During the Kickstarter for The Bard’s Tale IV: Barrows Deep it had been announced that the original three games, which were released starting in 1985 and given away in their emulated form would also be updated to run on modern systems. It was a nice little bonus for both new and old players wanting a dose of RPG nostalgia. A year after The Bard’s Tale IV shipped, the game’s “Director’s Cut” is now landing on both PC and consoles and to whet player’s appetites the remastered trilogy (developed by Krome Studios) made the jump to consoles too. I’ve been spending a little bit of time with it now on Xbox and I’m really enjoying it.
I never got a chance to play the original games back in the day as they were on the Commodore 64 (Atari owner here) but I was intrigued with how the experience would translate to a console. From the outset one of the nicest things about this package is that work has been done to ensure the games are approachable for new players while also providing allowances for anyone wanting something closer to the original experience. By default the game starts players in a “remastered” mode that keeps the experience consistent across the three games whereas if you choose to play in the “legacy” mode the differences between each of them are preserved warts and all. Being new to these games I was happy to stick with the default.
Jumping into the first part (Tales of the Unknown) you find yourself in a 3D dungeon crawler where your vision of the world is restricted to a window on the screen with your party and ingame text filling out the rest of the screen. Encounters in the game are either based on locations within the game world or random events. The combat itself is a static affair with the player choosing the what each character in their party will do and then seeing the results play out via hidden dice rolls. Two things immediately jumped out to me in the beginning of the game. The first is that your party is never fixed – the Adventurers Guild in Skara Brae (your starting town) lets you build out a party of your own choosing and if one dies and you don’t want to resurrect them (expensive) you can simply create a new character to fill the gap. You can even save a party as a team and add them in a bulk lot. The second is leveling – when your characters earn enough experience they must visit the Review Board to be approved before receiving any of the benefits (improved stats, etc). Magic users also have to pay for learning new spells so the exercise takes both time and money.
Seeing as the game’s called The Bard’s Tale, music plays a role in the game with songs from that character class providing bonuses depending on what they play. You have to keep them well stocked with liquor though as a dry mouth might result in them failing to play a tune right when you need it. On selecting the song you’ll begin to hear it playing in the background – a cool touch I found was after swapping my Bard’s instrument (some have bonuses) the music switched to reflect the replacement. I’m assuming you don’t actually need to have a Bard in your party for everything but I’ve already seen one instance where one was needed to open an area so it works best to keep one around.
Compared to modern RPGs it might all seem simplistic in its implementation but I actually think this works in its favour. The game is fast to load and easy to get into. Movement in the world works nicely with the left thumbstick and you can even overlay a minimap on the view window (right bumper) so you don’t have to keep switching over to the map. Inventory, spells and songs have their own buttons too. On PC you can of course use mouse and keyboard but I think I prefer using the controller. Menus are all brief and to the point so there’s nothing that can’t be managed with more than a few button presses. You’ll find out early on that saving your progress regularly is VERY helpful (and fast) as the game can be unforgiving at times with cheap deaths from traps and enemy encounters. If you make use of Xbox Play Anywhere’s cloud saves you can happily jump from PC to Xbox and back without issue and it’s fast here too.
On the presentation front the visuals are bright and cheerful with incidental animations adding some life while the party movement has been beefed up with a 3D engine. For audio the music wins out over the sounds effects. All of this isn’t a quantum leap forward but it adds up to an experience that can give non-RPG players a taste of what games in the genre can provide without overloading on the intimidating systems that are normally associated with them. With the other parts (The Destiny Knight and Thief of Fate) still to venture into there’s certainly enough to keep a player occupied… I’m only a few hours in and can see there’s still much more to do.
With this and a remastered version of the original Wasteland coming soon inXile are giving players a healthy dose of nostalgia which PC players have been able to access easily enough but now console players get the chance to do so and that’s pretty neat from my perspective. And I should take a look at the updated Bard’s Tale IV too! 🙂
The Bard’s Tale Trilogy is out now for PC and Xbox One.