Blacktail review

By Tom West,

Blacktail launches on Xbox Series X|S today, taking us on a fantastical adventure filled with feisty mushrooms, untalkative stones, and a war-obsessed ant queen. Here are our thoughts on Baba's search for her sister.

Charming is the immediate word that comes to mind when I think of Blacktail, with a world filled with beautiful scenery, wildly different character personalities, and childlike adventures set within a magical realm. With no humans in sight, you're free to make your choices of morality based on your treatment of the creatures you encounter, and whether that be the righteous path of the Grand or the self-serving path of the Cursed, there is no 'wrong' way to experience Yaga's story — unless you don't play, of course, which I don't recommend.

Blacktail trailer

In Blacktail, we embody Yaga, an outcast and witch-labelled young girl who becomes exiled from a remote village in a magical land after her sister Zora goes missing. The locals believe she is a servant of Baba, the woodland witch that hails any misfortune to fall upon the village, so once Zora is no longer there to protect her, Yaga is left with no choice but to embark on a quest to find her, armed with a bow, some magical powers drawn through a mystical gauntlet, and a mask that might not just be for hiding one's face. Blacktail's storyline is a pretty straightforward, if a little repetitive, affair which sees you locating some spirits, battling them into submission, and then exploring Yaga's lost memories in a bid to find out what happened to Zora. While most of the game is played in a first-person perspective, the storyline is broken up after each spirit with a side-scrolling platforming section that acts as a replacement for a traditional cutscene. It's a pretty neat idea that helps uncover the detailed story The Parasight has created without leaving you to twiddle your thumbs throughout what would be a ten-minute cutscene.

While Yaga sets out on her mission alone, she's joined fairly early by a mysterious voice of a woman in her head, a voice that seems to have a darker motive behind its words and enjoys cussing at most things. It works as a fantastic counterweight to Yaga's fairly innocent personality and leads to humorous and entertaining conversations between the pair while you're searching for Zora. In fact, I found most of the characters in the game to be entertaining, whether that be trash-talking mushrooms that randomly appear in the world, bureaucratic spiders, the evil ant queen on a conquest to claim the land as her own, or numerous other odd creatures you come across on your travels. Naturally, I didn't resonate with some, such as a reanimated dead fish that happens to be a sorcerer and is most definitely stoned out of its gills, but it still offered an entertaining enough encounter, and everyone will have different tastes on that front.

blacktail review xbox

Entertaining encounters seem to be the running theme in Blacktail, thanks to the large variety of creatures you can find in the world. Yaga's adventure is a dangerous one, filled with hungry plants, poisonous slug things, exploding wisps, dangerous Gnolls, and other aggressive creatures waiting to cause her harm. Boss creatures come in the form of mushrooms, with some aligning with the law-abiding Grand alliance, others though, choose to become the Cursed, but even if you choose to aid the darker mushrooms instead, you can still think of yourself as a fun guy — yes, that's my poor attempt at a joke. Most enemies you face can be dispatched easily enough via Yaga's bow, a magical broom, or some mystical abilities, all upgradable with unlockable skills. Combat is fluid and requires you to use the full extent of your arsenal to overcome the enemies coming at you, relying on your ability to use the broom to hold their attention, magical (Hocus) powers to remove shields, or effectively deploy the correct arrow type to damage, hinder, or remove some creature's crystal shields. Like most games, combat becomes much easier once you've got some unlocked skills behind you, though.

