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By Ron Scopelliti
Game review: The Bard’s Tale 4: Director’s Cut
Long ago, in the days of DOS, there were three 5¼ inch floppy disks that devoured so much of my time that I probably should have sought out a support group to pry me away from my Gateway 2000 computer. These disks contained the “Bard’s Tale” trilogy of fantasy role-playing games. They were classic single-player “dungeon crawlers,” where you commanded a party of adventurers setting off to explore dungeons and fight off evil-doers outside the seaside city of Skara Brae.
Now, more than 30 years after the first of the original games was published, inXile Entertainment has taken the original concept to new levels with “The Bard’s Tale 4: Director’s Cut.” It’s available for Windows 7, 8, and 10; Mac OS X, and Linux Ubuntu.
While the basic game has been out since last year, the Director’s Cut fixes a number of bugs, and addresses a variety of criticisms. The changes make the interface much more user-friendly, and give users an impressive number of choices about how they’d like to play the game.
In addition to typical options regarding control layouts and combat difficulty, players can make some very specific gameplay choices. They can choose, for instance, whether they’d like the ability to skip puzzles that had previously been mandatory, and whether they’ll be able to save games at any time, or only at checkpoints. Players can even choose to play “80’s Style” by restricting their movement to a grid system, turning off the auto-mapping feature, and keeping track of their progress with the once-ubiquitous pad of graph paper and a pencil.
After choosing options, many of which can be revised during the game, the player steps immediately into Skara Brae, and is led through a tutorial that includes character creation and all the basic skills he or she will need to survive. The tutorial is both thorough and entertaining.
Though the interface may give the game the look of a first-person shooter, it’s strictly a superficial resemblance. There’s no running, jumping, or button-mashing of any kind. It’s strictly a mental game, requiring no more dexterity than you need to check your e-mail.
The familiar archetypes from the fantasy genre are there – magic users, burglars, warriors, and of course, bards. As in the original “Bard’s Tale” games, combat is turn-based, with the player controlling the actions of each member of his party. The interface is easy to use, but surviving battles can be a challenge, since healing potions seem to be in short supply. Luckily, there’s a crafting system in the game that may just solve this problem.
So far, my favorite part of “The Bard’s Tale 4” is the way it preserves, yet enhances, the sense of exploration that was present in the original games. It takes a landscape that old-school gamers remember as blocky, static, primitive graphics, and turns it into a finely-textured environment filled with animated characters and Celtic-influenced music. It takes things that were left to our imagination in the original games and brings them to life.
One of my few complaints is that you only see yourself and the characters in your party when you’re in combat. And for some reason, the avatar for my magic user is dressed like a foot soldier. But all in all, “The Bard’s Tale 4” has been the most instantly-entertaining game purchase I’ve made all year, and after several hours of gameplay the enjoyment shows no sign of wearing off.