Before the Baba Yaga of legend (the one from Slavic folklore, not Keanu Reeves) there was a lost teenager called Yaga. The protagonist of action-adventure Blacktail, Yaga has been accused of witchcraft and cast out of her village, and now roams a supernatural forest in search of her missing sister.
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Luckily for Yaga, those witchcraft accusations weren’t that far off the mark. Though Yaga begins her new life in the woods with just a trusty bow and a foggy memory, she soon discovers that she is indeed a witch. Though Blacktail‘s opening minutes play like a multiplayer survival game – crafting arrows, hunting deer, cooking meat – Yaga is soon drawn further into the mystical forest she’s been banished to, and the paranormal comes out to play.
From a combat perspective, players are quickly given lots of tools to work with. Yaga’s bow is her main weapon and can be used to snipe enemies from afar, but her magic comes in handy when her foes get too close for comfort. Her first spell is essentially a witch’s force push, great for making some space to loose more arrows, but as you progress through Blacktail you’re granted more directly-damaging spells that hint at Yaga’s true powers. However, combat still feels a little bit lacking – your bow doesn’t feel particularly fun to use, and because your quiver space is limited, having to stop and craft arrows in boss fights feels very oddly paced.
The monsters you’re pelting with arrows range from knee-high sludge goblins to towering, sentient mushrooms. Thanks to the forest’s inhabitants, Blacktail has an incredibly strong creative identity that only gets stronger as you delve further into the woods. Not everything within is evil – though the aforementioned mushroom serves as your first boss fight, others of his species include gallant knights to rogueish in-betweens. Blacktail also has a morality system, which influences whether Yaga becomes the evil witch of legend or leans into her more morally-ambiguous tales. These encounters are highly amusing, and some early dilemmas can see you directing an evil ant empress and her miniature army to the nearby human village, or helping a lost larva with directions.
Blacktail has a lot of wholesome charm for a game about a witch who eats children from her chicken-hut, and much of that is thanks to Yaga’s brilliant voice actor. Elsewhere, the acting is a bit odd thanks to some strange inconsistency – Yaga’s voice actor is British, but the American accent of her evil inner voice sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s not just her: at one point, I couldn’t help but laugh when one mushroom’s lines were delivered with a villainous Louisianna drawl. None of the performances are bad, but the tonal inconsistency is very jarring and makes becoming immersed in Blacktail’s universe more difficult than it should be.
Though Blacktail can feel shaky at times, the story of Yaga is intriguing, and a fairly expansive skill tree – which requires foraging items from the woods to progress – suggests combat could become a great deal more interesting later in the game. There’s a lot going for Blacktail – and clunk aside, if the origin story of the world’s weirdest witch sounds interesting to you, it’s worth keeping an eye out for Blacktail launching next month.