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Codex Review RPG Codex Review: The Bard's Tale IV

Infinitron

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Tags: InXile Entertainment; The Bard's Tale IV: Barrows Deep

As you probably know, The Bard's Tale IV had an absolutely disastrous launch. It's safe to say that the game is a flop. Ambushed right out of the gate by performance issues on one side and angry grognards on the other, it never even had a chance. The sad thing is that most of the people who actually bothered to play it past the first few hours seem to have found it fun. Not exactly good, mind you, but fun. Esteemed Codex contributor felipepepe, who is a frequent connoisseur of the unusual, found the game to be so interesting in its idiosyncrasy that he felt compelled to write a review. His conclusion? The Bard's Tale IV could have been a good-for-what-it-is casual gem, if only it wasn't so bloated with filler content. I quote:

Bard's Tale IV only has about 6 enemy archetypes: Humanoids, Goblins, skeletons, ogres, liches and those weird one-eyed things. Of course, you have several classes of humanoids, goblins and undead, some with bows, others with shields, etc. And the ogres are reskinned to be demons or even a dwarven golem.

They also look very good (except the human faces) and have very elaborate animations, kneeling down when poisoned, struggling when teleported and so on. Of course more variety is always good, but this would be a decent bestiary for a short game.

But Bard's Tale IV doesn't want to be short. And it has no qualms about making you fight 20 groups of cultists, berserks or undead in a row if that means making the game longer.

This isn't me bitching about enemies looking the same. The problem here is that they fight the same. And so do you!

The enemies also don't do anything to demand a change of tactics either, as they always fight the same way. The underlying system is good, but it's underused and fails to offer diverse challenges. Once you learn to fight berserkers that counter your attacks, every single battle against them plays the same. See a wizard? He'll just summon goblins in the first turn and then keep using Mangar's Mind Jab. The weird one-eyed thing? It will just charge its beam attack every. single. time.

There are some very unique encounters, like a hidden stone golem that has massive armor, a plant boss that regenerates every turn, or several waves of reviving skeletons, and these will make you stop to think, maybe even retry with different skills. They show the potential the system holds, and it is indeed a good system. But I'm talking about maybe eight fights in my 30 hours playing. Once again, the problem is not the system per se, it's the "quantity over quality" mindset that's operating it.

Sadly, this also affects the dungeons and puzzles.

In a sense, the dungeons of Bard's Tale IV are closer to Legend of Grimrock than Bard's Tale I-III. Enemies are visible on the screen, they don't respawn (except for the end-game [fuck whoever approved that]) and every area is filled with puzzles and secrets.

Sadly, level design-wise, they are much closer to Skyrim's dungeons. That's because they are all mostly linear, moving you from set piece to set piece. The only true maze is a single underground area based on Skara Brae from Bard's Tale I. Other than that, all dungeons force you through a fixed path, offering at best a large area with three inter-connected puzzles, that must all be completed to advance.

Yet, I had fun with some of the dungeons. The best ones, such as Mangar's Tower, set a nice pacing between unique puzzles, fight a few harder battles and uncovering some hidden secret. That dungeon even knows how to use empty spaces, such as a long and ominous walk towards a dark altar, walking across a gorgeous scenery while eerie music plays.

I understand that this has nothing to do with what Bard's Tale I-III did but, again, I'm judging it for its actual content, not its Kickstarter promises. This is a casual, mass market game, something much closer to an RPG version of Portal or The Witness.

Now, personally, I think that the best puzzles in RPGs are the ones that make use of the lore, NPCs and/or environment. NPCs in this game are terrible and just stand in place giving quests, but Bard's Tale IV has some nice puzzles based on searching your surroundings or understanding a riddle hidden in a story. They are easily the best puzzles in the game.

In fact, Bard's Tale IV made me do something that few RPGs in the past 20 years did: take notes.

One puzzle, for example, has you inside a small garrison, reading notes from the soldiers and officers about what kind of beverages they are allowed to drink, and then using that information to unlock a secret passage by the storage room. None of these puzzles are hard (save for two very obscure ones based on crows), but they work well with the first-person view, atmospheric ambiance and shiny graphics to immerse you in this world.

