After +50 hours of play, here’s my review for the turn-based dungeon crawler The Bard’s Tale IV. The Bard’s Tale IV is the successor of the famous series launched in 1985 by Interplay and brought back to light by Inxile Entertainment. The Bard’s Tale IV takes you back to Skara Brae to foil a new threat in the company of fighters, magicians, rogues and especially bards.
In The Bard’s Tale IV you will find all the fundamental elements of the turn-based dungeon crawler RPG. A team of adventurers to manage, an open world to explore with quests to complete, dungeons to deal with and turn-based combat. Let’s analyze one by one some of the main elements.
Old and new evil in a classic way.
In The Bard’s Tale IV you will find yourself in the role of a bard (which by default is a woman but who can alternatively be customized) who by chance finds himself guiding the Adventurer’s Guild (a guild of heroes who saved the world in the previous chapters) and face a tough inquisition against them. This inquisition will lead the heroes to escape into the subsoil of the current Skara Brae (the Skara Brae of the first titles of the series) and then to follow the traces of a powerful enemy who wants to awaken an ancient power.
The story flows smoothly without too many twists and without too many claims. The lore is told through notes and books that you will find during your adventure and for lovers of the first titles in the series, there will be many references that will make them happy. While for those who have never played the first titles, there will be an initial trailer that briefly explains the events to date.
Classes & abilities
Bard’s Tale IV have 4 classes; warrior, wizard, thief, and bard. Each class has various growth paths that make them different and allow you to create combinations of different parties. You level up heroes by defeating enemies and completing quests. At each level up you can choose a skill between the different branches dedicated to each class, once specialized in a particular branch, you will reach the center of the adventurer’s guild and speak with the Review Board to be able to access the next steps of that particular specialization. The character growth tree is composed of active skills to equip in combat, as well as passive skills and abilities that let your heroes equip certain armor and items.
In battle, each character can bring a maximum of four abilities that you will then have to choose according to the type of enemy to be dealt with and depending on the skills that the other members of the party have to make sure to create powerful combos. I found these growth mechanics very apt, forcing you to think before assigning a skill because once chosen you can not go back, at least until you find the mercenary token that will allow the skill points redistributions
Growth mechanics forcing you to think before assigning a skill because once chosen you can not go back.
Open world and backtracking
The world of The Bard’s Tale IV is very large, but beyond the main dungeons and some optional ones you will not find many points of interest, such as caverns, abandoned castles etc., but only some path leading to treasure chests and altars. As for the quests, even those are not so many, in addition to the main one you will be assigned others at the beginning of the adventure that can only be completed later.
The quests are very simple and linear, ” go to certain places and kill someone or retrieve objects and bring them back.” It would have been nice to diversify the quests and make them more deep and articulate.
You will be very busy with different activities that will force you to return to previous points on the map.
Once left Skara Brae you will have access to different areas, many of which, however, will be blocked by enemies still too strong for your party that you can face once increased the experience and the equipment.
Leaving aside the quests and the points of interest, you will, however, be very busy with different activities for completionist that will force you to return to previous points on the map, which will only be reachable thanks to the exploration skills acquired as you move forward in the adventure. Exploration skills are no more than songs that allow your bard to break down walls, rebuild destroyed structures, make hidden objects appear and more.
Dungeons are the centerpiece of the game. Many of these will put a strain on not only our party but also ourselves thanks to difficult riddles that will force you to analyze the context, find cues in the notes scattered around. Surely Inxile has managed to convey that sense of adventure and discovery when accessing a new dungeon, but perhaps I would have added more secrets and variety to give more emphasis to exploration.
Turn-based puzzled combat
During our wanderings around the world, you will fight monsters in turn-based combat. Battles start when you get in touch with an enemy, but before doing it you can from afar, analyze the enemies and see if their level is affordable for your party, and this is shown by 4 different colors; the red indicates a challenge without hope, the orange indicates a very challenging battle, the yellow icon indicates a normal battle and the green indicates that the enemies are not a major problem, in addition to this, however, hooking the enemy from behind will grant the first turn in battle.
The battles happen on 4×4 x2 grids. You will have your portion of the grid where in addition to giving the combat commands, you can also move your units and the same thing applies to the enemies.
During the battles, you can create attacks with chain effects that will allow you to do a lot of damage.
During the fights you will have opportunity points that simply indicate the number of moves and actions your unit can make during your turn, these points are shared by the entire party, so is vital to decide carefully which unit to use for that particular turn and so on.
Then there are the magical abilities that do not consume opportunity points but only the magic points that each unit will accumulate through their abilities. Warriors and thieves mainly rely on opportunity points while bards and wizards have skills that reload their magic points and rely on those to give their best in battle. It will, therefore, be very important to form a balanced party so that you can optimize each combat round.
During the battles, you can create attacks with chain effects that will allow you to do a lot of damage, or exploit to your advantage the skills of an enemy simply by moving it behind one of his allies, so as to make them attack each other. I liked very much the fights that as you progress through the story will become real puzzles where you will have to analyze the enemy and choose with caution which moves to make and which party member to bring into battle.
Objects and puzzle weapons
The world of The Bard’s Tale IV, is full of items and weapons to be consumed and equipped. As for weapons and armor, you will find objects of different levels of rarity obtained at the end of a battle, founded in chests or by completing quests. These objects are randomly generated except for puzzle weapons.
I have not shared the choice of randomly generating the loot of battles, chests and those of solved riddles. In fact, usually, after a solved puzzle you will find yourself holding only a handful of coins in your hands that will leave you a little ashamed.
The puzzle weapons are a nice innovation in Inxile Entertainment title. These weapons can make a difference in battle but only if you are good at solving the various puzzles they are made of. For each weapon there may be more puzzles to complete, each step represents an upgrade. I found them well done and certainly give greater longevity to the game.
Puzzle weapons are a nice innovation and add longevity to the game.
A bit frustrating the inventory management, missing an option that allows you to automatically arrange it, but it will be implemented with upcoming patches.
Graphics, technical glitches, and bugs
As for the graphics, we are average, with the exception of some breathtaking scenery and settings. The menus are technically well crafted and every element is where they must be.
The true belly pains begin when we talk about glitches, framerate, and bugs. When I try a game I’m never too fussy about small technical problems and bugs. Unfortunately, in the case of The Bards Tale IV technical glitches and bugs are many and even invasive.
In my experience for example, from mid-game on, the equipped skills of my fighter were always been reset and replaced no matter how many times I’ve changed it. Sometimes groups of defeated enemies magically reappeared. During a battle, enemies disappeared or remaining freeze.
Anyhow Inxile already released some hotfix and planning to release others in the next month. Maybe to have the best Bard’s tale experience you will have to wait for new patches to come along.
The Bard’s Tale IV is definitely a title that I recommend to all the lovers of dungeon crawlers and classic RPGs. In my playthrough despite some minor and major technical defects and a pinch of repetitiveness regarding the riddles, I had fun thanks to the intricate battles, the puzzle weapons, and well-made backtracking. Some technical problems are to be forgiven, also considering the indie nature of the Inxile title, remembering that everything has been financed by a Kickstarter campaign. We can define it as a starting point, in order to create something larger and richer in the future, based on the solid mechanics recreated in this title.