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The Bard’s Tale IV: Barrows Deep

Posted by GG Goblin On September - 26 - 2018

30 years of waiting.

Fans of The Bard’s Tale series of games are easy to spot. They are the gamers who have the look of someone who has given up hope of any form of sequel after years and years of anguished waiting. However, like a shining beacon on the foggiest of nights, InXile Entertainment have promised to guide these lost souls back to the realms of hope with the launch of The Bard’s Tale IV: Barrows Deep, a reboot of the classic RPG series for modern gamers. It’s been a while, so let’s hope it was worth the wait.

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The Bard’s Tale IV is a first-person dungeon-crawling RPG, a type of game that is just not seen so much nowadays. Throw in a deep character customisation system, turn-based combat, and a fair amount of singing, and you have something that is quite unique in modern gaming, and will surely please the hard done by fans of the original series.

The story is classic fantasy fare, with the player having to take their team and basically save the world. There is an ancient evil and a religious group that seems to be persecuting non-humans. It comes down to the player and his team to work out what is going on and put a stop to it. The whole thing is fairly standard and while there are some twists and turns along the way, the conclusion is pretty much set out from the beginning. Still, it is all about the journey, and I don’t really need a reason to spend time in the central hub town of Skara Brae and the surrounding areas.

A real highlight is in the environments that the player will find themselves adventuring through. Skara Brae is beautifully created, with logical and detailed architecture giving character to the place. Heading out of the town and into dungeons, players will find varied environments that are all experienced from the first-person, and they are all well detailed and fit within the setting, with a great use of light to set the atmosphere. It is a great looking world to explore.

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However, the NPCs that the player comes across are not so good looking. In fact, many would refer to them as ugly, which I think is a bit unfair. They are just not very nice to look at, and their often unsynced mouth movement doesn’t do them any favours, which is a real shame considering how the majority of NPCs actually have something interesting to say, be it rumours of hidden treasure, or just a silly story. The NPCs bring a certain richness to the gaming world, adding to the depth, even if they just don’t look so great.

When it comes to the player creating their own character, there are plenty of options to flex the creative muscles and build a character to suit their play style. Options in how the character will look are plentiful, and then setting the characters culture will give even more flavour. Class wise, there are the standard fighter, magic user and thief, along with the all-important Bard, who will use the power of song to have an effect on encounters and even solve puzzles. This is a fairly musical world, and songs play an important role not only for Bards, but also for NPCs going about their business.

Combat is turn-based, but has a few differences to what players would perhaps be used to. When approaching a potential adversary, players will be given an indication of how strong the opponent would be, giving them forward warning of unbeatable enemies. However, once they know how strong the enemy is, rushing into combat first will give the player the first turn, and advantage which is vitally important.

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The combat takes place on a 4×4 grid, with the player able to move their team around on their own half of the grid. The player then has a limited number of action points to spend on various attacks and the like. However, these action points are for the whole team, rather than the usual points for each character, forcing the player to play tactically. When you also have certain moves that require a cool down, or a charge, then it becomes very strategic in how the player uses their points. Making life a little easier, magic users can use spell points for certain actions, saving the action points for the others.

It is a really good combat system that challenges the player to think several moves ahead and plan carefully. The problem is that it can become quite easy to settle on a certain sequence of actions that seem to work well, and then just play with that for all further encounters, which can make the combat feel a little repetitive.

There is a lot to like in The Bard’s Tale IV. The first-person view can take a little getting used to for players who are not used to this approach for their dungeon crawling, but the result is quite immersive. There are some great puzzles through the game, including proper riddles which is cool. Progression feels natural, with new areas opening up gradually and guiding the player onwards. To be honest, aside from the ugly NPCs, there is not much wrong with the game.

That is, until it comes to optimisation. It is difficult to complain too much about bugs and glitches, as these will undoubtedly be slowly wiped out with patches and updates. But when I first played the game, it took me quite a while to get to the point that it was even playable. My machine is powerful enough, but it played so sticky and stuttery that playing was impossible, and turning down the settings just didn’t change anything. Eventually, after a lot of messing around in the settings, I got the game running well. But it wasn’t a good start. There are still the occasional stutters, full on crashes and excessive loading times, but with each patch things will get better.

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The Bard’s Tale IV is a modern take on a classic formula. How much the player will get from the game will entirely depend on how much they can appreciate certain old-school mechanics and design decisions. There are technical problems with the game, but these are something that can be fixed. However, it is difficult to say right now how the game will run on any given PC, so that is currently something the player has to take into account. For those waiting 30 years, the wait is over and the result is flawed, but ultimately enjoyable. For those too young to remember the original games, consider The Bard’s Tale IV: Barrows Deep to be an education in the old school, with a modern flavour.




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