The old Interplay saga has re-emerged from the depths of the CD-ROM pile in the basements of old-school PC gamers through a successful Kickstarter campaign led by Interplay founder and InXile Entertainment legend Brian Fargo. This isn't an uncommon occurrence either - Interplay fans love Interplay games, it seems and The Bard's Tale is no exception. After the goal of $1.25 million USD was met, InXile Entertainment started working on what would be the fourth instalment of the series (not counting the action-RPG from 2004 or the spin-off game from 2017), and as time grew closer to launch fans grew impatiently excited.
September 18 then came around and the tales the crowdfunders had waited for could be heard. One had surely hoped to hear a tale of wonder, promising a great adventure ahead - not one of constant stalling and rebooting, with a lingering warning of bugs and crashes. On the bright side, in The Bard's Tale IV: Barrows Deep the player gets to hear and experience the first of these, but on the not quite as bright side, the latter is present and a nuisance, taking away from its more pleasant counterpart.
The main issue with the most recent instalment in the franchise is the reoccurring frame-rate issues and the random crashes. We found that tabbing in and out of the game often led to a freeze or a crash in the game, and as for inconsistent frame-rate, it was during the free-roaming parts of the game these performance dips occurred. Even though we were able to work around the issues quite easily they were still definitely an annoyance throughout.
Other than the technical problems the game does look and feel like a title from 2004. Of course, for some - hell, for us - this isn't reason enough to pull a peg from the scoreboard, but sadly it's not the only downside to The Bard's Tale IV. All of that aside, though, there's plenty of great content to be found here and for fans of either the series or of the InXile brand of storytelling, there are many reasons we could and should list as to why you guys should give it a chance.
When you enter Skara Brae as either the pre-made bard Melody or a customised character of your own, you enter a city in turmoil. Bards hang from the gallows for the sin of song and wizards and witches are scorched on the pyres while relatives hang their heads in sorrow at the lifeless bodies of their loved ones. The grim setting is dark throughout, but the comedic nature of InXile shines through in a classy, non-interfering way. The atmosphere is definitely intense and well put together but InXile aren't known for stunning visuals; they're known for their expansive, always-interesting worlds filled to the brim with content, humour, and well-written dialogue between equally well-written characters, be it seemingly insignificant ones or main protagonists. With regards to these points, The Bard's Tale IV is no exception.
The different classes, races, and origins make for an interesting character creation sequence with some consequences in the game, and we ventured into Skara Brae as the singing bard we wish to be in real life. Said bard sang her way to a solid team of companions so as to annihilate the evil forces via some tactical turn-based combat. The combat system, which is relatively easy to understand and equally easy to master, starts off either with you ambushing your enemy by attacking them from a distance (or from behind) or with them noticing your not so quiet steps.
If you manage to ambush the enemy successfully the encounter starts with you attacking first. You have two meters to keep track of: movement and spell points. Each character can move, attack and cast spells a certain number of times. The battlefield is set up as a grid with eight slots open for side characters and summoned pals on each side. From there you order each of your characters to cast, attack, move or chug a brew (if you're a bard, buffing your skills and casts). Easy enough, right? The only thing you need to keep track of is the number of times you can be hit for before dying, the number of times you have to hit your enemy and to make sure you use all your characters in battle by clicking them all before passing the turn over to your enemy.
The Bard's Tale may not be very challenging when talking combat but outside of combat, the player is treated with puzzles to proceed in the game world. An interesting element in the game is also the save system which gives the player the option to either save and, with that, fully heal his or her team, orto consume the save pillar for some extra experience points.
With a true old-school turn-based RPG combat system, an intriguing story, funny yet grim dialogue, and a genuine old-school feel, this is definitely a game to try out if you're a fan of the games of old. If not, however, The Bard's Tale does feel outdated, and it still has some technical issues that need to be figured out before it's a perfect old school experience.
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