Blacktail Preview: Into the Forest

Blacktail is shaping up to be an interesting fairy tale depicting the origin of Baba Yaga that will let you decide whether she's a benevolent protector or a living nightmare.

Blacktail is the story of two sisters: Zora and Yaga. They aren't ordinary sisters. Yaga is described as a girl without a face; she hides behind a mask. Her left hand is covered with a black goo she calls the gauntlet. The other villagers have always distrusted her, and she has always relied on her sister.

But like many children in the village, Zora has gone missing. And the village, never fond of Yaga, blames her for the disappearances. She's exiled herself to the forest in the hopes of finding out what has happened to Zora and the other children and regaining her memories, which have slipped away for reasons not revealed in a recent preview build we were able to play.

After a brief dream sequence that serves as the tutorial, Yaga is guided by a dark, mysterious voice who tells her to visit The Hut. Yaga is frightened of The Hut, and it obviously contains a sinister power. It also contains a Cauldron where Yaga can mix potions and acquire stat upgrades  and the most adorable fast travel function ever in terms of an inky black cat with piercing blue eyes.

Blacktail starts as a dream, and it continues to feel that way once you leave The Hut. Yaga soon sees spirits guiding her on, and she feels compelled to follow them. The forest Yaga navigates feels like something from a fairy tale, and like a fairy tale, it can be bright and beautiful one moment and dark and foreboding the next. It's full of creatures, too. There are regular old animals, like birds and foxes and deer, but there are other animals, as well: giant talking insects, friendly and not-so-friendly talking mushrooms, and monsters like gnolls.

Yaga isn't defenseless, though. She's armed with a bow and arrows, a dash, and a couple of basic spells that push enemies away from her and allow her to fire multiple arrows at a time. The only downside is that Yaga doesn't have much in terms of melee attacks. If she can't push an enemy anyway with magic or a dash, she has a hard time keeping enemies away from her — at least until she gets her broom, which draws enemies to it.

When she's not in combat, Yaga spends a lot of time exploring, finding characters to interact with, or gathering crafting materials. This is where the game's morality system comes into play. Everything Yaga does affects her morality and determines how the story plays out. Most of these decisions are pretty simple: Do you tell the Ant Queen the location of the human village so her ants can attack it? Do you help lost Mr. Larvae find his way home? Despite their simplicity, they do impact what quests she gets throughout the story.

Early on, I allied with a pair of mushrooms to help them get rid of a honey-hungry firedrake that had been terrorizing the area. Each one wanted me to complete the quest in a specific way. The good mushroom, Borvy Borko, wants you to seek out the Knight. The evil Mushroom, Slippery Jack, wants you to find a mushroom named Rebel.

I couldn't choose which path I wanted to follow; I was following the Good morality track (your morality is judged on a scale of six ranks from Rotten to Noble, each of which offers its own particular bonuses), so I was sent after the Knight and ended up fighting Rebel because he had something the Knight wanted.

It doesn't matter all that much; you end up fighting Rebel either way, but the reasons you're doing so change. The way you interact with the environment also changes your meter. Freeing a bird from a trap, for instance, means you're a good person. Shooting a bird in a trap is bad. If you're evil enough, you can kill a walking stick insect for wood, and so on. Your choices matter because they change your skills and how you interact with the world, but they don't seem to affect the story just yet.

Given that the story is about the origin of Baba Yaga, and your choices determine whether she will be a good witch or the stuff of nightmares, hopefully, that will change later on. The game hints that it will; after defeating Rebel, another mushroom named Spy informed me that the Knight wasn't being entirely truthful, and the firedrake threat was not what it appeared. But how that will play out remains to be seen.

Either way, the world itself is a delight. Exploring hidden nooks and crannies for items that you can use to craft items or spend at the Cauldron to upgrade Yaga's skill is fun, and the art design is gorgeous. The voice acting, particularly for Yaga herself and the mysterious Voice guiding her, is also great, as is the game's soundtrack, which veers from spooky and atmospheric to bright and fun depending on where you are and what's going on. It's appropriate and already memorable.

I only spent a few hours with Blacktail, but I enjoyed what I saw. If The Parasight can deliver on the game's premise when it releases on December 15 for PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X|S, Blacktail will be a fairy tale worth hearing.

Contributor

Published Nov. 9th 2022

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