It was released in 2003 and I was able to buy it cheap from Gamersgate. Is it any good and is it worth its money ? I´ll help you decide with this stand-alone revisit and review.
|Your starting town|
Gold is essential because you need it to pay for your healing in the temples and to aquire new spells. And most important of all, to raise in levels. The only way to get gold is to fight enemies and plunder them to sell their loot.
|The automap works ok but lacks identifiers like exits or stairs|
Pretty soon I find a man in house that wishes me to retrieve a special cloak hidden in an underground dungeon accessible through a trapdoor in another house. I soon learn that this dungeon is a labyrinth that three previous adventurers has fallen to its perils.
By finding the adventurers, one after the other and learn about their fate you will not only understand what motivated them but also get rings that are part of the key to get the cloak itself. By answering their motives as a key you could finally get access to the cloak and return it to the man for a hefty reward in gold and 100.000 xp. This complex took several hours to complete with encounters almost every five steps or so. Here it helps to let the bard play "Walking song" to reduce the amount of encounters. It is also very convenient if you have a magician that could cast the Teleport spell for quick movement.
|This is the last obstacle before obtaining the cloak|
After awhile I learn that the guards are out after me without any apparent reason. No wonder that they often harass me in random encounters. But by plunder them I occasionally find notes that unveil more information about why they are looking for us. My group are described as criminals. My investigation in the town later leads to clues that this is part of a greater plot to hide some devilish scheme.
After having cleared out a cellar of tainted whisky we returned to the old man that now wished us to get down to the catacombs to find an amulet for him. It is in this catacombs I am right now with my group writing this.
The game relies heavily of requesting certain words to advance the plot. You either have to find the motivation behind the fallen adventurers in the starter dungeon (courage, greed etc) or know the haircolor of the innkeepers first wife to proceed or even know the name of the person you seek when knocking on a door. If you fail in any of these you will get stuck and there are no walkthrough online that I have found. I haven´t found any clues in the game for the haircolor and was lucky to find it in a forum thread somewhere.
|I am outside the mages guild|
The dungeons are squarelike and so far quite randomised in their structure and design. The graphics are very plain and don´t show anything except corridors and doors. The few NPC:s in the game advances the plot and my only choices so far has been to accept or deny a mission.
Combat is done exactly like in bard´s tale. You may flee but have slim chances in succeeding. The opponents could start out at different ranges and it could be difficult if they are powerful spellcasters and you have to advance in on them to get in melee contact. When you level up you are given the chance to strike extra attacks but that also depends on the weapon wielded. It took me over 10 hours into the game until I found out that you can see the damage dealt by a weapon by examining it. There are standard weapons and also of different qualities like elven, dwarven etc. After combat you get experience points for the whole group and you could loot the enemies of gold and items. If you are lucky there might be a chest that you could unlock, but beware of traps!
So far in the game I have not encountered any description of places that have not been crucial in advancing the plot. The dungeons are very empty in that respect and you must step on each square to be sure you are not triggering an important event or miss out a key location. Even fixed encounters that often hides a chest does not yield any descriptive information before combat.
|Enchantresses are quite tough|
The manual of 100 pages describes the races, classes, skills and spells pretty well. The only thing I lack is tables of experience points, hitpoints and spellpoints and levels for any bonuses on the attributes.
Equipment wise, you have to equip single items to use them just like in Bard´s Tale. You could use two sets of weapons and shift between them in combat, which allows for easy access to ranged weapons I guess. There is a limit of how much a character can carry though and you will soon learn to only pick the most valuable loot from your vanquished monsters. I found the management of the inventory works quite ok. You could easy shift between the characters with the F1-F8 keys while at the same character screen. The only thing that bothered me was that you had to equip notes before you where allowed to read them, not by examining them but by using them.
What I did like about the game was that it allowed for quick level gains. I never felt I was grinding or struggling to gain the XP needed. In my short time with the game my group are around level 20. But that also means that the difficulty in the game is never about single fights but hordes of encounters you have to force your way through to get back to the dungeon level in which you returned from last time. They constantly harass you of hitpoints (easily replaced by a full-party-healing spell) but more importantly your spellpoints that are needed to keep reserves to be able to use teleport, heal and cast Heimdall's Perception - which allows you to see in the dark and reveals secret doors - or Ball of bearing to enable a compass.
|My warrior snarly|
What it comes down to actually is that combat is too easy to bother with despite all the seemingly different spells and bard songs. If they have been fewer but stronger I would actually bother to try out different types of spells. But now I am doing so well with all direct attack spells that sleeping-, blinding- and holding spells feels meaningless. And the idiotic system of having to type in manually the spells' shortened names everytime you are to cast anything makes it very frustrating. But when you are to buy a spells or list which spells a character knows, then they are listed as their full names. This crazy design alone reduces 0.5 points of my gameplay value. There is one thing if memoryspace limitations in the 80s used this approach to save some space but there is no excuses to include it in a game from 2003.
Right now at level 20 I feel I have more gold than what I can spend currently. I have no idea if there is any level cap in the game or if the adventures continues outside of the town (I hope so!).
|This endbattle in the cellars did not impress me|
|This yoda like man gave me my current mission|
- Automap that is easy to access and gives a general idea of where you are
- Quick and responsive keyboard driven user interface
- Good still images and adequate outdoor graphics
- The same good feeling we all love when levelling up
- A lot of races, classes and spells to choose from
- Ability to craft your own items
- Quick movement by keyboad and short loading times makes it hasslefree
- More elaborate story and texts from major NPCs than in previous bard´s tale series.
- Still too many random encounters that could drive one crazy if you are not a patient person. But less so than in Bard´s Tale 3.
- The majority of spells is just duplications of others with different names.
- Must manually type in shortcut spellnames when casting
- Combat generally does not require any tactical efforts on your part and are quite easy. Which leads to...
- ...one is not encouraged or forced to use tactical spells, ranged weapons or magic items to advance.
- Cumbersome user interface in shops when selling/buying things for different characters.
- Boring dungeon graphics and map designs.
- Very few special areas or atmospheric descriptions in dungeons
- Not able to make notes on automap or clearly see where there are stairs/exits
- Crashes all too often in version 2.0 (save often and make backups of the savegame directory!)
- Only allows for one save game slot
And finally....If you still like to play the Bard´s Tale series today, I think you will like this game. It shares the same charm and problems with the former, albeit heavily improved in graphics and with some other minor improvements.
My final rating of this game would be 3 out of 5.
Gameworld & Story
NPC & Interactions
Monsters, tactics & combat system
Character generation & development
Graphics, Sound and Interface
Summary CRPG value