The main character of Blacktail is a girl without a face. At least, the mask she wears to cover her face is utterly featureless, and the devs use this as a metaphor to lay out the decision-based morality tale at the core of the game.

Yaga, the girl in question, finds herself trapped in a dense, dangerous forest, fleeing persecution – or is she fleeing justified prosecution for her crimes? Traces of her story are scattered throughout the woods, and Blacktail’s main narrative thread asks the player to search them out, to reveal her past, and most importantly, decide exactly what it all means.

Children have been disappearing from a Slavic village – but is that Yaga’s fault, or the responsibility of the older sister whose footsteps she’s following? While the player travels around the map, piecing together Yaga’s backstory, they’ll run into a wide variety of opportunities to determine exactly what kind of person she is. Strange talking animal NPCs ask for their help, and it’s up to the player to decide whether to assist or spurn them. Not that helping is always the moral choice – one of the first creatures I encountered was an ant looking for assistance in making the rivers run red with human blood.

This morality system extends even to resource collection. As the star of an archery-focused adventure, Yaga needs a lot of feathers to craft her arrows, and it’s easier to simply shoot birds than go tromping through the undergrowth looking for abandoned nests. Unless, of course, you ask the birds… In this vein, play is about figuring out just who Yaga is. Will she be a wise witch that stays in harmony with the forest, or a monstrous sorceress ruling from the middle of a blasted heath?

Blacktail’s combat is extremely fluid and easy to learn, even when not playing on the “story” difficulty mode. It’s archery-focused, with Yaga starting out with a simple bow and nine arrows, and gradually learning skills that allow her to amp up her range, power, and also to add magical abilities to each shot.

The forest maps are fairly claustrophobic, so the player doesn’t get to rely too much on the range advantages that a bow offers – enemies generally start just a few yards away, and attempt to close the distance quickly. Yaga is nimble, though, with the player able to dash around and even through enemies to dodge their attacks. It gives the whole experience a much nimbler and more dynamic feel than one might expect from a first-person archery sim.

Where Blacktail most impresses, however, is in the creativity of its world. The forest itself is a maze of lush vegetation and profoundly strange creatures. In the small corner of the world I had the chance to explore, I saw huge variations in environment — everything from murky swamps to dry canyons, to dense woods. However, the most impressive location is the hut that’s intrinsically linked to the Baby Yaga Mythology. Its depiction here is that of a shimmering mirage — a nearly-invisible hole in the sky propped up by jutting bone and twisted sinew. From the moment Yaga first steps inside it, it seems obvious that no good can possibly come from doing so.

Whether that’s an accurate prediction or not will be up to the player, once the game comes out in mid-December.

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