Wow... where to even begin with this game. When I finished with Axiom Verge, I decided something funny might be a good idea. This would prove to be a terrible decision, bad enough in fact this is the first game since setting standards of how long a game is played for this site, that I had to force myself to play the minimum 8 hours before I stopped playing and shit all over it. I basically only made it because I could stream and make fun of the last few hours live. So how did it get fucked up so bad? Well, step inside....
Story: It was just another day for the Bard. He made his way to the next town, summoned a rat to scurry into the local tavern, listened for the sound of the local bar-wench screaming, and then busted through the door to save the day by unsummoning it. Of course, these tricks did not win over the mistress who ran the bar this day, and she sent him to kill a rat in the basement. Probably should have told him it was a fire-breathing dire-rat, though. You can imagine the results of this lack of information. Still, unable to accept defeat by this beast, Bard made his way back down, only to be taught a new summoning spell by a strange old man, and managed to kill the beast.
So who was this old guy, and why did he help? Well, the next day he makes this a bit more obvious as he starts the Bard on a quest to get more powerful and more impressive (to the ladies) summoning spells, and ultimately right into the hands of a brotherhood of monks who rope him in as their latest "chosen one" to rescue their princess. Does this sound stupid and convoluted well beyond anything necessary? It should because it absolutely is. It will take you 5 chapters of the game in order to reach this point of the plot, and for me, this would be about 6 hours of game time. It goes quite out of it's way to not let you in on even the concept of the main story for quite some time.
However, to be fair to the plotline, this is more due to the nature of the Bard more then anything else. The man you are about to play is a snarky, cheating, stealing, womanizing, little snot who's best qualities are his mouth and his ability to keep a few steps ahead of danger... usually. As such, he simply isn't going to take on such a dangerous quest out of the goodness of his heart. Rather, he needs motivation, starting with more power that can make the ladies love him, and when he finally sees her... I think I can leave that to your imagination.
Suffice it to say, this game has a very slow build and uses a lot of it to introduce you to the results of his past actions. When you get right to it, there are no twists you will not see several chapters before they happen. It's really rather basic and there only to support the gameplay and the to be a vehicle for the humor it carries, but we will get to that later in this review. It is really nothing to write home on of it's own.
Graphics: The Bard's Tale is played from a bird's eye view using a fully 3D rendered environment. And while the perspective is a little weird since it's closer to directly downward then most games of this nature, the end result looks surprisingly good. The world you will be playing in is well detailed with good ground and wall textures, solid work on the trees that make up the forests around you, and even several nice touches like the moving roots in a living plantscape or the ripples you leave behind as you wade through waist-deep water. The look of the game will show a level of care from the artists that is not as common as it should be.
Nor is this care just in the world itself. NPCs in this game and even the Bard himself all show it. And while the game does not look like it was made recently, it holds up remarkably well and at modern graphic resolutions, at least with the exception of the actual videos that were clearly made to run at more standard definition levels and look like absolute shit with how blurry they are now. Still, these are mainly used at the beginning (and I would assume at the end) of your adventure, so they they are not often enough to really get in the way of the game.
However, I'm sad to say it feels like all this effort was wasted. While everything individually looks pretty good, the overall impression is of a very generic fantasy world. The villages are all similar beyond simple coincidence and theme: grass-lands that might have a lake or two in them and a handful of stone circular towers dotting them. The people who inhabit them are usually one of a small handful of peasant models walking around, most of which are clearly meant to be on the elderly side. There is just incredibly little variety in these places.
Nor does the world outside these places fair much better. It took me over eight hours to finally find something that wasn't forest and more then four enemy types. While the detail in the game is great, the variety that could make game really shine is sorely lacking, but we will get into that further later in this review.
Sound: When it comes to what you hear when playing this game, it is incredibly bipolar. First, let me be up front and say before we even begin, there is almost no background music in this game. Rather, the ambiance of the place you are in will serve this purpose. If you hate the lack of this, you are going to hate how this game sounds more often then not. I personally think it served the game well myself, but that's because of what this choice was a backdrop to.
