The Bard's Tale IV: Barrows Deep Preview

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Independent
Developer:inXile Entertainment
Release Date:2018-09-18
Genre:
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • First-Person
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Then, there's the highlighting. The objects you can interact with get a bright blue outline when you hover your mouse over them, and in my opinion, it's a bit jarring in a dungeon crawler. This isn't some hardcore thing as much as it is a game design thing. When you have to remain attentive and keep your mind sharp to notice all the hidden clues and cracked walls, the last thing I want to do is train my brain to look for that blue outline. The problem is, I'm not sure how they would fix that without forcing you to click on every piece of scenery since the current setup includes plenty of non-interactable clutter.

I also need to mention some welcome advancements in the actual character models. They looked rather odd in the early gameplay videos - these weird cardboard cutouts that moved up and down as they spoke and alternated between facing you and the enemies in combat - and I don't think many people were too enthralled by that implementation. The alpha build removed the annoying bobbing and replaced it with static images, which honestly was enough to salvage things, as far as I'm concerned. Without the bobbing, I wasn't bothered by the combat turning in the slightest.

In fact, my only major complaint about the character models was your dwarven adventurer. He looked less like a normal ale-loving tunnel-digging bearded lad and more like a White Walker reject or some weird misshapen demon. I don't know if this was just a placeholder model or what, but it looked absolutely gnarly.

Unlike the poor dwarves, the exploration looked quite promising. There was a cog puzzle you had to solve in order to open a door, a set of runes on a wall you had to match with a code lock, and a cracked wall you had to break by singing in its general vicinity. And even though none of these tasks were particularly taxing on the old noggin, that's only to be expected from a condensed early preview.

If we extrapolate from there, what we get is a dungeon crawler with a decent variety of tasks, puzzles, and activities. A game that doesn't hold your hand too much and allows you to miss stuff if you aren't attentive enough.

Of special note there, are the so-called puzzle weapons. These elven artifacts have hidden powers you obtain by fiddling around with their models in a 3D environment, solving riddles and puzzles, and performing various combat challenges. If I'm being honest, figuring out how to unlock the full potential of an ancient elven longsword was probably my favorite part of the entire alpha. And the best thing about it was that if you got something wrong, instead of becoming stronger, the weapon got cursed, making you think twice before trying to brute-force your way to power.

However, don't let this ability to fail make you think that this game is some tough as nails old-school dungeon crawler where each tile is a death trap and you're constantly fighting for your life. If anything, the fourth installment of The Bard's Tale looks to me more like a dungeon jogger, an inventive and easy on the eye mix of Legend of Grimrock and Might & Magic X. At least that's the impression I got from it.

A Matter of Thrust

For the purposes of the alpha, your party of adventurers consisted of a dwarven fighter, an elven spellcaster, and a human-looking Baed bard. These characters had their own unique skills, weapon and armor proficiencies, and racial bonuses. The primary attributes present in the alpha were Strength, Intelligence and Constitution. I don't know if there are any plans to add more attributes for the full release, but I do have to say that I found it odd how Armor Class and Spell Points were considered attributes by the character sheet, so perhaps we'll see Dexterity and Luck replacing them at some point in the future.

It's also important to note that the three adventurers available in the alpha weren't a full party. According to one of the Kickstarter updates, the game will let us recruit a party of up to six adventurers and have summons take that number up to eight, the maximum number of units supported by the game's 4x4 combat grid.