|This is one of several games in which the title could be rearranged almost any way and it would still sound like a good game. Try it: The Thief's Tale III: Bard of Fate; Bard's Fate III: Tale of the Thief; Tale of Fate III: The Bard Thief.|
We just crossed another year! This is the first crossing since 2400 A.D., which brought us to 1987 back in October. I played 19 games for 1987, and there are 31 on the list for 1988. Better get a-questing.
As you may recall, my experience with The Bard's Tale II didn't go so well. At first I found it too easy, then simply boring because of the lack of variety in the dungeons (the "snare" sections being the one exception). Then I ragequit when I realized I hadn't saved my game properly and I would have to go back to the dungeons I already completed. I decided to return to it after Might & Magic, but I found Might & Magic to be such a superior game in every way that I couldn't face going back to The Bard's Tale II. I always felt bad about that, like if I had played it in a better mood, things would have been different.
I was glad when, a few days ago, Kyle Haight linked me to this Matt Barton interview with Rebecca ("Burger") Heineman, the programmer behind The Bard's Tale and The Bard's Tale III. It does suggest that because of a rift in the creative team, The Bard's Tale II was fundamentally different, and harder, than the first one, and that perhaps III will be better. Heineman also indicates that Dragon Wars, coming up in 1989, was supposed to be The Bard's Tale IV.
In any event, after a string of quasi-CRPGs and console ports, I'm happy to be playing a multi-character Wizardry descendant again. 1988 promises to be a great year for classic series. In addition to this, we get the beginnings of two Dungeons & Dragons series: Heroes of the Lance and Pool of Radiance, Might & Magic II, Ultima V, and the fifth Wizardry.
The back story to The Bard's Tale III is mildly horrifying: After your party's defeat of Mangar in the first game, they immediately ditched Skara Brae to find the pieces of the Destiny Wand in a neighboring kingdom. Well, no sooner had the adventurers left the liberated city than the Mad God Tarjan, the dead Mangar's master, showed up and interrupted the festivities by sending his minions to kill everyone ("thanks, adventurers, but we rather liked Mangar better"). Garth of Garth's Emporium and Roscoe from Roscoe's Energy Emporium were crushed under their own shops. One of the city's elders managed to get a message to the adventurers, warning them that if Tarjan is successful, he will dominate life across multiple dimensions.
Gameplay hasn't really changed much since II (which hadn't changed much since I). Even most of the spells are the same, although there are two new spell classes: geomancer (converted fighters), and chronomancer (needed to move across dimensions). Races (humans, elves, dwarves, hobbits, half-elves, half-orcs, and gnomes) and other classes (warrior, paladin, hunter, monk, bard, rogue, conjurer, magician) are the same, but the creators decided to allow females at last. You can transfer characters from either of the two original games, but I decided to start fresh with newbies. My idea is that my original party was slain trying to defeat the second game, and the message intended for them has instead fallen into the hands of a group of rank amateurs.
I struggled a bit with character creation. I like to lead with a paladin, but I remembered how good hunters and monks are at high levels. It seems wrong to play without a bard, and the manual warns you that you really need a rogue (who now comes with a new backstab ability) and you definitely need a chronomancer. Knowing that I'll have to sacrifice at least one spellcaster to the chronomancer class (who loses knowledge of all previous spells), I need at least one other. Technically, you can have seven party members, but you really need to leave a slot free for NPCs and summoned creatures. Thus, after some wrangling, I went with:
- Sir Tor, a male human paladin. I wanted to do a half-orc paladin but the game, influenced by D&D, I guess, won't let you.
- Ambrosius, a male dwarven monk (yes, dwarven monk, Mr. Autocorrect, not "dwarfish").
- Vaux, a female halfling thief
- Essyltt, a female half-elven bard
- Mabon the Mad, a male elven conjurer
- Escorducarla, a female gnomish magician
From a purely tactical perspective, it would probably have been a better idea to choose a hunter instead of the paladin, and to jettison the bard entirely, but from a roleplaying perspective I like this group better. One of these days I'll have the guts to play with a party of all one class or something, but it doesn't sound like that's possible in this game.
