Older PC CRPGs have a special place in my heart. I’ve stated many times that Baldur’s Gate 2 is one of the most formative games I played as a teenager. I fell in love with the world, the systems, and the genre because of this game. It’s been fantastic watching a resurgence of the genre as of late, and the latest tiled from GrapeOcean Technologies continues that legacy. Black Geyser: Couriers of Darkness releases today after launching in early access, and it hearkens back to the classic CRPGs of old. Almost doggedly so.
Black Geyser transports players to the world of Yerengal, where you take the role of a servant of a great lord. The lord’s estate is attacked early on by the rogue group Daron-Guld, leaving you the sole survivor. Your journey starts as you try to uncover your origins, explore and help heal a world ravaged by war and greed.
Presented as an old-school, isometric RPG, Black Geyser is full of characters for you to meet, locations to explore, quests to gather, and puzzles to solve. It’s a world that truly transported me back to my house on the Air Force base here in Vegas as a kid, playing Baldur’s Gate under the glow of my giant CRT monitor. The UI is eerily reminiscent of the original Baldur’s Gate, though it’s not identical.
Black Geyser is a CRPG that wants you to think back to those experiences and therefore lacks some of the more modern flourishes brought to the genre in recent years with the likes of Pillars of Eternity, Tyranny, or even Baldur’s Gate 3. Some of this is welcome: combat is challenging and feels complex, and I adore the almost 2.5D presentation by GrapeOcean on display.
However, some of the modern additions that the genre has embraced are sorely missing here. For example, the inability to rotate the camera to get a new angle on the map itself can be frustrating. One moment early on had me angry and showed just much I’ve come to rely on these flourishes. Playing a Swindler, A mysterious old Crone walked me through how to sneak, using her black cat as my guard. Being told to hide by a cupboard and sneak across the room, I couldn’t figure out exactly where she wanted me to hide. The tutorial was made all the more confusing since the spot ended up being somewhere I couldn’t see due to how the game's artists drew the building on the map itself. I couldn’t see the corner I was being tasked with going to hide. Instead, I had to grope around until I could finally get into sneak mode.
Movement in Black Geyser is done simply by left-clicking where you want your party to go, and it’s here where another issue that has been largely solved cropped up: the camera doesn’t follow the group. I cannot figure out how to make it so, and there is nothing in the settings (that I can see) that would toggle this. It’s annoying to have to click to move and then manually follow where I go. Something like this feels true to the genre’s roots, but they are modern conveniences for a reason: nothing is lost by allowing camera follow.
Another convenience is the simple matter of transferring items between party members. There doesn’t seem to be a way to do so while in the inventory panel, instead I’ve dropped stuff on the ground and had one of my other party members pick it up. This is incredibly convoluted and annoying, making inventory management a chore. I wish there were a way to right-click and transfer it to another member.
Gameplay annoyances aside, Black Geyser: Couriers of Darkness is set up to feel like a tabletop RPG, though it’s using its own custom ruleset instead of something more familiar. As such, you have some original races, though they can be seen as somewhat copies of what you’d find in D&D itself. You’ve got your bog-standard Humans, Dwarves and Elves, as well as the frost-Elves called the Feldegug and the mysterious Rillow. Each race has its own advantages and disadvantages and classes they are locked out from, meaning it’s a more meaningful choice on gameplay than a simple avatar swap.
Character creation sees you choose between a myriad of classes, such as the Outlaw Swindler, a Fighter, or one of the many mage classes, to name a few. From there you’ll choose skills, proficiencies - standard RPG fare. If you want to jump right into the action, you can forgo character creation altogether and select one of the premade characters. It’s nice to have that option, especially as the ruleset is unfamiliar, choosing a premade character that the game’s creators have tuned could be a good way for some to get their bearings before diving in headlong later on.
As it’s hearkening back to the real-time RPG titles of yesteryear, the presentation is much like the games Black Geyser is inspired by. It’s largely 2D environment is populated by what look to be fully 3D sprites, making the world feel a bit more alive than simply pixelated characters on the screen.
It’s brought more to life with some of the most important scenes being fully voice acted. Unfortunately, the voice acting isn’t all that good, with some characters over-acting and others using poorly trained English-Esque accents that feel just out of place. That being said, I really do appreciate the voice acting being there, as you can definitely feel its absence when you’re on a quest where it doesn’t feature.
Combat itself is where many of these old CRPGs shined for me, and thankfully, Black Geyser delivers on that front so far. As a real-time RPG, combat plays out in…well….real time. While you have the standard “rounds” like you’d see in a tabletop game, complete with dice rolls under the hood, everything happens at once, making it both hectic and, at times, glorious. You can pause the action at any time to set up your attacks, move party members out of harms way, take potions, and more. Additionally, Black Geyser lets you set up moments where it automatically pauses the action for you, such as when combat is initiated, a party member or the protagonist are low on health and so on. It’s a nice touch and allowed me to get out of some rather perilous scrapes early on when my Swindler bite of more than she could chew.
We’re still early on in our review playthrough of the CRPG, but thus far it’s transporting me back to one of the fondest times in my gaming life. I’ve loved CRPGs since I ever played my first one at 14, and I’m glad they are still being made. While I feel Black Geyser might be trying to recreate that experience a little too closely, bringing back some of the archaic systems and controls that the genre had thankfully left behind, so far I’m enjoying my time in Yerengal. We’ll have more leading up to our full review in the coming days and weeks.
Full Disclosure: A copy of this title was provided by PR for the purposes of this review.