The Bard's Tale IV: Barrows Deep (PC) Review

By Athanasios 09.10.2018

Review for The Bard

It has been 30 years since The Bard's Tale III! Oh, sure there was that 2004 game, but it was actually a parody of the role-playing genre, with its main protagonist acting more like a medieval fantasy Deadpool, rather than a heroic... err, hero, who's more interested in world-saving than coin and cleavage (and the problem is?). Worry not, dungeon crawling fans, as crowdfunding made the creation of a true sequel to the pioneering series possible... although it would be even better if it had spent more time in the oven. Follow Cubed3 as it enters the underground caverns of The Bard's Tale IV: Barrows Deep.

Something seems to be terribly wrong in the medieval fantasy Scotland of Skara Brae… and the very intro seems to spoil everything in a handful of minutes, essentially destroying a great part of the incentive to go on a quest to save the world. From there on in, this will just be a search for the big bad dude that's behind everything, and with the character interactions and events that are sprinkled between the beginning and the end being nothing more than the generic stuff that happens in pretty much every RPG. Is the dungeon crawling business any better? Sadly, no, and for multiple reasons.

The first issue, amongst the many, is how of an extremely linear deal this is, especially in the first 10 or so hours, which handhold you way too much, and restrict party management by forcing the use of pre-made characters. Moreover, there's not much exploring to do off the beaten path, not to mention that the randomised rewards are rarely anything of interest. It's possible to acquire some melodies (this is a game about bards, after all) that can unveil a hidden path or treasure chest, but that sort of feels more like a fancy key than an exciting ability that requires any skill.

Screenshot for The Bard's Tale IV: Barrows Deep on PC

Unlike the recent spin-off, this goes back to the turn-based battle system of the originals, with the player's party being able to move on a grid, and attack via a nice variety of abilities. While definitely the best part of the game, some terrible design choices mar the whole thing, like how counter-intuitive the UI is, or how characters can only select four skills to use when fighting, something that will force most people to just choose a setting that feels comfortable, and avoid the hustle of changing things - plus, the races/classes are extremely unbalanced, even after recent updates.

This could go on and on about the various little problems at hand, such as the annoying inventory, the badly-implemented save point system, the repetitive puzzle-solving, the boring narrative, and so on and forth, but, really, it all boils down to just this: The Bard's Tale IV is not finished. It's not a title that hit the shelves a couple of months too soon, but one that feels as if it just left the beta stage of development, with bugs and rough edges literally everywhere, and a lack of optimisation that's so severe that it is hard to hit a stable frame-rate, even when not in the highest settings.

Screenshot for The Bard's Tale IV: Barrows Deep on PC

The rushed production is also evident in the look of it all, as this is only few steps above ugly. There are a few very pretty spots in the game world, but, as a whole, there is a general lack of polish wherever you look. Character models, especially, look more like lifeless (and weird) dolls than people - very similar to the ones in the equally half- baked, but more atrocious than just mediocre, Agony, something that's definitely not a flattering comparison to make.

There's also a surprising lack of character portraits (an average of three per race), and a limited assortment of predesigned and unchangeable 3D models for those. One could blame the budget for that, but that would be a lousy excuse, especially since the audio bit is the exact opposite. A great variety of Celtic/Gaelic tunes have been seamlessly woven in, further emphasising the bard aspect of Barrows Deep. The voice acting is also of high quality, although it's not as consistent in that as the music aspect.

Screenshot for The Bard's Tale IV: Barrows Deep on PC

The good news is that The Bard's Tale IV is packed with content, and can keep you company for more than 40 hours - but it's the actual implementation that ruins everything. Yes, the battles require tactical thinking; yes, the skills are very interesting; yes, there are tons of items to find and craft; and, finally, yes, the dungeon crawling shebang can be quite enjoyable from time to time, and even engrossing...

...but battles are also repetitive, the four-skill limit is a very bad idea, the enemy AI is way too simplistic, the inventory is a mess, the items aren't that exciting, and when the dungeon crawling stops being enjoyable or engrossing, it's just irritating and boring - and, again, no, The Bard's Tale IV's indie "status" and budget are not to blame, especially nowadays, where a handful of people have crafted flawless diamonds such as Hollow Knight... and with a much better price-tag, to boot.

Screenshot for The Bard's Tale IV: Barrows Deep on PC

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 4 out of 10


Without the problems that stem from the, evidently, rushed production, The Bard's Tale IV: Barrows Deep is a mediocre-to-good dungeon crawling RPG that's reminiscent of the genre's humble beginnings. With those problems added, however, this is downright annoying, and even unplayable.




inXile Entertainment


Turn Based RPG



C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  4/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   


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