The game starts you with no gold--probably because, with Garth crushed, there's nowhere to spend it--but each character does have some basic equipment.
We begin in a refugee camp outside Skara Brae, with the camp taking the place of the adventurer's guild from previous games. Right next door is a tavern (these refugees have their priorities straight) and the bartender says that there still might be some treasures stashed in the nearby ruins of Skara Brae. I began by mapping the fairly limited out door area...
...which features the camp, the tavern, a temple, the ruins of Skara Brae, and a bunch of locations that promise to become important later, such as an "old dwarven mine" and a "peaceful grove," but the game wants me to explore Skara Brae first. Nonsensically, the outdoor section doubles back on itself. Walk 20 steps east from the refugee camp, and you'll find yourself approaching the camp again from the west. The game is apparently set on The Little Prince's planet.
Skara Brae is indeed in ruins, and much smaller than in the first game, although some features like the neverending street are still present. There are, as far as I can tell, only three buildings of consequence: the review board (where a single old man levels you up and sells spells), the Mad God's temple, some building that gives you the ability to search it but doesn't seem to turn up anything when you do, and the "Interplay House," where you can get the game's credits.
|"His life impedes my efforts to stave off disaster" is a nice, roundabout way of saying, "kill him."|
The old guy at the review board provides the first quest: to enter the dungeons beneath the Mad God's temple and slay one of his devotees, Brilhasti Ap Tarj. Entering the Mad God's dungeon is done the same way as in The Bard's Tale: you give the name of the Mad God ("Tarjan") to the priest. Incidentally, it is in this game that if you give the name of the Mad God as "Burger," you get a bit of a joke:
As I said, combat is identical to The Bard's Tale II. Your first four characters can attack; the rear two or three must cast spells or use items. Enemies can approach at a range, and if you enter combat with multiple groups of monsters, some may be off in the distance while others are directly in front of you. You can only attack the ones directly in front of you, and a favorite tactic of enemy spellcasters is to keep summoning creatures from 30 feet away, preventing you from ever reaching them except with your own spells.
My characters began at Level 1 and were slain a lot before I realized that the bard song called "Sir Robin's Tune" (I think I am alone among geeks in absolutely hating that movie) allows you to always flee combat. This means that as long as I kept my bard's throat soothed with mead, she could play the song constantly and I could effectively pick and choose which combats to fight and which to avoid. In short order, I had my characters up to Level 5. Healing is expensive but spell points regenerate in sunlight, so my spellcasters can generally keep my party members in good shape.
The graphics don't seem to have improved much since The Bard's Tale II, although the character portraits and enemy animations look a little more advanced. Unless I have something set up wrong in DOSBox, the game is curiously devoid of sound effects except for the bard's tunes.
After I mapped the outdoor area and Skara Brae, I started exploring the Mad God's temple. The monsters took about 17 levels in badass right away. About halfway through the first level, my entire party was wiped out by a "goresucker" (my party had a different name for the beast, although oddly similar) who proved capable of belching fireballs. The particularly annoying thing is that the game manual doesn't give you a rundown of creatures, the monsters are unique to this game so you really don't know what to expect, and the game uses the same portraits for several monsters each. There was really no way to know that the Jabba-the-Huttish creature known as a "bloodfiend" in the outdoor area would turn into a merchant of death callled a "goresucker" the moment I hit the first dungeon.
When your party is wiped out, the characters are transferred to the refugee camp, where a relief party can attempt to resurrect them. This takes more gold than I had, so I dumped them all and started over with new characters of the same names and classes. This time, I'll bring myself to a higher level before attempting the dungeons.
When I blog tomorrow, I should have a better sense of the overall gameplay and whether I actually like it or not. If I really hustle, I might be able to get this one done in a week, leaving me about one week more to get the four other games I need to...damn, I'm not going to make it, am I?