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The Bard's Tale (PC) artwork

The Bard's Tale (PC) review

"You spoony bard!"

The Bard's Tale (PC) image

I stared at the on-screen character sheet and contemplated my options. Since The Bard's Tale is a hack 'n slash, I figured a strength-based hero would be a safe bet. However, I got this crazy urge to create a ranged bard, and thus decided to plug most of my attribute points into dexterity. I didn't worry about whether or not this was a wise decision. All I'd have to do is keep my distance from the opposition and I'd be fine. I'm sure there will even be perks and spells to help me to maintain a healthy space between myself and the baddies, I reasoned.

Gears turned further in my head as I sat through the game's dull, albeit helpful, tutorial. Unlike your traditional bard, the protagonist (referred to as just "The Bard") uses his musical abilities to summon AI-controlled beings to follow his commands. With a few strums or toots, he conjures melee fighters, tanks, a healer and even a few monsters to join him in battle. I imagined myself on the battlefield behind a line of meat shields. They kept my foes at bay while I fired arrows from afar.

Sadly, I saw holes in my strategy even before I could truly put it to the test. Early on, I met a band of trows in the woods. I pulled out my bow and tried to cut loose an arrow with a quick click. Nothing happened. I then clicked repeatedly in response. One arrow flew. As it turns out, I had to hold down the right mouse button before firing. Not only did The Bard need time to load his weapon, but also to turn and face in the proper direction. In the interim, the trows closed the gap between us and rendered my ranged skills useless. I put the bow away and unsheathed my sword, then sighed as I clicked them to death.

The Bard's Tale (PC) image

Still, I stuck with my dex build until I encountered my first major skirmish. I called one of my allies to the fray and sent him to distract a pack of wargs while I filled them with arrows. They crowded my mercenary and mauled him to death before I could even fire my third missile. Once he fell, they turned their attention to me, but I evaded their rush and conjured the merc again. While The Bard played the mercenary's song, I was defenseless. The wargs got a few cheap shots in, but I managed to slink away with only moderate wounds. I kissed my dreams of a dex build goodbye in that moment.

It's hard to accept, but The Bard's Tale doesn't provide much versatility when it comes to specialized warriors or customization. You survive most of your encounters by either slicing or bashing your targets into the ground. There's little point in emphasizing any stat besides strength. Your bow comes in handy during a few segments, but it's otherwise a liability. Summons can prove helpful, but they're hardly reliable. Even after you crank up your rhythm stat to a respectable level, your allies tend to die off quickly when you run afoul of sizable squads or bosses. And forget about modifying The Bard via equipment. As you receive new pieces of armor or weapons, the game automatically equips more powerful merchandise and sells off your old stuff.

At their best, The Bard's Tale's mindless battles serve as simple, action-packed romps. However, there are few confrontations that meet that standard. Instead, the game loves to pit you against druids who spam magical blasts, decimating your party. It throws in poisonous zombies who claw and bite with surprising speed. It corners you with clockwork marauders who beat you to death before you can nail them. Right as you pull back your sword or mace, they strike you and cancel your attack. You can toss a crystal or two if you're in such a bind, which summons one of the game's major bosses to nuke your opponents. Unfortunately, the campaign offers a finite number of crystals, so it's unwise to lean on such overpowered offense.

The Bard's Tale (PC) image

The Bard's Tale attempts to mask its vapid swordplay and frustration with humor, but fails even at that. The story starts off with a couple of penis jokes, a song about beer and a few cutscenes that reveal The Bard's arrogant, opportunistic nature. Honestly, this isn't a terrible beginning. The game could have established The Bard as a miscreant, only to develop him into a more likable antihero through hilarious misadventures. Unfortunately, our hero is as static as can be. He begins the main part of this odyssey with one objective in mind: sex with the imprisoned princess Caleigh. Even as you approach the campaign's closing phases, The Bard remains dead set on getting laid.

All that stands between The Bard and lovin' is a standard RPG campaign filled with snarky digs at role-playing games. You meet a mysterious NPC in a seedy bar who sends the adventurer off to nab a certain ax. The Bard makes a quip about fetch quests, then embarks on an everyday fetch quest. The game also pokes fun at the "chosen one" archetype and spoofs the "kill the rat in the cellar" side quest. Sadly, you only reach these jokes by engaging in the kind of tedious, repetitive button mashing you see in middling hack 'n slash titles. Maybe I'm mistaken, but I thought the purpose of parody was to subtly criticize a category's cliches while steering clear of them. Yet, mechanically, The Bard's Tale is a genre exercise.

The Bard's Tale (PC) image

The Bard's Tale is an RPG packed with missed opportunities. It takes jabs at its own genre, but presents a campaign that doesn't allow for deep customization. Rather, you're stuck playing an overlong hack 'n slash, where a strength build is your only viable option. It attempts to be humorous, and mildly succeeds. Sadly, it weaves a simplistic tale and lacks even a slightly dynamic character. If this parody was supposed to eschew trite content, it missed the mark by failing to include a fresh storyline. I'm not asking for a complex tale or an overly complicated action-RPG. I just want an experience that does more than go through its genre's motions, especially when it teases its contemporaries for doing the same thing. Is that too much to ask?


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (April 09, 2017)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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