game, which both offer extremely different runs, that of exceptionally generous and also exceptionally greedy. By playing one then the desire to play the game the opposite way is very strong indeed. But there's also the more neutral option as well, a sort of middle ground of a bit greedy and a bit generous. And then there's variations either side of that which would likely appeal to min-maxers seeking out the perfect way to get the best items and gold for the least greed impact, etc.

You really do have to be very attentive to every reward screen as many times you can have up to five or even more options as to how to proceed and effect yourself and the game world. And some rewards can impact all future greed in very unexpected ways. Not only this, but even side quests can have unexpected ramifications for other areas of the game. You might hear that the game 'is just a lot of fetch quests', and there certainly are fetch quests, but this does a huge disservice to the better side quests by a large degree. Not only all this, but you can also side with different factions at different points in the game. But that's getting into spoiler territory. Let's just say it's unlikely many people will have exactly the same experiences all through the game and that there are plenty, yes plenty, of tantalisers for alternate replays.

 

Combat

Combat is quite serviceable and enjoyable generally, but only once you've got used to it. I played on Classic Difficulty, which is the normal mode, the 2nd of the four difficulties, and I must admit, it felt a bit like story mode for a lot of the early combat. Saying that, there were instances where even at this level I found I'd have to reload after the death of a companion (rather than resurrect them at a temple), but it was mostly because of bad positioning of my mage, you get the idea. Late game however becomes the much more good, gritty combat full of pauses and tactics. There are random encounters between maps in the early chapters, but they stop after a while (though they may be put back in the game proper if they can sort out loading times).

So if combat is very important for you then I would recommend not hesitating to push up the difficulty bar. However, do be aware that then the very late game will be quite the doozy. This isn't to undersell the combat, as I still took health damage in nearly all of the combat scenarios, just rarely enough to cause worry. The itemisation is really quite good, well paced and well distributed, with there rarely being a lack of interest in new finds or rewards. Though some equipment does have less exciting options than others. The spells are interesting and varied, though do lack detailed descriptions, though most are self explanatory. You'll be much more confident with spell choices on your second play through, or maybe even mid to late game the first time. There's some shock of the different to overcome here. But it's still Vancian with scribeable scrolls and all that, so also very familiar.

 

Plot and Exploration

The plot is a grand one that takes you from a nobody to the linchpin that decides the fate of the realm, but without being overly epic in the overly-dramatic sense, as is the case with a lot of these kind of games. The only downside is that it's a mostly humanoid affair for most of the game. There's not much in the way of high fantasy areas or encounters for most of the journey. There are plenty of high fantasy moments, but the main plot is mostly the affairs of men for most of the game.

Exploration is achieved in the same way it is in the early Baldur's Gate games, and this area is it's biggest comparison to those games. You enter an area who's size is depicted in the map, you clear the fog of war and reveal the map and then, once you reach the end of the map, go to the world menu and choose another location (map) to explore, with maps requiring a specific entry point the first time you want to go to them.

Each map has NPCs, quests, points of interest, little encounters and what have yous and etcetera. Sometimes you can explore freely and disregard the main plot and sometimes areas will only appear after a main plot beat. I found it all very enjoyable and was also delighted to find a 'walk quickly' button for when I wanted to Benny Hill my way through a map to deliver a quest. The downside is it can be a series of loading screens getting from one place to another if you're not intending to hang around but just move around globally. But don't worry too much, once an area is explored you can usually fast travel to it.

 

Bugs

Surprisingly, bugs don't play too much of a role in this game. I had a relatively bug free experience with nothing that couldn't be put down to either expectable type stuff or easily sortable random stuff. As one might expect of a European indy title, one gets a sense of mild jank rather than a sense of the annoying bug. This isn't to say it's bug free, just that bugs are mostly just the little things here and there.

Usually, if something goes wrong, you can just reload or enter another area and the issue will go away, like UI pop-ups getting stuck to the screen. The permanent stuff is like: the Divine Favour spell healing undead instead of hurting them. Just the odd funny little stuff really that didn't impact the overall. The only really annoying one for me was that my party leaders 'Commander Bonuses' drop down options dropped down off the screen and there was no means to scroll through all the options, either by mouse wheel or UI scroller.

By far the biggest issue is loading times. My loading times were pretty good to begin with, but as the game progresses they do get longer. I didn't experience the multiple minute ones that some do, but they are just long enough to be noticeably annoying. My own belief is that this is caused mostly by the itemisation, in that the more items both you and the traders carry, by you moving all the items around, the longer the game takes to load a map where that kind of stuff has happened. Even after this is solved, the number of times you have to load, like just going upstairs in a house after getting one from going into the house, is quite a lot, so even with quick load times there is still a lot of time spent watching loading screens. For me, they weren't bad enough to make me rage or get very angsty even, except for traders with too much stuff requiring a load time just to show me their inventory (late game after you've sold them tons of stuff).

 

Conclusion

The game does just enough to keep you playing when it's at it's lowest ebb and is good ol' classic riveting stuff when it's at it's best. I never once felt like coming close to uninstalling it, but once or twice wondered if I was in the mood for more today. In the case of the latter, a few hours rest from the game is all that's needed. Its not very buggy but perhaps slightly janky, but no more than one would expect.

In the grand pantheon of games like this that I've played, I, personally, enjoyed it more than Baldur's Gate 1, Pillars of Eternity 1 (less boring), about the same level of enjoyment as Drakensang: The River of Time, Pathfinder: Kingmaker (less janky than RoT and all the good bits of Kingmaker without the kingdom management, though does lack 3rd Ed), and slightly less than Baldur's Gate 2 and Icewind Dale. It's not really comparable at all to Planescape: Torment or Icewind Dale 2. The game has easter eggs for Avernum and Avadon, but the game is like neither for comparison's sake, other than the indy'ness aspect, of course.

I think the game should have good enjoyment value for people who like the above mentioned games, regardless of which they think are better, and even if they think this one the worst. I paid 29.99 for my copy and I had 79 hours with it, with a definite desire to replay it at some point, so it's definitely a money's worther in my now-biased opinion. 

Box Art

Information about

Black Geyser: Couriers of Darkness

Developer: GrapeOcean Technologies

SP/MP: Single-player
Setting: Fantasy
Genre: RPG
Combat: Pausable Real-time
Play-time: Over 60 hours
Voice-acting: Partially voiced

Regions & platforms
Internet
· Homepage
· Platform: PC
· Released: 2022-03-17
· Publisher: Unknown

More information


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Summary

Pros

  • Familiar Style
  • Original setting
  • Ambitious
  • Replayability
  • Unpretentious

Cons

  • Some Jankyness
  • Load screens
  • Ongoing Work in progress
  • Needs more monsters
  • Needs more tooltips

Rating: Very Good

A very good game that is just short of being excellent, because of one or more minor issues that reduce the level of enjoyment a little bit.

Review version