To be quite honest, I have never seen a game out-due something like a Monkey Island title for songs sang by the the characters before, but Bard's Tale does it, and does so exceptionally well. These moments are going to be highlights for the game, especially the rather infamous "Bad Luck to be You" songs which tend to come whenever you run into the dead "chosen ones" sent before the Bard was roped into this adventure. The developer even took the time to include karaoke style lyrics complete with a bouncing coin so you can sing along with everyone. It's weird, it's wacky, and it's absolutely charming.
And so is the banter between the Bard and the Narrator, who clearly hates him. While the Bard is snarky, the Narrator is sarcastic as hell. Breaking the fourth wall, the two often argue and will get a smile out of you more often then not.
Unfortunately, that is not the only voice-work in this game, however. This game has some serious issues with some characters sounding so out of character to their look it's immersion breaking. The second store owner comes to mind, as he sounds like he should be tall, thin, and hold a towel while looking down his nose at you. What you get is a short incredibly fat man who does this instead without that towel. But the real crime here is among your own summons. Anything that is human is usually quipping lines, and some of these are really bad. The healer is my best example, as she constantly yells out "HEALING" and "WHO NEEDS HEALING" in one of the most annoying voices I have heard in a while. She is incredibly useful more often then not (assuming she's not being so stupid as to literally stand in spike traps), which only makes this all the more tragic.
Gameplay: I really wish I could be kinder here to this game... A game that tries (and at times succeeds) at being genuinely funny is a rare breed, so it's utterly heartbreaking how bad this game plays. Between the scripted narrations that will entertain are some of the worst mechanic decisions I have ever seen in it's genre.
The Bard's Tale plays as an action/RPG, but every design choice seems to be made to simplify the game to the point of being boring. You can pause the game at any time to select whatever weapon you want to equip, but you will always automatically only have the best of any given weapon type, removing any choice in weapons based on any special traits they might have. You will have the ability to gain talents that allow you to do special attacks with these weapons, but doing so basically involves how long you hold down the right mouse button, rendering the point of many of the best abilities moot.
On top of this combat includes a block mechanic designed to make each battle feel like a dual with the enemy you are fighting, but it really only works well when facing off with a two, maybe three enemies. In the many places where you are facing more then that, you will quickly feel like a pinata in a room fullof angry 6 year olds as you get bounced around the second that block falls. Simply put melee combat does not work. If you choose to use a bow, you will find yourself shooting most enemies before they are on the screen, making for an exceptionally boring and repetitive experience.
Nor does this feeling end with just the combat, but the maps themselves will quickly get to this point. There was one point before the second boss you have to face where I literally followed the same pattern of a small room with a stairway going up to the next ledge where the same enemy would sit and throw logs and hammers down... for about an hour. It was boring to the point that the ONLY reason I kept playing was I have a standard I have to meet for you, the readers. Luckily the level design did improve after this moment, but not by much.
But if we can get back to the same menu you use to select weapons, it is also is used to select the allies you summon (since the Bard by default is a zoo-keeper type of character), but the number of allies you get are exceptionally limited at any given time rendering even the option to have a small army pretty sad and pathetic. Then if we consider the downright suicidally stupid nature of these allies, and it's not uncommon for some of them to be dead before you even draw your weapon again to be able defend yourself when the summon is finished.
Bugs: If I could find a bug in this game, I might feel better. After all, then maybe I could blame how badly it played on a mistake somewhere, but it ran perfectly.
Overall: To say this game is completely joyless would be a lie. The conversations between the Narrator and the Bard can actualy be very funny, but really, that and the songs are about all there is to enjoy in here.
I can't be nice about this game. It looks and sounds very good, but the gameplay backing it is terrible. To put it mildly, this is a game that is so bad, I actually found myself actively finding things to do to NOT play this game. I recommend it to absolutely no one, and wish I had not bothered to add it to my collection.
Source’s Listed System Requirements:
- 512MB RAM
- Nvidia Geforce FX5700/ATI Radeon 9800
- Windows XP (32 Bit only)/Vista/7/8
- 6 GB hard drive space
- AMD Phenom II 6X 1100T (6 core) processor running at 3.3 Ghz
- 8GB RAM
- Nvidia Geforece 760 GTX with 2GB VRAM
- Broadband Connection
- and Windows 7