Skills are Yaga's upgrades, and while a few are available to you from the get-go, the majority of them need to be found in the world via Lost Pages in chests or hidden in dangerous areas like Gnoll camps. Once you've found a lost page, you can then choose to unlock the skill back at the Hut by using the cauldron — more on that in a bit. Each skill will require resources you find throughout the world, with the most precious of them all being teeth, which like the Lost Pages, require you to take on some challenges to earn them.

blacktail review xbox

Being so focused on the wild aspect of Blacktail, resources can be found a plenty in the wilds, but it also leads to the game's morality system coming into play. For much of the game, you're given a choice between advancing the light or dark moral trees, both of which offer three levels of enhancements, different from the opposite path. You'll need to choose which path speaks to you and align your in-game actions with the actions of the path you choose. For instance, to make arrows for Yaga's bow, you need sticks and feathers; you can either shoot a bird out of the sky (dark tree) or wait for it to land and pick up some feathers from it then (good tree). It's a great system in theory, but in my experience, it feels like more of an added extra than a meaningful way to challenge you throughout the game. Resources seem plentiful enough that you never quite get into a position of desperation where your morals are leaned upon entirely, so most of it is just optional, depending on how you feel about each action.

Whether you're aligned with the dark or the light makes no difference to my favourite thing about Blacktail: the beautiful world. The Parasight has created a work of art, in my opinion, and played on an Xbox Series X, Blacktail's world pops with colour. The settings menu offers both Performance and Quality modes with the inclusion of choosing frame rate limits of 30fps, 60fps, or no limit at all. Even when playing in the former mode, Blacktail's world is stunning and a pleasure to explore, bolstered by the four main areas of the game set within each of the four seasons: spring, summer, autumn, and winter. Each area offers a thematic approach to the season that it portrays, with summer showing luscious plant life and brightly lit plains and autumn greeting you with a floor blanketed with orange and brown leaves and more cloudy weather. They're lovely to look at, and while each area generally offers you similar map-clearing activities that see you exploring much of the large world, such as 'find these chests, clear that cave, solve those puzzles,' it's a rather pleasant journey due to the varied nature of the areas you're looking around.

blacktail review xbox

Each of the four areas is linked to a central hub, the aforementioned Hut, which acts as your base of operations in a way and can be accessed from anywhere via a magically teleporting cat, obviously. Here, you can display the collectable items you've found, upgrade your skills via the cauldron, and advance the story, which generally means unlocking the next area. The Hut is found within a swamp — as any witch's hut worth its salt is — and seems to have quite the connection to everything Yaga does; with each story milestone you reach, the Hut takes on more physical features over the corporeal form it initially has when you first find it.

As for the Blacktail achievements, you're going to be in for a long ride to grab the completion, with the majority of the list tasking you with uncovering most of the map and finding each of the collectables. There are a few miscellaneous ones thrown in that seem to keep the game's main themes in mind. One that continues Blacktail's humour is 'Goal!,' which tasks you with kicking a mushroom back into its lair once you kill it. After slaying a boss mushroom, they turn into little ones with squeaky voices that you can amusingly kick across the floor in the most humiliating victory dance of all. Others test your morality a bit, such as poisoning an innocent hedgehog, but with all things considered, it feels like every effort has been made to make the list entertaining while also pushing you to explore everything the game has to offer.

blacktail review xbox


Blacktail is beautiful, from the sun-kissed rivers found in its summer-themed areas to its foreboding spider-infested caves, every inch of the world has been a pleasure to explore. While the morality system doesn't offer the impactful experience we had hoped, it's a lovely way to measure your interaction with the world, adding to the game's overarching enjoyability. Combat is fun and well-balanced but sits behind Blacktail's explorative elements as the most exciting feature on offer. It's stunning to look at, exciting to explore, and enjoyable to play... charming.
9 / 10
* * Tom spent around 23 hours exploring the wilderness and searching for Yaga's sister, unlocking 18 achievements in the process. A review copy was provided by the publisher and was played on an Xbox Series X.
Tom West
Written by Tom West
Tom has been playing video games since he was old enough to hold a controller, experimenting with a number of systems until he eventually fell in love with Xbox. With a passion for the platform, he decided to make a career out of it, and now happily spends his days writing about that which he loves. If he’s not hunting for Xbox achievements, you’ll likely find him somewhere in The Elder Scrolls Online or fighting for survival in Battlefield.
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