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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You get two rows of four slots and so do your enemies, which means that large-scale battles are out of the question. To get around this, the developers have come up with a system where battles happen in waves. The alpha's battles had up to three waves, which significantly increased the potential number of opponents you could face before being able to catch a breath. It's not exactly fighting hundreds of Berserkers at once, but if the final moments of the alpha meant anything, that iconic fight might still make an appearance, if only as an Easter Egg of some sort.

Your tools for dealing with your enemies include up to five active skills per adventurer, a variety of attacks with different targeting patterns, three distinct damage types, and an assortment of consumables.

The alpha didn't give me a good enough feel for how you gain the active skills, but it involves mastering them over time by using particular weapons, or something along those lines. The consumables are a bit simpler - they go in the trinket slot, which allows you to use them in combat.

The remaining equipment slots include helmets, armors, boots, and weapons. And while the helmets and armors present in the alpha gave you some nice attribute bonuses or made you more resistant to damage, the boots were particularly interesting, since they provided additional mobility options.

The alpha also had some lockpicks, torches, health-restoring foods, books, and elven gemstones, but you didn't really get to use them. Same with crafting. The crafting menu was present and accounted for and it looked competent enough, but I didn't find enough materials to put anything together. Still, it's nice to know that these features are being worked on.

Now, back to combat. The three damage types currently in the game are physical, mental, and true. Physical damage is the most basic type and is reduced by armor. Mental damage ignores armor and interrupts channeling abilities that take multiple turns to use but gets blocked by the channeling focus bar. And true damage just doesn't care and goes through everything.

The turn-based system is quite a curious one. Instead of characters having initiative scores or something along those lines, you have Opportunity and Spell Points. Spellcasters and bards use the latter to cast their spells, while the former is a common pool for your entire party. In the alpha, my party had a total of four Opportunity points, with each non-magic attack or move, regardless of which character took it, using up one. Again, because it was an alpha, it was pretty much impossible to lose in combat, but despite that, I could see the tactical potential of this system and now can't wait to get my hands on the full thing.

And of course, this preview wouldn't be complete without me mentioning the combat animations. While for the most part they aren't too slow, some of them exist solely to add flavor to the combat, elongating it for no good reason. Because of that, some animation speed options for the full version would be welcome, along with maybe an optional animation-less teleporting units mode.

Conclusion

Overall, I was fairly impressed by the alpha. It was just a small taste of what the full game will have to offer, an amuse-bouche if you like, but it certainly did its job - it made me want to play more of The Bard's Tale IV. And sure, the UI still needs a lot of work, the character models could do with a bit of an overhaul, and the tile-based movement is yet to be implemented, but if you treat the alpha as just one piece of the puzzle and use it to imagine all the other pieces, then you've got yourself a game. A game that bears little resemblance to its venerable predecessors, perhaps, but hopefully ends up preserving some of their spirit. And if we're lucky, offers an enjoyable and challenging dungeon crawling experience in the process.