Black Book Review

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Written by Games of DAYNE | Reviewed on Xbox Series X

It was the worst day of Vasilisa’s life. Her husband commits suicide and is buried in unhallowed ground. Stepping into hell to become a koldun, a witch, Vasilisa sets out to fulfill a legend that states if she manages to break all seven seals of her mentor’s book, her loved one will return from the clutches of hell. Black Book has one hell of a dark premise and blends RPG elements with deck-building to create a unique and devilish cocktail to follow Vasalisa on her quest across the Russian countryside.

The story of Black Book plays out in an interesting manner, tasking the player with the likes of helping villagers and allowing them to decide how they end. These decisions have moral implications that are tallied up in a sins system that can be viewed at any time. Evil or divine, the choice is yours and the impact that has on the story is one that encourages replayability to experience the alternate paths based on your morality-driven actions and decisions.

Black Book manages to establish a sense of loneliness through its haunting score, solemn story beats and endearingly dark art design. This is important to point out as companions and demons keep Vasilisa from rarely actually being alone. Companions come and go with side missions, temporarily joining Vasalisa to share their stories and offer special quests to uncover more about their pasts. It’s interestingly layered and it often manages to make the player forget that this is a card-based game at heart in terms of gameplay. It’s a very unique dynamic that it looks like one thing, plays like something else and feels like something different altogether. Developer Morteshka have created something special and unique and it’s the overall atmosphere that compels you to want to know more.

Breaking the seals will be no easy feat and to make things interesting, each is accompanied by a riddle. Each new seal adds new cards to the deck and with it, new possibilities in card battles become available to keep things fresh and dynamic with the 33 card deck the player can battle with. The combat in Black Book is similar to traditional card battler games but the added complexity and challenge that comes with progression, accompanied by the supernatural narrative bind it together in a way that feels truly unique.

Each turn the player can play a certain number of cards. Dealing damage, protecting yourself, crafting spells each turn that dependent of the sequence that compliment the others. It is surprisingly difficult to accurately describe the nature of the card combat in Black Book. It’s familiar enough in certain aspects to fans of the genre while putting its own spin in the right places to keep it fresh and engaging. Some cards benefit from being next to others while maintaining balance of the black and white cards has other effects. Scroll and Key slots can only be used by certain card types too. While I struggle to describe it Black Book’s card-based combat is comfortable to play without much issue and feels more familiar with experience.

Where Black Book over-complicates itself is by introducing cards with terms or descriptions the player has not yet encountered, creating difficult situations due to the lack of understanding to use them effectively. Boss battles seem to require your deck to be customised to capitalise on their weaknesses which aren’t always obvious without trial-and-error.

There are so many more layers to Black Book in terms of gameplay. It offers Choose Your Own Adventure type mechanics that heavily focus on the exploration of the world and fulfilling side quests with characters to interact with. There’s also sequences that test your knowledge or exploration of the Codex in your Black Book to find the required information. These can be very specific and difficult to complete if attention hasn’t been paid on an almost microscopic level.

With plenty of side quests to complete it could easily take dozens of hours to fully complete everything Black Book has on offer. With the main story taking around 15 hours to complete the experience does begin to feel a little lengthy by the time the end is reached. It manages to inject enough new ideas to keep it feeling varied throughout though the point does arrive when it feels just a touch too long.

The visual direction of Black Book is suspiciously charming given the sinister nature of the core story. It feels cute yet dark, playful yet solemn, it is an interesting dynamic that works in favour of the games many directions, narratively and on a gameplay level. The character designs are fun and appropriate of the approximately 19th century era it unfolds in. The sound design is just as competent, offering beautiful melodies and ominous themes throughout that work on all levels.

Black Book is a unique experience that combines a number of unique gameplay elements from different genres that work surprisingly well in unison. The fun art design, interesting story and varied gameplay keep things fun and fresh, avoiding a sense of repetition from creeping into the experience despite the length feeling a little overbearing towards the end.

+ Interesting story

+ Compelling companions

+ Fun card-based gameplay when it becomes familiar

+ Varied genres and gameplay elements

– Learning curve may frustrate initially

– Feels a little long

Developed by: Morteshka

Published by: HyperTrain Digital

Release Date: August 10 2021

Platforms: Xbox One/Series X|S, PlayStation 4/5, Nintendo Switch and PC

* A digital code was kindly provided by the Publisher to One More Game and reviewed by me, as a member of their team *

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