The Bard's Tale IV: Barrows Deep

Game review by
David Chapman, Common Sense Media
The Bard's Tale IV: Barrows Deep Game Poster Image
Classic tale has heavy drinking focus but hits right notes.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Positive Messages

Aside from usual good vs. evil tropes, story features themes of friendship and teamwork, plus taking a stand against oppression, overcoming adversity, helping those in need.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Players develop their own characters, follow their own choices. Party members they recruit have their own personalities, motivations for joining the player, but still tend to have strong heroic traits.

Ease of Play

A lot of complexity in the gameplay, from character and party management to item crafting and turn-based combat. It's a lot to learn and get the hang of, and sometimes tutorials are lacking in explanations.

Violence

Violence is constant, with player constantly battling against fantasy creatures, human characters with a variety of medieval weapons and magic abilities. Occasional splashes of blood. Cutscenes show more intense scenes of violence, including hangings, murder.

Sex
Language

Minor swearing occasionally shows up in dialogue, such as "bastard."

Consumerism

Game is a continuation of popular Bard's Tale franchise, was funded by large Kickstarter campaign. Development was preceded by remastered re-release of original trilogy in episodic form.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drinking alcohol isn’t just shown in the game, but it’s even encouraged as a key element of gameplay. Players can drink and get drunk in the game, even earning “perks” that boost some abilities while hampering others.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Bard's Tale IV: Barrows Deep is a fantasy role-playing game (RPG) available for download on Windows-based PCs. This is the latest title in a classic franchise released decades ago, and which was also preceded by a remastered re-release of the original trilogy. Players recruit and control party members of different backgrounds, personalities, and fantasy races in an adventure to save their land from an impending doom. There's a lot of menu navigation required in the game, including managing the skills and abilities of characters and parties, organizing inventories, crafting items, etc. The turn-based combat requires strategic planning as opposed to quick reflexes. There's a steady stream of violence in the game, both in gameplay and in cutscenes, which also focus on murder and hangings of characters. Drinking alcohol is also a regular staple in the adventure, and even encouraged as a key part of the gameplay.

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What's it about?

THE BARD'S TALE IV: BARROWS DEEP continues the classic tales and songs of legend from the fantasy world of Caith. It's been more than 100 years since the destruction of Skara Brae by the Mad God Tarjan and his defeat at the hands of a merry band of adventurers. While the grand city has since been rebuilt upon the ruins of its past, peace still has yet to find a home here. The Cult of the Sword Father has risen to power by wiping out the followers of the old ways, branding them and all magic users as pagans and unholy creatures. Forced into hiding, the surviving members of the Adventurers Guild continue to gather deep underground. They know that a sinister force is growing in power, threatening all of Caith once more. And they know that, even as the world around them wants them dead, the Adventurers Guild is the last, best hope to defeat the looming evil and bring light to the land once again.

Is it any good?

The return of this classic role-playing game (RPG), with its strategic combat, puzzles, and musically infused gameplay, hits all the right notes. The Bard's Tale IV: Barrows Deep returns players to a world that originally enthralled gamers with tales of adventure back in 1985 in the original, The Bard's Tale, which launched a classic gaming franchise. Now more than 30 years later, the Adventurers Guild is back in business as the Song of the Maiden rings out once more. This latest entry is more than just a remix of the same ol' song and dance, bringing all-new gameplay elements to the franchise and rebooting it for a new generation of fans.

The Bard's Tale IV blends a first-person, real-time exploration with turn-based-strategy-style combat. After charging into battle, the view shifts to a 4x4 grid, with the player's party occupying the bottom two rows and the enemy forces taking the top. Each character in the player's party can shift position and perform actions using a shared pool of points available per turn. It can take a little getting used to at first, since the tutorials aren't always the best at explaining things. Once you get the hang of things, though, it adds a deeper layer of strategy to confrontations. Players will also often run into puzzles to solve, which are a bit of a mixed bag. While it's usually fun to figure out the solutions to these brain benders, sometimes it can get a bit frustrating to run into an area where they seem to be stacked one right after another. It's still rewarding, but there are moments you just want to get back into the story. Other gameplay elements, such as crafting and character development, take their cues from more modern RPG games, but still feel right at home here. If you're willing to invest some time and effort into learning the game's nuances, The Bard's Tale IV: Barrows Deep can be a very rewarding experience, paying back with a solid story and a strong foundation for more adventures to come.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about alcohol in media. What are some ways that movies, television shows, or games like The Bard's Tale IV glamorize or demonize adult actions such as drinking alcohol? Does this encourage younger audiences to begin drinking at an earlier age?

  • How can teamwork help to overcome obstacles in the real world? What are some positive ways to reinforce teamwork?

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