Whenever I have to choose a class or character in a role-playing game I always have a dilemma. My standard go-to role is that of a fighter or a tank, but if I feel brave you may see me heading to the world of an archer or ranger-styled character, firing arrows in from the side of the party. I always wish I would take on a magical role, but am never confident enough to change my choices. The one class I have never really understood or understand the benefits of though is a bard. What do they do? Sing a morale-boosting song or keep the marching rhythm like the band at the back of an onward army? It never feels like the glory role and for that reason is hard to become enthused with. But with The Bard’s Tales IV: Director’s Cut, it’s all about the musical warrior, placed centre stage in the latest chapter of the long-running series.
The original Bard’s Tale was released many moons ago on the early Apple computers, but it set a big marker for how RPGs should play in the home gaming market. It spawned a couple of sequels and most recently we have had the chance to play all three remastered games on Xbox One with The Bard’s Tale Trilogy. Now though we have the next in the series – coming about via crowdfunding – and the big question is whether it can keep the essence and gameplay of the originals, but still stand up on its own as a fully refreshed game for the new generation of dungeon crawlers.
The Bard’s Tale IV is a dungeon crawling first-person RPG that comes with a lot of turn-based complex combat that will keep the die-hard fans happy. You play as a bard who starts the game in the city of Skara Brae; your typical RPG town that is all oldy worldy and full of merchants, thieves, murderers and a guild of adventurers. You get lead to the guild by a nice Scottish chap called Rabbie who you journey with, and this gives a bit of an insight into how The Bard’s Tale IV will play out, via a sort of tutorial.
Gone are the days of the original games when you move down corridors of a map, a step at a time, turning the camera right or left at sharp 45 degree angles to decide upon which way to go next. The Bard’s Tale now plays out like a normal open-world RPG where you can move across the world at your own leisure, doing a very clever thing in the process. You see, it gives you the illusion of choice all while funneling you down a quite linear pathway. On the way, you can chat with people, taking in a history or interesting tidbit of information about them, as well as learning about the quests and the lore of the place and world. You can pick up items from chests and barrels that can be used for crafting, healing, and fighting, while also being able to buy things from dealers and people in the shadows, in the hope that they will keep you alive in the combat arena.
The combat in The Bard’s Tale IV takes your whole party and puts you onto a kind of turn-based chessboard. You can move your players around to get the best position for combat, but that will use a turn, and is no good if you are attempting to surprise your enemies and charge at them. You get several turns to action your combat, before things switch to your foes, and that’s pretty much as simple as it gets. But for the turn-based strategists amongst you, there is a wealth of diverse complex plans to work out and implement, dealing with buffs, healing options, spells, and attacks with swords and arrows. It’s all about finding the balance, position and perfect attack opportunities that will separate the true bard from the village drunk who is found singing a few songs in the loo. The difficulty levels you choose at the start will give the real die-hards a challenge, but for those of us who don’t move in those circles, there are still nice ways to ease yourself in.
The Bard’s Tale IV consists of a lot of puzzles too, like actioning door locks via spinning cogs, unraveling statues, moving blocks around and even partaking in a game of magical golf. There’s always a surprise around the corner with what happens in The Bard’s Tale, with the huge amount of hours on offer you’re certainly going to be in for a surprise or two. Sitting here now I’ve found the quests and battles hugely entertaining, but sometimes the world and the full RPG gameplay elements are a bit overwhelming – particularly for someone who is not well versed in the full dungeon mastering worlds. But there is a lovely system in here that keeps you focused as you learn new songs, and these have special properties like leading to secret stashes of loot or breaking down crumbling walls that block the way.
The Bard’s Tale IV looks a bit old fashioned in places and comes across like a game from the last generation of consoles, but hidden away there are lots of nice flourishes to make up for it. The lighting is very good and I have enjoyed the storytelling that opens up the game every time you fire things up. And to accompany all that we have a soundtrack that is amazing; in fact, it blew my socks off. The opening folky track sets the scene and the bar brilliantly well, but the music continues all the way through to impress and beguile. All the bit and bobs of audio are great throughout with the voice-over cast coming across with a very high standard, delivering every line with gusto and wit.
I have found The Bard’s Tale IV: Director’s Cut on Xbox One to be something that is very enjoyable; and believe me, I didn’t think I’d be sat here saying that. For fans of the series and lovers of the genre, the combination of turn-based combat, intriguing puzzles, and exploration work well. Throw in a large amount of gameplay hours, plus the side quests, challenges and crafting and this is a game that will keep the ardent adventurer in clover. Some may find things a bit overwhelming at times and the combat, although fascinating, doesn’t truly have the right stuff to do things justice, however there is much to love and enjoy once you’ve managed to get the music of The Bard’s Tale IV flowing.