The Bard's Tale IV review: Past its due date
inXile's latest dungeon crawler looks to revive the more traditional RPG, but does it succeed? Here is our review.
The role-playing genre has seen quite the evolution over the years. Today, games described as an “RPG” tend to lean more into the action and adventure elements, leaving the extensive world building, character designing, and overall lore to the wayside. The original trilogy of Bard’s Tale games are classic RPG’s and were pioneers for elements that would become staples of the genre. Thirty years later, the franchise looks to make a triumphant return in a much evolved landscape of gaming. For better or worse, The Bard’s Tale IV: Barrow’s Deep is a true RPG to its core, but that isn’t enough to save it from its several shortcomings.
Crafting your own adventure
Where The Bard’s Tale IV shines the brightest is in its character customization and world building. I was more than impressed when designing my character by the amount of diverse options I had when it came to race, class, skills and appearance. More specifically, the fact that the character creator offered several different male and female voices with different tones and emotional ranges is a feature I found really cool. The majority of games in which you get to create your own character from scratch usually go the “silent protagonist” route; you can see inXile put in the extra effort in creating a genuine role-playing experience. Hearing your own character speak and react to the events around them audibly seems like a simple addition, but really drives home the sense of immersion we crave so desperately when playing an RPG. Also, being able to assign any voiceover to my character, regardless of gender, is a neat touch.
Diving further into the world building, many of NPC’s feel like real people, usually with something interesting to share. Some may tell you of an old legend that’ll send you on a wild goose chase of side quests, hoping to find gold at the end of the rainbow. Others however, may just share a funny story, or tell you of an old urban legend that helps to build the world out more. Again, this isn’t a mindblowing component, but it’s another example of the developer taking the extra step to create a living and breathing world.
The Role-Playing elements in Bard’s Tale IV are well-done, and work as a great first impression in the opening hour or two of the game. That being said, the game does little to build upon them or compliment them from there on. Many of its most key ingredients are bland, unnecessarily convoluted, or just flat out boring.
Turn-based combat is a hallmark of old fashioned RPG’s. Although this style of combat is starting to show its age, it can still work really well if done properly. The combat in The Bard’s Tale IV is pretty much a mess. It was obvious that they had to bring something new to the table, since video games have progressed past the completely text-based combat seen in Bard’s Tale III decades ago. The turn based combat set on a 4x4 grid was a valiant effort, but one that falls flat. It’s anticlimactic, difficult to fully grasp, and overall just more complex than it needed to be. The integration of skills and abilities was fine, but all in all battling in Bard’s Tale IV felt like a chore. I often found myself maneuvering around dungeons to minimize the amount of encounters I had. I did however like the “first strike” feature, in which you would always get the first turn on an enemy if you charged at them first.
A familiar journey
As for the story, Bard’s Tale IV falls in the middle of the road. It’s not terrible, but at the same time, nothing to write home about either. Set one hundred years After the franchises last installment in 1988, following the fall of the Adventurers Guild, you’re called upon to save the world from the powers that be. You and a party of NPC or player created characters will go from dungeon to dungeon, town to town on an epic journey. It feels like your basic “save the world” RPG questline. The narrative in Bard’s Tale IV had no lasting impact on me, but it didn’t leave a sour taste in my mouth either.
The dungeons featured throughout the game were solid. Solve some puzzles, fight some monsters, find some treasure. I enjoyed my time in some dungeons way more than others, and found the puzzles to be oddly placed at times, but the general dungeon crawling experience was fine. Those who are a sucker for a simple gameplay loop will find themselves spending the vast share of their time dungeoning in The Bard’s Tale IV.
There are other inconveniences that plague Bard’s Tale IV such as bad loading times, poor optimization, bugs, and lackluster UI. Although my PC met the technical requirements, there were still several skips and the game struggled to run at 60 fps. The inventory management system could also use some touching up to help things feel less cluttered. However, these are probably the most fixable issues, so I won’t hark on them too much.
Bard’s Tale IV started off on the right foot, but proved to be boring installment in a franchise that probably would’ve been better off staying in the 80’s. In-depth character creation and customization along with an immersive world are nice, but aren’t enough to overcome poor combat and a lackluster story. In the end, The Bard’s Tale IV: Barrow’s Deep is a game that tries to bring the old school RPG to modern audiences, but instead serves as a reminder as to why those games died out decades ago.
This review is based on a code provided by the game's publisher. The Bards Tale IV: Barrow's Deep was made available on Steam on September 18, for $34.99.
The Bard's Tale IV
- Character customization
- Immersive world
- Convoluted combat
- Lackluster story
- Bugs and performance issues
Donovan Erskine posted a new article, The Bard's Tale IV review: Past its due date
yeah i guess thats why I like it....its different, unabashedly so. There's a great sense of place, hidden shit everywhere, a finite amount of loot/enemies to grind on, systems that are deep but inflexible as far as quality of life stuff (inventory sorting, accidentally committing skill points, etc). I feel like negging a game that is that quirky for not being 'modern' is unfortunate.
This feels like a quick look. You seem to go over several parts of the game but never really into detail about any of the parts.
How would real time, instead of turn base, would have been better? What about the combat that was confusing? What about the 4x4 grid that makes it fall flat? How is it more complex and what could they have done to simplify it, and is simplifying it really going to help?
What are your opinions about the weapon quests?
The inventory management system could also use some touching up to help things feel less cluttered
What could be touched up? Automatic reorg? What about it that makes it feel cluttered?
Pretty much my feel, too. Not a lot of substance to the review (less so than the actual story in BT4, it seems) :(
TrustedReviews has a solid negative review up, though!
The game sounds like it might sorta be my kinda thing, but I definitely perfect games of this type that don't have parties (they almost always drag the game down too much for me) :(
Thanks for the critique, I should've expanded on those points a little better. I don't know if real time combat would've been better. I have no problem with turn-based combat. My issue was that the grid based setup made the combat feel a little bit too puzzle-like for my taste. Ironically, The majority of others loved how the combat felt like another puzzle to solve. When it comes to turn based combat, I like something a little simpler, akin to what we see in JRPG franchises like Dragon Quest and Pokemon. As for inventory, the way the game automatically organizes and stacks things throughout inventory slots just feels sloppy, it would be much less annoying if they let you filter by item category/class, but they don't. I could definitely do a better job of giving details with my critiques of a game, specifically, I probably should've given specific examples to help get my points across. I'll keep that in mind for my next review. Thanks.