Blacktail is a complicated, first-person adventure when you play a lil witch. Well, a witch in training, sort of. A witcheen. Baba Yaga has been forced to live in the forest having been accused of witchcraft, so it seems like one of those self-fulfilling prophecy deals.
It’s a very brightly coloured, fantastical world, this forest you live in, and you’re dropped in media res. I thought that hands-on preview I got would be quite a casual gadabout talking to a cute dragon and what have you, but in fact it was difficult, and weird, and very opaque in the best way. The res in question included treasure chests with teeth and talking pine-cone spirits, and exploding fireflies. But you’re an archer, too, and I really, really hate using arrows in first-person, and I don’t think that will change.
Maybe you like it, though, and if that’s you – if you love you some FPA – then you should check Blacktail out. It’s based on Slavic myth, and much of the content of the game is, I assume, using bits of that myth I’m completely unfamiliar with, and to my utter delight the game did not bother to explain or rationalise any of it. For example, there’s an invisible witch house made of teeth and muscle, where you level your powers up using a cauldron (and to which you can teleport via smokey black cats sitting around the forest). You save by putting a red flower in a stone shrine. I kept running into an evil ant queen who seems bent on attacking the nearby town.
My favourite thing is that almost every NPC I spoke to in the demo (bar the ant queen, and the charismatic-but-snarky witch voice in my head) was some kind of weirdo mushroom dude. One was a felon who had a burlap sack over him as if he’d recently been hanged, and had an armoured dead guy stuck to his head via an axe. Another was called Knight, and he had a dead knight sitting on a saddle on his head – a big mushroom cap, obviousy – but it kind of looked like he’d grown through a battlefield, because four horse legs dangled underneath his gills. The most distressing was a kind of cluster mushroom with several snake like heads, all with different personalities.
Blacktail has a lot of exactly the kind of specific, undiluted weirdness I’ve been asking for recently, in other words. My main quest in the demo was to get a bridge repaired, and the various mushrooms told me I had to get rid of the dragon, that there was a better way to get rid of a dragon, or that the dragon did not in fact exist, in a daisy chain of quests and conversations convincing me to betray other mushrooms – and that did not really provide any context. Baba Yaga seemed to know what was going on, anyway. And around that there are some interesting semi-survival things that give you a sense of mastering the world: spotting a bees nest to get honey, stalking a deer for its meat, that kind of kidney. The map itself seems pretty big, and even in the short hands-on build I found a load of caves to find. There are tonnes of twisty rock formations that poke up like ribs, or look like snakes and rabbits. It’s cool!
It’s just… first-person archery isn’t my combat of choice. It’s slow, and difficult, and the boss fights in the demo didn’t have any cover to avoid attacks. The upgrade tree indicates that later on in the full game you can upgrade to better arrows, get faster draw speed, and apply different magical effects, but in the demo it was finicky and a bit frustrating. If there’s a way to tighten the bow string on the combat a bit, I’d be well up for diving back into Blacktail.