The Bard’s Tale IV: Barrows Deep doesn’t simply leave you wanting. It leaves you wanting in anger, frustration and disappointment.
You want the better functionality, up to date graphics, immersive story and overall experience that transports you into a world of pure fantasy and delight to the point you forget your real life worries to focus on the needs of imaginary characters. You’ve been given Baldur’s Gate, Elder Scrolls, Dragon Age and the like. You know fantasy. You breathe fantasy. Hell, you might still remember the armour rating on your most used creatures from those wonderful days as a DM/GM.
With the arrival of another Bard’s Tale, you know it may not compete completely with other larger and bigger-budgeted titles. Despite all that, you still hope for the best, grab that energy drink and click that beautiful “New Game” selection. Except…. The Bard’s Tale IV: Barrows Deep may not be ready.
The Bard’s Tale IV starts with racial discrimination as the story’s underlying theme. Your character must assemble a ragtag bunch to fight the human supremacy threat from the underground up, all the while finding unique song bound abilities used to make the world more interactive.
Character classes are set up in a way with little overlap in abilities, taking a lot of the guesswork out of team building. While vastly different than most, the battle system is easy to learn and comfortable to maintain. The Bard’s Tale IV goes a step further, adopting a clean and clear function that shows you enemy difficulty ratings in a way that is easily digestible for quick action.
Everywhere you turn, there is music and not just the overworld scores. When you’re in the marketplace there is always someone singing while they work, or people belting out merry folk songs. Notes chime pleasantly when you pick up herbs and short melodies must be played to activate abilities necessary to progress. The musical aspects are well placed for a game that pushes the bard class as the main role.
The mechanic that delighted me the most was the realization that eating food affected the entire party and not just one character. You don’t have to eat 20 vegetables in one go to bring your party to full health, and that’s fantastic.
A trait that a fair amount of games have the bad habit of making is one The Bard’s Tale IV is also guilty of: Placing more high-level versus low-level gear and weapons in the early shops. When you see a store mostly packed with armour that you have no feasible means of obtaining for quite a while (especially when the price is hundreds of coins when your pouch can barely contain a few pennies), and the only items that are remotely close to your grasp are meant for classes you won’t see for a while yet, it really puts the player in a festering pot of “well this bites” stew. It doesn’t promote the drive to grind. It simply upsets the player.
Speaking of bad habits and bandwagons, The Bard’s Tale IV has joined in on the beating of the proverbial dead horse regarding story themes. Racial inequalities, ghettoization and the human super race have become the default background setting in a lot of fantasy games. Social commentary aside, it’s an overused genre that doesn’t seem to get the benefit of revamping or creative styling techniques, and quite frankly, it gets boring.
The characters also lack in substance. Their plights are understood, their quests familiar, however, they are portrayed in a two dimensional way that doesn’t create the bond a player needs to have in order to care. For a game like The Bard’s Tale, the connections are what pulls the player into the game and refuse to let go, and to be absent is self-sabotaging.
The Bard’s Tale IV is lacking the most in the visual department. There isn’t a difference between the choices for graphical qualities, and the game appears to have been scooped from the early days of the PlayStation 2. That being said, it’s very hard to grasp why the download file was so large and why the game has so many issues loading or crashing while entering new areas.
The absolute worst, though, are the eating sounds. As stated above, when you feed your characters food, the entire party benefits. That means you hear all the members of your party eating lettuce, carrots, potatoes, all of it. And they all chew with their mouths open. Loudly. This experience is one that prompts auditory dread.
The Promising (Final Conclusion):
Despite the negatives I found with the game, The Bard’s Tale IV: Barrows Deep has incredible promise. The developers are actively responding to all of the customer issues and appear to take these concerns seriously with promptly made patches and ongoing support. I wholeheartedly believe that between constructive feedback from players and well thought out solutions from the developers that The Bard’s Tale IV can become the game it has every right to be.