When I think of The Bard's Tale, the first thing that pops into my head is the Apple game released such a long time ago. It was a pretty fun game for the time to be sure, but it wouldn't pass muster these days, so thankfully, The Bard's Tale is being updated for a modern release on today's computers. Originally appearing on the Xbox and PS2 last year, The Bard's Tale is receiving some tweaks and improvements for its summer release on the PC.
The main character is obviously a bard, a profession which isn't especially known for combat prowess, or ability to save the world, or even to save a seat at the bar. The main character in The Bard's Tale isn't any different. He's funny, sarcastic, and everything you'd hope that a medieval entertainer would be. Voiced by Cary Elwes, better known from the movie The Princess Bride, the bard has some great voice work that is incredibly entertaining.
Relying on "snarky" and "nice" dialog options, the bard has the ability to piss off just about everyone in the game while also avoiding being taken advantage of by these same denizens. It's sort of like a good/evil option seen in games like Knights of the Old Republic, except for the fact that there are no set good or evil option. You just choose how you want to respond to someone, and he/she may react favorably or not. Some might be impressed by your snarky attitude and give you a special quest, while others might react in horror and avoid you. By the same token, acting nice all of the time doesn't get you into good graces with everyone. It's a delicate balance, and while it can be fun to just be snarky the entire time, it's not always beneficial to do so. In fact, one of the most important times to be "nice" is in the beginning of the game when meeting someone of the four-legged variety. Being snarky in this situation will lose you a valuable ally.
The game plays like an action-RPG, but instead of controlling a party of characters throughout the game, the bard has the ability to summon creatures using his lute, the staple instrument of the bard, resembling a mandolin or guitar of some sort. These creatures will be a great help in combat, since it can be fairly difficult to defeat some of the enemies. The creatures will stay around until they are killed, so it's important to be prepared when entering combat, or you will easily take damage. Cast your spells early, because you can't attack with your weapon while you have your lute out.
Moving around is accomplished by clicking the mouse, and combat flows nicely. By clicking on or near a group of enemies, the bard will begin his attack. Once an enemy is defeated, he automatically moves on to the next, making it easy to sit back and watch the combat play out, while also maintaining health and performing other duties as well. It's great that it doesn't turn into a click-fest, because it really lets the player focus on keeping the bard alive, which can be tough. Keys can be remapped, and that really helps keep things flowing easily. Other controller methods can be used as well, in case you wanted to get that console experience on your PC by using a USB controller of some sort. Either way, the interface is simple and easy to navigate, and makes for a pleasant experience.
There are plenty of quests to be had, even in the starting town. There's also a chance to turn on some of your charm toward the ladies of the land. Of course, it's all affected by whether the bard chooses to be snarky or nice, and some of these decisions can come back to haunt you later in the game. Some of the quests are hilarious in the way they twist around the player's expectations. Smashing barrels can make you some money, but not in the way that you'd normally expect. The barrel maker will cut you in on the profits from people who have to buy more barrels because of your recklessness. It's these sorts of unexpected moments that really help to set The Bard's Tale apart from the other games in the genre.
Graphically, the game is going to look way better than its console predecessors. Textures look better, and the game is obviously going to be able to run in a much higher resolution. For those who waited to get this game on the PC, you're in for a real graphical treat. Spell effects in combat are exciting and pleasant to look at, and the character models are all well done. Animation is nice and smooth. Things are really shaping up to look incredible, and the graphics really help draw the player into the world.
Of course, the sound will also be excellent. I've already mentioned that Cary Elwes is doing the voice of the bard, and I don't think that there can be anyone better suited to do so. When he's snarky, the tone of his voice and the way he oozes sarcastic remarks are just perfect. The other characters are also well voiced, and sound effects and music are also done nicely.
Overall I've come away quite impressed with the way that the game is progressing. Since they've already had a successful console launch of the game, I expected the PC version to be a smooth transition and I wasn't disappointed. It's coming along quite nicely.
The folks at inXile have a lot to be proud of because they've got something great here, a title that could possibly be one of the funniest ever developed. A far cry from the old days on the Apple computer, the latest iteration of The Bard's Tale is now one of my most anticipated titles for the summer. Challenging, funny, and great looking, it'll certainly be one to pick up when it releases this June.
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