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(c) 2000 James Burrows

   
 
   
  Initial review by
Sean Masterson
   
 
   
  2nd review by
Steve Cooke
(The White Wizard)

 

 
Welcome to Game of the Week! Each week there will be a new featured game on this page. The game may be good, average or diabolically bad, it really doesn't matter! Just look at the pics, read the text and enjoy the nostalgia! :-) Game of the Week! is open to contributions so if you would like to contribute a game article for this page you're more than welcome to! Every article we receive will be considered!
The Bard's Tale
1986 Electronic Arts/Interplay Productions
By Michael Cranford
 
Most text of the present article comes from the initial review published in the twenty first issue of the British C64 magazine ZZAP!64 (street date: December 10th, 1986) and the 2nd review of the game as published in the thirtieth issue (street date: September 10th, 1987).
 

 

THE BARD'S TALE
Ariolasoft (Interplay), 14.95 disk only

 

Skara Brae is not a place for the nervous. I found that out to my cost this morning. It all started off okay. I left the guild with the rest of the party first thing in the morning. The building smells anyway. So there we were, the six of us, looking for sewers of all things. Brian and Samson headed the group along with El Cid (he never told us what his real name was). Brian and Samson are both fairly mean fighters -- just the kind you need in this place. Brian used to be a bouncer at a tavern until an over zealous magic user accidentally blew the place apart while providing the light show for an egotistical bard.


The bard in question was El Cid (his stage name, I guess). The magic user was a conjuror called Merlin. I'm glad he's with us. The guy is an unqualified genius in pyrotechnics. Like all MU's he's eccentric -- but by Mengar, if something moves, he can fry it. Useful. I shouldn't get distracted. El Cid's the real poser. His songs are a form of magic -- clever that! Only trouble is, he keeps wanting to go to the tavern to sooth his throat. Guess we all have our weaknesses. His is something called a Fire Horn. I know napalm won't be invented for another millennia or two but this isn't a bad second.

Markus is the quiet one, especially in battles. He has this tendency to disappear -- an archetypal Hobbit, if ever there was. He has his uses, though, or will have when we find something worthy of his talents. He's the dextrous type, streetwise with it. Knows his stuff, does our Markus. Shucks, then there's me, Omar. I'm a magic user too. Not like Merlin, he's a conjuror. I'm a good old-fashioned magician. Should see the things I can do to swords. Ouch!

Where were we? Skare Brae, how could I forget. Apparently it used to be some kind of tourist town. Then some megalomaniac called Mengar decided to make a few changes. Now you can't get over the road before some of the less desirable inhabitants attack you. That brings me back to this morning.

We tried crossing the road.

Enter eight, mean looking dwarves. Before I knew what was happening, two of them swiped at Sam and one of them landed a fairly nasty blow. Brian hammered one straight away and Sam got the slimy sod who had hit him. Merlin was shouting his incantation and waving his arms around when his right hand's fingers did something unusual. They turned into flame throwers. Exit one dwarf. Markus hardly had time to disappear before Cid took out his Horn and breathed on the rest of them. That was it. Several sizzled dwarves lay on the ground. My armour spell wasn't even needed. No wonder everyone wanted to tell him about the privatisation of British Gas -- the guy has a real halitosis problem when he uses that horn. We looked at him but he just shrugged. And smiled.

We split the gold (kindly left by our friends the dwarves) between us and started exploring. The most important thing was to heal Sam. Healers in this place can do anything, even bring you back from the dead -- if you've got the cash. That's the trouble with private medicine. It's expensive. Well, we got into a few more fights. Cid wanted to save his heavy firepower until we met something big and nasty looking, so the rest of us got knocked around a bit but made it to the healers.

We picked up enough on the way to pay for everyone who needed it. Those healers get straight to the point. Priests they may be, but their business acumen hasn't suffered as a result of their vocational vows. A few thousand years from now, Isaac Asimov will define history as a series of passing crisis points. The frequency at which crises can arise is very rapid, as we discovered on leaving the healers. It had gone dark.

Night life in Skara Brae makes New York's Central Park look like Ludlow. By the time we got home, Brian was dead and there was no money to pay for his resurrection. So now we're waiting for tomorrow and the chance to put things straight. All I can hear is the sound of weapons being sharpened. Well, I didn't plan on taking more than a nap anyway. There's more to this place than meets the eye . . .

Indeed there is. The Bard's Tale, the latest creation from the Tass Times in Tonetown weirdos, is the best RPG on the Commodore. Characters are well fleshed out, the magic and combat systems are untouchable for their internal integrity and authenticity, and the graphics are terrific. The fact that a full party of adventurers with complimentary abilities are used rather than the single character approach makes solitaire play far more fun than it otherwise might be.

However, this game is unashamedly hack and slay and one of the best features is the combat itself. Thought the combined actions of a party can entail complex strategies, they are easily enough sequentially implemented in rounds. Before the round commences, a prompt makes sure you're satisfied with the selection of actions your characters are to make before proceeding with play. Then the combat is described in a series of scrolling messages in the message window that describe the outcome in detail -- and in English. The result allows novice players to instantly understand what's going on rather than unforgivingly plunging them into a morass of abstract mechanics. In other words, it's easy to play.