Sadly, that kind of puzzle is vastly outnumbered by a far less exciting type: purely mechanical puzzles, like pushing blocks, gear puzzles, pipe puzzles and the "fairy puzzles", which are about using signposts to guide a fairy. These puzzles are completely disconnected from the world. You reach them, solve them in a vacuum, and then move on.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: The Bard's Tale IV
 

Bohr

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Thanks for the review. Seems like one of the more positive ones out there so I'm sure Fargo will be tweeting it soon :shittydog:
 

Anthedon

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I'll hold off until (if) the technical issues are fixed. Seems like this game suffers from the same issue that plagues Lord of Xulima, which you also mentioned. Both titles way overstay their welcome. Although LoX is pretty challenging throughout, IIRC.
 

Gord

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Luckily for me the ratio of fun-to-tedium is much better than for felipepepe.
I agree that the amount of puzzles is too high in some areas.
I do disagree, however that most channeling abilities are weak (well some are, but not all).
Given that some enemies target you with mind spells while you are chanelling, it is often advantageous to have some points in INT at least.
 

felipepepe

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I do disagree, however that most channeling abilities are weak (well some are, but not all).
Given that some enemies target you with mind spells while you are chanelling, it is often advantageous to have some points in INT at least.
Point is, why spend time gathering mana and chanelling when enemies die in 1-2 turns? I think the issue is the encounter design, more than the character system itself.
 

Lady_Error

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inXile has gone full popamole, along with retarded decisions like the dull starting area or not being able to even create your character or party right away.

Each of their games has been getting worse. Wasteland 2 I actually liked, Torment was a disappointment but still quite good, while Bard's Tale 4 is okay at best.
 

grimace

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I've played the first hour and enjoyed the sound design.

After all the patches I'll play thru further.
 

Agame

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inXile has gone full popamole, along with retarded decisions like the dull starting area or not being able to even create your character or party right away.

Each of their games has been getting worse. Wasteland 2 I actually liked, Torment was a disappointment but still quite good, while Bard's Tale 4 is okay at best.

Yea the decline has been fast and painful with Inxile. Wasteland 3 will probably uninstall itself when you hit the .exe, just to save you the agony of playing it.
 

Grauken

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Would be so easy to answer that you can't patch out a bad game, but what would be the point, at this point
 

Ocelot570

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Everyone knew that Fargo is the biggest hack in the gaming industry. He has tried to sell his snake oil long enough. People should never believe his lies, and no one should ever buy The Bard's Tale IV even on an extremely heavy sale. Death to InXile!!!!!
 

MicoSelva

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Thanks for the review, felipepepe . :salute:

Unfortunately, games overstaying their welcome is a common problem in this day and age. Many games have pretty thin mechanics which are fun at first, but get old after a while. Most people won't experience that, because they will move on to another game long before the end, which encourages developers to front-load games even more, creating a vicious circle of suffering for completionists.

This only makes me appreciate games with actually deep mechanics more, and thankfully, Codex is one of the good places to find them.
 

grimace

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Unfortunately, games overstaying their welcome is a common problem in this day and age.

I cannot remember the last game I played thru to the end.

Polishing the first few hours of the game so players don't seek a refund makes business sense in the short term.

If a reviewer pushes towards the middle of the game and notes that the quality drops off and the game becomes repetitive will more customers be less likely to purchase?

The real trick is to get customers to pre-purchase a game via crowd funding (no refunds!). Fool me once . . .
 

Cleveland Mark Blakemore

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FelipePepe plays game like Bard's Tale IV for 10 hours, a game which cannot be taken seriously after 10 million dollars and a team of so many people you can't see them all because of the coverage of the earth, gives it a soft thumb's up.

FelipePepe plays Grimoire for 120 hours, with gameplay so rich he didn't even begin to break the surface judging by his review, declares it "hopelessly broken" because he found some exploits like Bards class and Deep Freeze in the initial version. Out of 120 hours and 224 areas, 250 monsters, 64 NPCs and a single area more fun than the entire game of Bard's Tale IV.

Gives you some idea of how worthwhile his reviews are. A word to the wise about the stealth pokemon fanbois.
 

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