Bard's Tale Second Opinion Review
I got my copy of the Bard's Tale for very cheap off eBay right before GamerDad posted Marc Salzman's review. I had previously decided not to get the game, so the timing was interesting - it allowed me to get a view from a perspective I always appreciate on a game I bought on a whim, and therefore had pretty low expectations from. So what did I think about it?
First, the very fact that I'm putting this on my blog rather than submitting a 'protest review' to GamerDad indicates that I don't radically disagree. Perhaps I'd score it a bit higher - I was thinking 70% rather than 60%, but scores are meaningless, it is the context that matters.
And it is in that context that I feel the review misses the mark. It talks about well-done dialogue and average gameplay. Let me address each of these.
The problem with doing a combined parody / homage in a game is that you must still make the player go through that which you are parodying. That, to me, is the Bard's Tale's greatest weakness. In order to keep the focus on the lighter side of the game, the developers removed much of the role-playing. You have some control over the level-up process, but not much. Items picked up are either equipped or converted to gold depending on whether they are more powerful than what you already have. In some ways I actually like this system (compared to selling 100 'rusty swords' for 6 gold each in Gothic 2). And the Bard's summoning system is a mixed-bag. On the one hand you get the coolest little dog to battle with you and many helpers to get you through battle. On the other hand, you get all of these cool summons but do nothing with them - for instance you get a beautiful ranged warrior 'Heroine', but never make a comment to her. What a waste. But the real weakness is battle - the combat system is really not fun. Compared to Dungeon Siege 2, or any solid action-RPG for that matter - the combat feels weak and gets boring and frustrating quickly. I would tend to rate that aspect even lower than the GamerDad review.
As for the humor and presentation, the game really plays like a Mel Brooks comedic parody of RPG's. There seems to be an endless stream of dead or soon-to-be dead 'Chosen Ones', cliched quests and over the top scenes. Many of these hit, while some fall flat. But in the end it is this aspect that drives the player through the game - every conversation is interesting and you are offered choices whether to be nice or 'snarky'. And you need to read the situation to know which will get you what you want (which is basically coin, cleavage and rest from adventure). The production values are very high, as is the interplay between the Bard and the narrator. The graphics show the lower resolution artifacts of their console roots, but are satisfactory otherwise.
My summary would be - if you are looking for a serious role playing experience, look elsewhere; if you are looking for some light fun, Bard's Tale might be for you; and if you have $30 to spend on a game ... find a better game. I'd give the combat and RPG aspects 2.5 stars, the humor and pacing 4 stars, and the overall game 3.5 stars.