The characters I described above are pre-generated and an ideal group to start with. However, original characters may be created if the player so desires. Magic Users may change their professions when they are experienced enough. This allows pursuit of other spells and abilities the party will find beneficial when dungeoneering. An MU of the right level and class can even create an illusionary character to fight for the party if necessary. The fighters and rogues can use extra experience to their advantage in combat, but for any character to go up a level they must first contact the review board and pay for training. An adventure in itself.

The game comes as a two-disk package, with comprehensive but well written instructions and a map of the city (that proves most useful). An extra disk is recommended for saved characters. The screen has three main sections. Across the lower part of the display, all the characters in your party are shown with their status. On the right is the message display. This also lists the abilities and devices possessed by any character you choose to inspect. The left window displays a perspective view ahead of the party, or the image of one of your characters. When monsters attack, it displays those.

There are 128 monster types and some of them are animated on the screen with great atmospheric effect. Conjurors wave their arms, wolves look around with glowing eyes . . . Juicy stuff! At least three dungeons, each with sixteen levels, occupy an entire side of one disk. Coupled with the city terrain as well, there's a lot to explore.

Weapons shops, taverns, and healer-churches are the main city points to visit, but there are others awaiting discovery. The buildings have visibly different exteriors to most of those in the city, so it's normally easy to tell whether a place is worth entering. Actually, any building in the city may be entered, but most will be empty.

The game also caters for extremely experienced and powerful characters. The best person in my party had an armour class of two, but a screen shot on the package revealed a character with nine. Obviously bigger and better monsters await. This armour class business does highlight one imperfection. The entire game system is highly derivative of AD&D, though there are overtones of Rune Quest II in there as well. A more original system might have been interesting, but this one serves to illustrate that many of the better aspects o role playing can be carried onto the average home micro with care.

The Bard's Tale is addictive and actually fast to play once you get used to the keyboard controls. There are a few of these but never so many as to become unwieldy, and that's good implementation. I suspect that the game will be more successful than many of its predecessors. There is enough in the game to last several months at least. And it's very easy to get lost in Skara Brae . . .

SEAN MASTERSON

 
Atmosphere 95%
Interaction 90%
Lasting Interest 95%

Value for Money

94%

Overall

94%
 

THE BARD'S TALE
 

his is a classic RPG from Electronic Arts, the US company who have recently set up in the UK and whose products should now be more readily available. To celebrate their arrival, and also to provide a pointed comparison with Phalsberg, the Wiz records some brief notes about The Bard's Tale . . .


Unlike a lot of computer RPG's, this game takes place in a large, mapable town. There are no forests or mountains to wade through -- just endless winding streets, full of forbidding monsters of all sorts at every corner, but you must defeat them all if you are going to dethrone the evil Mangar and restore peace to the city.

The presentation of this program is excellent. A small graphics window provides an attractive peep-hole into the street before you -- while on the right the text window boasts smooth-scrolling, unambiguous messages giving you clear instructions on what to do next.

You can have up to six members in your party, drawn from seven different races. These are: Human; Elf; Dwarf; Hobbit; Half-Elf; Half-Orc; and Gnome. In addition there are ten available professions, or 'character classes', ranging from Rogue through to Bard to Wizard, with each character having 11 attributes. And if that's not enough for you, there are also ten categories of objects (including musical instruments) and hordes of monsters, ranging from Kobolds to Blue Dragons.

The best thing about The Bard's Tale, apart from the atmosphere (chilly at night, especially) and the large range of spells and other features, is the way in which the program makes it easy to plan strategy. In each encounter with the enemy you have to work out how to get your party to work together in the most effective way, considering such factors as their position (foremost is first to be attacked), their fighting tactics (Spells? Swords? Even hiding away!), and the way in which they support each other.

Although the action is non-stop, the program never rushes your decision making, giving you time to think and marshal your forces. This increases the challenge of the game and the satisfaction of winning a fight, since you feel (quite rightly) that the outcome was a direct result of your tactics rather than a simple fall of the dice.


[this screenshot was not in the original review]

Interesting features include the ability to coerce monsters to join your party and fight for you (by magic, of course), and the use of the Bard's musical prowess to stir your fighters into action and add strength to their sword-arms. Of course you also get to hear the music, which, although not very impressive by today's standards, still adds to the adrenaline rush as you march into battle.

Bad points include the appallingly slow disk access (especially when you're preparing a SAVE disc -- a task which to take half a morning), and a shortage of general commands apart from fighting and casting spells -- though there are some transactions to be carried out in various emporiums throughout the town. What there is, however, is extremely well presented and programmed, very playable, and attractively packaged.

As a rule, RPG's have always been the poor relations on the computer games scene, but The Bard's Tale -- although it's nearly three years old -- manages to put up an excellent fight.

 


If you want a walkthrough, visit
Jacob Gunness
' Classic Adventures Solution Archive or
Martin Brunner's C64 Adventure Game Solutions Site

Htmlized by Dimitris Kiminas (29 Jan 2005)

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