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The backer beta for inXile's upcoming dungeon crawler The Bard's Tale IV: Barrows Deep is now live, offering the eligible backers a chance to experience the game's opening, character creation, and a bit of dungeon crawling exploration. This Kickstarter update provides some additional details along with a handy backer FAQ.
On top of that, the game now has a proper release date. Barring any unforeseen complications, The Bard's Tale IV: Barrows Deep should be releasing September 18, 2018. Here you can see how the iconic The Bard's Tale cover art will come to life in the new game:
Simultaneously with the backer beta, several media outlets have published their preview and impressions articles. You can check some of them out below. But first, here's a bit of intro gameplay, courtesy of IGN:
And a snippet from IGN's preview:
My hour with the game – the opening hour of the adventure – ended far too quickly, which is a great sign. After all, how an RPG begins can be key to hooking players (who can forget Final Fantasy XIII’s opening slog?), so inXile seems to be on the right track here. Backers and folks who preorder Bard’s Tale 4 can get their hands on the same chunk of gameplay I played now. I’m quite eager to dive back in at the next opportunity.
And here's what PC Gamer has to say:
Three hours into the beta of The Bard's Tale 4, I realized how late I'd stayed up puzzling my way through the labyrinth beneath a wizard's castle and thought: Damn, this is a really good dungeon. I was engrossed. For the first time, my surrounds were beautiful and fantastical: ethereal light from tall windows cutting through the haze, elaborate gilded statues lining the halls, secret passages rumbling open in innocuous stone walls. The puzzles were clever and quickly escalated from gimmes to satisfying headscratchers. While it takes a couple hours to get going, this feels like exactly the game I hoped The Bard's tale 4 would be: a proper dungeon crawler with a creative combat system that doesn't feel beholden to the past.
I could point out plenty of little issues I've run into after a few hours with the beta. It's crashed a few times. Characters tend to repeat the same voice lines a little too often, whenever I glance in the direction of a dangerous area or walk by a magic mouth eager to dispense a clue. There are a few typos. There's not enough variety in the character portraits you choose for your party members. Those are the kinds of issues betas are for. The Bard's Tale 4 needs polish, but the fun is already there.
Here are some of Polygon's thoughts on the beta:
The story world is linear, but within unique sections, different narrative arcs can be followed, depending on personal taste and individual risk calculations. Even in the early segments, there are options to drift away from the well-trod main path and take on more challenging battles.
The Bard’s Tale 4 feels like a work of love, celebrating the basic tenets of RPGdom, while providing a pleasing visual and auditory world appropriate to modern gaming. It demands a commitment to detail, and a taste for turn-based combat. But that’s what we all signed up for. I doubt those early access players will be disappointed.
PCGamesN's preview features a few quotes from inXile's David Rogers:
Considering its lineage, it would be easy to expect The Bard’s Tale IV to play akin to Legend of Grimrock, but instead there’s much more of The Elder Scrolls at play - the world of Skara Brae is home to dozens of talkative NPCs, and networks of shadowy cobbled streets that lead you to new treasures and challenges. Among those challenges are a variety of puzzles, ranging from logical simplicity to the truly fiendish.
“We have a certain number of base puzzle systems like you may have to disarm traps by rejiggering like a series of gears to turn off traps or open up secret doors,” Rogers explains. “Or you may even find a weapon that has puzzles built in, such as an image you have to shuffle back together, or channelling power from one end of this magical sword to another. You're going to keep re-encountering these puzzle systems, and they keep getting increasingly complex so you learn upon what you previously played. Then we start combining them in different ways.”
Rock, Paper, Shotgun thinks the game is rough but compelling:
Bard’s Tale IV feels a bit wonkier and a lot cheaper than I’d been expecting, given the flashy Kickstarter pitch, but it’s definitely onto something – an old-fashioned, party-based dungeon-solving RPG that doesn’t feel too old-fashioned.
And Destructoid starts with an interview with David Rogers:
The game has been in development for more than two years. While it's being made to feel like a natural extension of the original trilogy, Barrows Deep finds influence in other games that have come since. Take the Ancient Luck Stones for instance. Found throughout the world, these are stones players can bind to, making it a save point they can respawn from, or consume for experience at the cost of deleting it from the game forever. It's a concept that reminds me of the Shovel Knight save-point system, a comparison Rogers completely agreed with.
The Ancient Luck Stones are just a few of the clever developments Rogers and team are making with The Bard's Tale IV, but their main objective is to mesh story with the genre in ways not seen before.
"We're really trying to innovate the dungeon crawler genre," Rogers explained. "Games like Legend of Grimrock, while being awesome, they dump you on an island and there's no character development because there is virtually no story. It's just 'Uh, go do dungeon stuff.' It's cool, but that's all it is. We have a full cast of fully voiced characters, a wholly original soundtrack, a really rich story that we reinforce at every angle in different ways, and the character progression is just so deep."
And then shares their thoughts on the beta:
Skills also have different ranges of effect, so for example, some skills can simply hit enemies directly in front of them. Others will only hit things within a specific area of effect on the grid. Certain skills require a turn or more to charge. For example, I ran into a particular enemy with a skill that could one-shot anything in front of it, but, it first needed to be charged. So, I could either simply move my characters out of the way on the grid or attempt to disrupt the attack's charge by hitting the enemy with mental damage.
Overall, it's a combat system that is just as deep as every other aspect of the game I've mentioned so far, and it's all the more rewarding because of it. I'm sure there are a million other things I've glanced over, such as the larger puzzle rooms, to blood drinking cultists, and even a Soup Nazi. In fact, the developers themselves have even mentioned what's in the preview build is only scratching the surface of the content that will be in the full game.