With Redguard, Bethesda Softworks set out to create the "swashbuckling action-adventure epic of a lifetime." While technical glitches and clunky controls prevent the game from attaining such a lofty goal, the excellent story, unique puzzles, and addictive swordplay help make Redguard an immensely rich and enjoyable adventure.
You play Cyrus, a battle-scarred mercenary on self-imposed exile from his home in Hammerfell. After hearing that your sister Iszara has vanished from the war-torn island of Stros M'kai, you are determined to find and rescue her despite the long-standing friction between you. Attacked by pirates on your way to the island and faced with an Imperial occupation force upon your arrival, you begin to realize that things are not at all well on Stros M'kai. Even worse, you eventually discover that Iszara was caught up in the recent troubles on the island, and you become embroiled in a well-developed plot involving rebellion, revenge, and, of course, lots of good old-fashioned swashbuckling bravado.
The game is played from a third-person perspective and, as a result, suffers from the ever-problematic floating-camera woes. For most of the game the camera angle is just fine, but on more than a few occasions I found my view completely blocked because I happened to be too close to a wall. This problem was especially annoying during two of the game's most important conflicts (one with the dark elf Dram and one with the wormy N'Gasta). To its credit, Redguard does allow you to customize the amount of camera glide and the camera combat angle, but this only helps a little when you have to fight your way out of a tight corridor.
While you do have to draw your sword and fight quite a few blackguardly knaves in this game, it is still very much an adventure game. The heart of Redguard lies in its intricate and often unique puzzles. For example, that sword won't help much when you run into the springy mushrooms of the goblin caverns or the revolving hallways of the catacombs. A few of the puzzles - the dwarven scarab in particular - are exceptionally challenging, while others are fairly basic. For the most part, the puzzles are very well integrated into the plot. Some are based almost solely on your agility, and these are the ones that are most likely to cause frustration.
Simply put, the controls in this game are poor. You can use a gamepad or joystick to play the game, but neither is very intuitive. Unfortunately, your only other option is the keyboard. Why there is no mouse control is beyond me. Timing and executing even the simplest of jumps with the keyboard is quite a challenge, while a number of necessary tasks (jumping onto a rope, climbing on top of objects) are more difficult than they should be in several areas. Worse, sword fights often degenerate into a key-mashing mess as you try to sidestep, defend, and attack in quick succession. If nothing else, Bethesda should have included separate keys for sidestepping left and right.
For much of the game, however, you'll spend the bulk of your time talking to the island's residents about the strange goings-on and inquiring about your sister's whereabouts. This is where the game both shines the brightest and disappoints the most. On the positive side, the game offers a slew of NPCs to talk to, each with an exhaustive list of topics to discuss. Fortunately, the game tracks any important comments in an automated log because you'd be hard-pressed to remember even one-tenth of what these folks tell you. Each NPC has a distinct personality and conversational style, and that helps convey a sense of immersion in the gameworld. The dialogue is well written, with a few conversational gems here and there.