I took my next steps with caution, wishing I could duck into the shadows. A group of slavering dogs ambushed me, and after a pitched battle, I survived, but with my frontline warriors licking their wounds and my magician and conjurer nursing precious few spell points.
And my bard needed a drink.
But my band of inexperienced adventurers pressed on. And that’s when death struck, in the form of a group of dwarves. The leader of these old-but-grizzled villains ran his finger over the lethal blade of his knife before ordering his fellows to the attack. Minutes later, my party ran away, drenched in blood and dragging several of our dead allies with us.
The Bard’s Tale doesn’t take long to give you a bloody nose, even if it’s been remastered with some modern quality-of-life improvements, it remains almost as punishing as it was when the classic role-playing game first launched for home computers in 1985, 33 years ago.
I’ve been playing the remastered version (which was part of The Bard’s Tale IV Kickstarter package) off-and-on for the past couple of weeks, and it’s bringing back a flood of memories. My delight when the bard songs, which are not only cool diddies but have beneficial magical effects as well, played through my rudimentary PC speaker. The wonder that came from ordering some vino in a tavern and stepping into the Wine Cellar, The Bard’s Tale first dungeon. The fear — yes, fear! — that came from encountering the Soul Sucker, a bloody beholder-like horror lurking in the Catacombs that can kill your party in a blink of an eye.
And, of course, one of my favorite memories of The Bard’s Tale: the abject silliness of encountering four groups of 99 berserkers in Baron Harkyn’s Castle.
I’m not one of those who wants their classic games to remain just as they were. I appreciate a good remaster that adds modern touches while preserving a game’s character without cheapening it. When you first set out, you explore the homes and buildings of Skara Brae, fighting monsters until you get strong enough to take on your first dungeon. But now, these homes have little notes, pulled from the original manual and clue books, that give your survival tips.
All the animations are new, too, including 3D models. The music, a highlight of The Bard’s Tale, has either been cleaned up, and in some instances, re-created from scratch. And you can now save anywhere — not just when you leave the game after visiting the Adventurer’s Guild.
We don’t get dungeon crawlers like this on PC often anymore. Either these games moved over to consoles and handhelds (hello, Etrian Odyssey), or evolved, dumping random encounters, party creation, and grid-based exploration. It’s great to go back and revisit one of my favorite games, and I’m hoping other series, like Wizardry or Might & Magic, get a similar treatment.
And we’ll see just how far The Bard’s Tale IV: The Barrows Deep goes in reviving this nostalgia later this month.
The Hit Points section of my column will be like an adventurer’s journal on happenings on the RPG scene.
- Path of Exile’s latest Challenge League is now live. It’s Delve, and it gives the action-RPG (think Diablo but online) an infinite dungeon. I adore mega-dungeons. Castle Greyhawk and Undermountain are two of my favorites from Dungeons & Dragons, and I’m eager to dig into this and see just how deep I get into Grinding Gear Games’ deep mine.
- Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age launched this week, and it just might be the best game in the franchise’s near-32 year history. Like The Bard’s Tale, Dragon Quest embraces tradition with its turn-based combat, as it’s follows the path first laid out by Wizardry. I’m giving away a collector’s edition of Dragon Quest XI. Retweet this column with your favorite Dragon Quest or Bard’s Tale memory, and I’ll pick a winner at random.
- I’m also going to make a prediction here: Dragon Quest XI will be the series’ best-selling game in the West. It’s been 13 years since its appeared on the leading platform in the West (in this case, the PlayStation 4), and now, it’s on PC as well — fitting since its gameplay is rooted in CRPGs. It’s a top-seller this week on Steam, and I hope it eclipses the sales in Japan.
- THQ Nordic announced today that it’s acquired the license action-RPG Kingdom of Amalur and the corpse of the codenamed MMORPG “Copernicus.” Amalur hit in 2012, and I enjoyed it, giving it an 8/10 for the Official Xbox Magazine. I dug the worldbuilding from best-selling author R.A. Salvatore (whose latest Drizzt novel set in D&D’s Forgotten Realms, Timeless, is out this week), and I hope THQ Nordic can rerelease Amalur and salvage something from former major league pitcher Curt Schilling’s folly.
- The casting announcement for The Witcher TV series on Netflix reminds me I need to get back to The Witcher III: Wild Hunt sometime in the near-future. What RPG from the past few years remained unfinished in your catalog?
The D20 Beat is GamesBeat managing editor Jason Wilson’s column on role-playing games. It covers video games, the digital components of traditional tabletop RPGs, and the rise of RPG streaming. Drop me a line if you have any RPG news, insights, or memories to share … or just want to roll a digital d20 with me.