Thursday, June 24, 2010

Bard's Tale II: Not Feelin' It

I'm going to say "death and drek!" every time I curse from now on.

When I last wrote about The Bard's Tale II, I was "waiting for it to get difficult." My wait didn't last long. By the time I got to the third level of the Ephesus tombs, I was facing some pretty tough critters. Not tough enough to send me crying home to mama, but the game definitely notched it up. I expect it to get harder from hereon in.

My biggest problem now is fighting boredom. This game is an endless slog through dungeons and battles. The little obstacles in the dungeons--spinners, teleporters, anti-magic zones, zones of darkness--are more "annoyances" than challenges.

I managed to find the first segment of the Destiny Wand. The "snare" part of the dungeon was somewhat interesting. I assume the other segments involve something similar. Basically, I had to interpret a series of clues written on the dungeon walls to get through the maze and find the segment. The moment I entered the "snare," a voice told me that I had a limited amount of time, but it couldn't have been that limited, because it took me a while to bumble through it. Spells didn't work, and the "time out" function was disabled. The puzzle consisted of:

  • A pool of water that poisoned my characters when I drank it
  • An old warrior who offered to join my party
  • A creature called a "toxic giant."

Clues from the walls suggested that I should put the old man first in my party and he should "light the way." Others informed me that only poisoned characters could defeat the toxic giant. So I put the old guy in the number one slot, poisoned everyone from the pool, killed the giant, and got a torch from it. I gave the torch to the old feller, which revealed a secret door, behind which I found the wand segment. Woo-hoo.

Earlier in the level, I solved a rhyming riddle to get a hint as to the next dungeon I should explore: Fanskar's Fortress. This was confirmed by the Sage, who for a bundle of gold told me where it was, which was nice except I already knew from having mapped the wilderness. That's where I am now.

The creators made the game a little more tactical by putting distance between your party and the enemies (check out the first screen shot above), forcing you (or the monsters) to "advance" towards each other before you can engage in melee combat. I keep getting into fights with liches and mages in which they repeatedly summon monsters, and I spend a combat round killing their summoned monsters. Then they summon more. Round and round we go, with spellcasters remaining outside melee range, and you can't "advance" towards them as long as there are other monsters closer than they are. My only options are to invest in ranged weapons, but these take precious spaces in your inventory slots, or to cast the MEME spell, which yanks them into melee range but costs a boatload of spell points.

Yeah, so even I'm going to vote "meh" on this posting, but that's really how I feel about the game. It's extremely linear and repetitive, and the endless combats are annoying. Character development is nil: my spellcasters already have all the spells and my other characters' stats are maxed. I get a few hit points and spell points for each level up, but that's it. I feel like I should be enjoying the tactical combat more, but I'm just not. I don't know whether it's me or the game, but I'll give it a few more days and move on if it still doesn't click.


  1. You're not getting sick of the CRPGs are you??

    1. Crpg addict is the crpg avatar in the multiverse!

  2. If you're finding this game hard going even with high level characters from BT1 then I don't fancy starting new characters!

    I thought BT1 seemed about right in terms of game progress and character development (though I haven't quite finished it). Very frustrating sometimes but the difficult battles could eventually be beaten with some perserverance (and some luck).

    Interested to see how this one works out for you anyway. I wouldn't worry too much about having to skip some games as you are giving them a good chance before moving on.

  3. Tom, I don't think so. I mean, I've been playing them like a fanatic for more than half my life, so it would be weird if I suddenly got sick of them just as I was in the middle of this blog. I think I just hit a couple of bad ones in a row. I hope.

  4. I almost never complete an RPG, and it's exactly for that reason: round after round of combat gets old after awhile, no matter how much I enjoyed it at first.

    Of course, without that constant combat, the game would be MUCH shorter. I understand why game developers do this. Combat is cheap, while adding more locations and situations to the game is expensive. And players expect a long game so they get their money's worth.

    Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the tactics of combat, as well as the strategy of creating a powerful party. But once you figure out the best way to fight, future battles tend to get boring. I like exploration and discovery best, anyway. So I put up with the constant battles for as long as I can, just so I can see what's around the next corner.

    It's a shame that so much of these games is completely wasted on me, since I never get to see the latter sections. Sure, I could turn the difficulty down (as you did here, effectively, by importing powerful characters), but then you get bored by the lack of challenge. I wish difficulty settings would include cutting out the sheer number of combat encounters (but then, that would make the game even harder, without the experience and loot from them).

  5. I've finished a number of CRPGs, and those were usually the ones that also had a good story in them.

    I think my all time favourites are probably NWN and Kotor, probably. I never finished BGII, I got stuck somewhere getting beaten no matter where I went or what I did and gave up pretty much. So too hard combat is a nono :p

    Too easy combat is a nono as well though. I'm looking at you, current day WoW. I rolled a new char there when the previous expansion came out and levelled all the way up, three deaths. 3. Two of which were caused by my internet crappin out... THAT is not cool either.

    Looking forward to seeing you reach games I actually remember playing... Some way to go though!

  6. I always thought BT II had the best reputation of the series. The first one is a bit limited, still establishing itself like the first season of TV show...the third is a mess, you can sense the development issues in every turn. But the second adds a bigger map, more towns, loot, dungeons with lore, etc.

