The Bard’s Tale IV: Barrows Deep (PC) review and stream
First sequel after 30 years
The Bard’s Tale, for all intents, has been a long dead franchise. Over a decade ago there was an attempt to revive the series that received mixed results, but that only managed to confuse new fans and not give the true fans what they really wanted. The original series was a classic dungeon crawling PC game with mechanics firmly rooted in the limitations of the time it was released, and something that demanded the player pay attention to what they were doing and the actions they were taking. For better or worse, this sequel is basically the same exact thing with updated graphics.
The problems start with the fact that gameplay has managed to advance in the last 30 years, and things that might have been fun back in the day are just not done anymore. The Bard’s Tale IV: Barrows Deep only wants players to save in very special areas—which is fine if those areas work. The game also likes to throw enemies that are way beyond the level of the player in the mix as well, meaning that an encounter can instantly mean a full wipe, a wipe that will lead back to the last poor placed save point. The game also isn’t always clear on where it wants the player to go next, or how to go next, which seems odd as most of the game feels like a long corridor.
You can check out our stream of Bard’s Tale IV here:
This is, of course, before even starting on how terribly optimized the game is. The game takes forever to load, on a fast system. Even when the game is loaded there can still be extremely long periods of pop-in that will occur after the zone is loaded. Please note that “long times,” don’t mean 10-15 seconds, but instead refer to minutes, for both the load and the pop-in. In the case of the game loading it took so long that I legitimately thought that the game had simply crashed. The only thing that stopped me from force closing the application was that about a minute before it finally loaded the screen got slightly darker.
When the player is dumped into Skyrim they are given a reason to care, they are shown things, not told. At the start of the Witcher, the player is shown a large-scale battle that just happened. At the start of the Bard’s Tale IV the player is presented with a block of text about racism and the adventures guild. This goes on for several dozen paragraphs that are droll enough to test anyone’s resolve in skipping. This is every story beat that the game presents. Everything is done in long winded rants that could have been refined to three sentences or watching someone do something. Instead the player reads text as an NPC lectures them about what they are to do next.
The Bard’s Tale IV is a dated game, which is only fine if that is what you are looking for. The problem is that if you are looking for that you probably backed the game when it went to KickStarter, and thus have a backer copy. Everyone else might want to wait off, for some time. That time might be a year or two down the line when the game has been thoroughly patched and balanced, mods have come out to make it more enjoyable, and there is a pretty hefty Steam sale on it.