The Bard’s Tale IV: Barrows Deep by inXile Entertainment is a throwback to RPGs of yesteryear. It has a great combat system, excellent voice acting and a humorous approach but is sadly let down by many of the games other systems and its rather drab appearance.
Skara Brae is being taken over by fanatics called the Fatherites whose aim is to be rid of the old races, magic users and adventurers. In steps our hero to combat the Fatherites and assist the ostracised races.
Immediately upon launching the game, after a rather long loading time, The Bard’s Tale IV immediately looks dated and certainly hasn’t made the most of today’s technology. Add to this lots of stuttering and poor frame rates it wasn’t the best of first impressions. After some perseverance I did start to get some enjoyment out of the game especially when it came to combat.
Watch the launch trailer for The Bard’s Tale IV: Barrows Deep below:
There are 4 character classed to chose from which cover your standard RPG roles of tank, DPS and support. The support is the most interesting as this where the bards come in supporting your party (which can have up to five characters at any one time) in various ways with buffs or by de-buffing the enemy,
Combat is turn-based and set over two 2 x 4 grids for your party and the same for the enemy. Each character has class based abilities (which you can customise with skill points that you gain from levelling up) and there are some very powerful combos to be created with a bit of practice. A lot of thought has clearly gone onto this system and it shows. There are times however when it fails miserably. Boss fights are tedious drawn out affairs with frequent crashes and bugs and when you combine this with the rather awful game save design they can be very frustrating.
Now about that game saving design. There is no saving on the fly here, instead there are various standing stones scattered about the game that either offer you a one time save or gain some extra experience for your party. If or when you die you are sent back to this point with all of your progress lost. I appreciate that this makes each save a risk / reward decision and should add extra tension to the game but with so many other parts of the game letting down this just added to my frustration.
You won’t be surprised that dungeons play a large part in The Bards Tale IV. Sadly, these look just as drab as the rest of the game and are puzzle / combat based. Some of the puzzles were quite entertaining but others were just downright tedious. Some doors require a cog puzzle (aim is to get them all spinning) to be completed and I found the screen to be so jittery during some of these that I actually felt something akin to motion sickness and had to take a break!
The voice acting in the game is one of the more impressive aspects and the characters feel genuine and full of humour. Most of them are Scottish (as you would expect from the Celtic setting) but when other accents are involved the acting is a little off. Humour permeates the game throughout and keeps the whole affair relativity light hearted despite the quite serious nature of the storyline.
As with most RPGs there is a crafting element but it is very basic. Once you have the recipe and the ingredients / materials you can craft whatever you like. There doesn’t appear to be any other requirements but I liked the fact that it takes the grindy nature out of crafting that many other RPGs can have.
View some screenshots from The Bard’s Tale IV: Barrows Deep in our gallery:
Finally I have to talk about the loading times. These are a serious issue and have already been acknowledged by inXile with plans to fix in a forthcoming patch. To be blunt they are horrendous! I found myself sitting there for 30 seconds or more just leaving one place to then walk for 20 seconds only to be met with another 30 seconds or so loading screen when I wanted to go to another area (I’m playing on a decent system too so it could be even worse on less powerful rigs).
In summary, The Bards Tale IV: Barrows Deep feels like a game that isn’t quite finished. A fantastic combat system is let down by too many bugs, insane loading times and a badly thought out saving mechanic. This is big shame as its the first outing in a looong time for this franchise. In its current state the game is merely average but it does seem like inXile are listening to the feedback players are giving. I reckon that this will be worth a revisit in a few months when there will no doubt have been several patches.
The Bard’s Tale IV: Barrows Deep was reviewed using a digital code supplied by the publisher.
Publisher: inXile Entertainment Developer: inXile Entertainment Release Date: September 18th, 2018 Reviewed On: PC/Steam