    Admittedly, I never delved as deeply as you did, even when I was obsessed with this game on the C64. I liked to grind around and dip into the first few dungeon levels for loot & XP. Basically, I played like a bully, beating up on weaker monsters and roaming sorcerers. Levels of complete darkness & spinner traps were not my bag. My party was basically just another group of monsters, we didn't care about the main quest or saving anybody, we just went kicking down doors looking for easy fights. I would have robbed Garth's and killed the pub owner if I could have - who needs hints & rumors? We walked the streets of Tangramayne like the first scene in Reservoir Dogs. "Forget Fanskar's Fortress, let's go get some breakfast and slaughter some weak sorcerers."

    1. I didn't delve deeply into this one. I didn't give it enough of a chance. I probably need to take another look at it when I come through 1986 again.

  7. I put countless hours into beating this as a kid, and it was among the first RPGs I played. It was on the Apple IIGS, and it was really beautiful (much better than these screenshots). I was mesmerized by the animated character and monster portraits, and even the sound and music was fantastic. And it had lots of intriguing classes and item names.

    But thinking back, I'm struck that I don't remember anything that happens in the game. I just remember how it looked and sounded. This is a big contrast to my detailed memories of NPCs, places, and events in the other RPGs I played during those same years.

    So I was hoping these blog postings would help me recall what I had forgotten, but I think the truth is just that there's not much there. The presentation was enough back then, but it was really just watching huge numbers teeter back and forth.

    1. There wasn't much there, but I didn't give the game enough of a chance. I'm going to look at it again when I hit this year on my replay list.

    2. When you replay it, it would maybe be wise to play a version on another home computer.
      I would either recommend Amiga, C64 or Apple II GS.
      I think the Apple version is the one with the best graphics and "best" sound. "Best" because my nostalgia leads me to love the C64 tunes. :-)

    3. Oh, and if you'll be playing one of these versions, maybe you could ask people to provide you with some characters to import. I for one think the import feature is important for the flow of the game.

    4. I will consider both, but I didn't experience the starter dungeon last time, so I might use this as an excuse to check it out.

    5. I've researched a bit. The Amiga version is kinda buggy, it seems.

      Did you finish Bard's Tale III? I don't remember.
      Anyway, I recommend the Apple II GS game because it seems to also have the lowest bug rate.
      If you have beaten BT3, then importing doesn't matter. If not, you could always hex edit your characters into the Amiga version :-)

    6. No, I quit BT3 prematurely, too.

      There's no way I'm frigging around with that IIGS emulator. I'll probably go with the C64 version.

    7. One thing worth mentioning - Centauri Alliance (1990?) has the capability to import characters from the Bard's Tale series, and is supposed to have some interesting results if you do. You may want to look into what platform you'll be playing that on (last time I tried to play it, there was a crash in the C64 version, I don't know if that was an emulator glitch or a bad copy) to give you the option of transferring.

    8. I didn't even have that one on my list. It must have been added after I went through 1990.

    9. Oh, yes I do--in 1987. Different sites seem confused about the release year.

    10. I could have sworn that it was 1990 last time I looked it up. It's pretty obscure, so sources being a bit confused is far from surprising.

      Next time I get four or five hours all in one block to tinker I'll load it up and see if it still crashes.

    11. Bard's Tale II is the most complete game of the series I'd say, despite being my least favorite of the 3. It adds a lot of improvements to 1 but isn't as slow paced and crazy as 3 can get. It takes a better man than me to make it through the harder Destiny Snare puzzles without a hint book though!

      Btw, for anyone who has played the games, the hint books for 1 and 2 at least (I never owned the BT3 hint book) are totally worth a read through if you can find them. They add a lot to the lore of the universe and actually tell a story as opposed to being a straight up walkthrough.

    12. "No, I quit BT3 prematurely, too.

      There's no way I'm frigging around with that IIGS emulator. I'll probably go with the C64 version."

      The C64 version has a few bugs. I heartily recommend the DOS version using drifting's unoffical patch.
      Also, don't fight every fight after the beginner dungeon, 'cause it makes the game too easy.

  8. I'm not sure how meticulous you want to be about this, but I was looking at the spreadsheet and Bard's Tale II was marked as Finished instead of Unfinished.

    This led me to check the next game in the series and 1988's Thief of Fate is labeled as Bard's Tale II and not III.

    1. Those errors were definitely important enough to fix. I think when I first started coding the master list, I used finished/unfinished to designate whether I was permanently done with the game, not whether I'd actually won.

  9. The end of 1986 is in sight and this isn't on the schedule (though I think I saw it briefly a while back). What did you end up deciding?

    This isn't a request or anything -- just curious.

    1. I decided not to return to it.

    2. Probably a wise choice. I just started the second game recently via the remastered version, and I gave up out of boredom after getting two staff pieces. The lack of meaningful character development and variety in strategy just made the whole thing feel like a chore. The starter dungeon was okay-ish with a fresh party, but things fell off pretty quickly after that. I'd honestly rather play the original Might and Magic again.

    3. I recently finished BT2 myself for the second time. I found the the best way to enjoy the game is to play it for the mapping challenges, and just run away from most random encounters. So treat it more like a puzzle game than a tactical or conventional CRPG.
      I used the AppleII GS version, so no auto-map. But no bugs either, and good audio-visuals (I don't care for the remade character and monster graphics).

  10. This is one of the first CRPG games I played and one I actually finished. Though I do think I bought the hint book as some of the puzzles confused me as a simple teenager back in the 80's. I have it on a pedestal for that reason. Maybe I will go back and play this again on the revamped version that was put out a few years ago.
    Love your site and love the memories it's bringing back!


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