Saturday, November 06, 2004

Review: The Bard's Tale (XBox/PS2)
Posted by Shocker :: 3:45 AM

So, where've the reviews been this week? I apologize to you guys. I wanted to review the Suffering (XBox), but it just wasn't my kind of game... I probably wouldn't have given it a fair score because I just couldn't get into it. So on Sunday Night, took both Street Fighter: AC and The Suffering back to Blockbuster; one of my new acquisitions is InXile's "The Bard's Tale".

Now, I don't think I'd ever heard about the game before. The thing that attracted me was the game's premise, "A quest for coin and cleavage." Well FINALLY, someone makes a game about my life. It also promised better AI and a lack of meaningless subquests. I'm in.

The whole premise of The Bard's Tale is that you're basically a cross between your Warrior in Baldur's Gate and the Necromancer in Diablo II. You summon creatures to help you fight, culminating in being able to summon a giant army. Which was excellent, because I wan't about to play a game about some singing fruit... The guys at InXile realized that. This guy's got a great edge to him.

The game's hilarious. The name InXile sounded familiar to me because they are a group created from the guy who started Interplay. Prior to the game releasing, they threw up a fake press release claiming they were considering "leaking" the game early and then acting indignant about it like the creators of Half-Life 2, GTA: San Andreas and Halo 2 (with the not-so-subtle implication that their game belongs in that echelon). Tough talk, and funny because Google tells me some sites bit on it. So the guys have spunk. That shows in their character. While he doesn't really have a name, per se, he still has plenty of personality. Dude's an agressive womanizer, which comes up about 15 seconds into the game, as he summons a rat and pretends to kill it to get into the good graces of a busty barmaid.

The Bard's Tale plays out mostly through cutscenes, narrated by a "standard" narrator, who sometimes interacts with The Bard. Some of the scenes are interactive, allowing the Bard the make decisions about how he deals with the characters (and is perceived by the world). Ply the right words to the Barmaid and you can expect a night of womanly pleasures, slip up and you're spending the night alone. This plays out in missions as well. Using a sharp tongue can send you on pointless fetch quests in order to advance the storyline.

The guys at Interplay are responsible for Baldur's Gate - and this game plays (and looks) almost exactly like Baldur's Gate. However, since it's not D&D licensed, it's got a couple of differences: character creation is fairly straightforward, with their own customized stats. "Feats" are more like abilities here, and don't have to be leveled up, they are just added. For instance, the ability to hit critical strikes or the ability to use a flail (which can't be blocked by creatures).

However, combat is plagued with all of the annoyances I found in BG - some people like it, but I just found it really boring. Especially because I was weaned on click-happy Diablo, which Baldur's Gate always seemed to be in the vein of. In and of itself, it's not too bad, but the game employs a lot of "cheap" tactics - Bugbears popping out of nowhere to smash into you before you can block or respond, giant wolves knocking you down and gnawing on you before you can respond, etc. Even though the premise of the game is to summon creatures to attack and, presumably, defend for you, initially the game is unbalanced in that respect. Your first creature, an electric spider, has low health and, despite the promise of better AI, doesn't always leap forward to defend you (or draw fire), nor does its routine change if you're wielding a bow (BTW, what is up with the bow in BG and, subsequently in this game? I know it's more realistic than Diablo, but for a game where you're playing by yourself, without someone ahead of you to block, it's extremely ineffective).

Overall the balance in this game seems to trend toward the kind of game that's difficult as hell for a spellcaster initially, but breaks about midway through. Unfortunately, there's no other kind of class you can be. By necessity, you have to be a Bard, and the game is single-player only. While the game's story is extremely tailored for this, the gameplay itself doesn't follow suit. At least it's by the same developers and creators of Baldur's Gate, otherwise a clone of this kind would be completely intolerable. As it stands, the game is flawed, and a bit outdated, and Baldur's Gate really isn't my kind of thing. On a final note, I ran into a couple of bugs in the game, including one where I fell through the floor into a blue screen of standing-around. Rent it for the jabs at the entire RPG genre, but I don't recommend a buy.

- Dan

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