The Bard's Tale Review

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Vivendi Universal Games
Developer:inXile Entertainment
Release Date:2004-10-28
Genre:
  • Action,Adventure,Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person,Top-Down
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
I played the original Bard's Tale games when they came out many lifetimes ago in the mid-eighties. I don't remember all that much about them except that they looked great at the time -- they were in color! -- and that they owed a lot to the even older Wizardry series. Now inXile Entertainment (headed by Brian Fargo, who co-founded Interplay in 1985) has created a new version of The Bard's Tale. This new version isn't really intended to be The Bard's Tale IV -- nothing about it has much to do with the earlier games, although those earlier games are included in the game's packaging for free. Instead, The Bard's Tale is a re-visioning of the concept, with the bard taking center stage.

In the original Bard's Tale games, you controlled a party of characters, and the bard was simply one of the many classes that your characters could aspire to (I'm not even sure if having a bard was required). In this new Bard's Tale, you control a single character, the Bard. The Bard isn't given a name -- he's simply called (the Bard) -- and you're not provided many options when creating him. He has to be male and he has to be a bard; all you get to do is distribute some points to his six attributes (including (rhythm)) and choose for him a few skills (such as (dual wield) and (critical strike)).

As The Bard's Tale opens up, you find yourself in a strange town with nothing better to do than scam and seduce (not necessarily in that order) the local female innkeeper. But as events unfold, you eventually discover that there is a princess being held captive by a mysterious druid. Since the princess is both pretty and rich, you decide to help her out, and from there you learn that you'll need to defeat the keepers of three towers, which will then allow you to enter the tower where the princess is being held and save the day.

If the premise behind The Bard's Tale sounds clichéd, that's because it is. But by giving The Bard's Tale a very basic and much-seen plot, developer inXile Entertainment also gives the Bard all sorts of opportunities to make fun of it. And make fun of it he does. The Bard's Tale is full of jabs and one-liners and sexual innuendo, and every so often its characters even break into funny songs. Better yet, the dialogue is acted superbly by the game's voice talent, including Cary Elwes (probably best known for his roll in Twister -- er, The Princess Bride) as the Bard.

However, while The Bard's Tale is a funny game, it isn't an especially involving one. Consider combat. The enemies are varied and interesting (something Gas Powered Games would do well to note before they complete the Dungeon Siege II expansion pack), but the fighting mechanics are very basic. The Bard's Tale uses an overhead view, and you right-click to move the Bard, left-click to have the Bard attack, hit the spacebar to have the Bard block.... and that's it. There aren't really any special fighting maneuvers and there aren't any spells; it's just click-click-click with the occasional spacebar jab thrown in.