This is probably going to make some people mad.
The Bard’s Tale series is coming back, yes. If you’re a die-hard fan of PC RPGs, odds are that you cut your teeth on Bard’s Tale, with its seemingly endless dungeons and open-ended gameplay and parties of six adventurers who probably found whole new ways to meet horrible deaths.
The new Bard’s Tale is here… and it uses a modified version of the Champions of Norrath engine, which in turn is a modified version of the Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance engine.
I’ll give you a moment to stop frothing, and/or spontaneously combusting.
In 2004, The Bard’s Tale is exactly that: the adventures of a single bard, who wields his sword and lute in equal measure against whatever villains might become an issue. The hero this time is kind of a rake, who drinks and wenches and has a very wide sarcastic streak, which is reciprocated in turn by the world in which he finds himself.
The game is aimed at an audience in its late twenties, as one might guess upon first seeing its protagonist. Described as a “coin ‘n’ cleavage” hero, you begin the game with a shortsword, no money, and one magical song: rat summoning. Your character is also keenly aware of the situation in which he finds himself; much of his dialogue skirts the edges of breaking the fourth wall, without ever quite going through with it.
If you’ve played Norrath, you’ll have some idea what to expect from The Bard’s Tale. In a real-time, top-down environment, you’ll explore vast dungeons and other areas while wielding a variety of weapons. You also have access to nine songs, each of which has a different summoning effect; the second one, for instance, brings a small ball of electricity into existence, which shocks your enemies for a surprisingly long period of time.
The Bard’s Tale handles equipment a little differently than the other games that use the Snowblind engine. When you find armor or weapons of inferior quality to the ones you already have, they’ll be automatically converted into gold. You won’t have to lug around a full list of armor and weapons that you simply intend to sell in the next town.
You’ll also have a variety of options in conversation with NPCs, which the game keeps track of and uses to model your experience. Rather than simple dialogue branches, The Bard’s Tale’s options take the form of comedy or tragedy drama masks. Another of the game’s goals, in the words of its producer, is to create a “realistically-modeled emotional experience,” the replayability of which arises from your actions.
Going through The Bard’s Tale as a sarcastic, verbally abusive bastard will yield a substantially different game than if you were to play it as a fairly nice, if somewhat shiftless, adventurer, and further, it’ll encourage you to play through to completion more than once, so you can see where your other options would have led.
For example, you’ll have the chance early in the game to adopt a lost puppy; if you’re mean to it, you’ll never see it again, but if you keep it around, it’ll grow up into a large dog, who’ll take the role of your sidekick. In the same vein, you can gain, or lose, opportunities for adventure by offending or befriending certain NPCs.
As long as you don’t have some kind of instinctive loathing of the Champions of Norrath engine, The Bard’s Tale looks pretty good at this point. It’s one of the first games using Snowblind’s engine to actually feel like a roleplaying experience, as opposed to an action game dressed up with a thin veneer of roleplaying elements. It’s not the minimalist numbers-on-the-screen game you played on your old 386, but it is a funny, thoughtful title based upon a solid foundation.
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