The Bard's Tale II: The Destiny Knight
James V. Trunzo
Requirements: Apple II series and Commodore 64.
Electronic Arts' first venture into computerized fantasy role-playing games resulted in the highly popular and critically acclaimed The Bard's Tale I: Tales of the Unknown. The product immediately set new standards for game play, graphics, and sophistication. The long awaited sequel—entitled The Bard's Tale II: The Destiny Knight—has arrived, and it lives up to its predecessor's excellent reputation.
The plot is typical of a fantasy game: Evil in the form of the Archmage Lagoth Zanta threatens to spread its dominion over the entire Realm, and only the Destiny Wand has the power to end the threat. Unfortunately, this magical artifice has been shattered into seven pieces, each piece now hidden in one of seven different locations within the Realm. Your group of adventurers must locate the pieces, reconstruct the wand, and destroy the wicked Zanta.
Bard's Tale II plays almost identically to Bard's Tale I—which isn't a fault. Changes come in the form of additions rather than in alterations of basic gaming procedures. There are six complete cities instead of one, though the cities themselves are basically the same, with only their layout being different. There is a small but interesting area of wilderness in Bard's Tale It, where none had existed in Bard's Tale I, and there are new spells and new animated monsters. All in all, The Destiny Knight is about 50 percent larger in code size, according to the people at Electronic Arts.
Banks and casinos can now be found in the cities, also. The former is a real plus because it provides you with a place to stash your money, making it less likely to lose it to some ultimate evil—like a power outage or stupidity (such as turning off your computer before saving your characters).
Creating characters requires the same steps in Bard's Tale II as it did in Bard's Tale I. You can also import your characters from Bard's Tale I (or Wizardry or Ultima, for that matter) if you so desire, and a third option allows you to simply use a set of pregenerated characters. Be forewarned, however, that when transferring characters, certain items might be lost in the process, though not enough to make you forsake your favorite Hobbit.
The character classes and types are standard: warriors, thieves, wizards, humans, elves, dwarves, and the like. However, the Bard character—unique to EA's adventure games—is back, and a new character class debuts: the Archmage. This character class could be achieved in Bard's Tale I in the form of a conglomerate of the other magical types; in Bard's Tale II, the Archmage has its own set of very powerful spells.
Several other new features help make The Destiny Knight different from its predecessor.
First of all, range factors in combat add a new twist to the hacking and slaying that occurs with such frequency in this program. Missile weapons may now be employed to attack enemies outside melee distance. Even magic spells are given a range of effectiveness, losing power if cast at distances beyond their given scope. The range feature requires the gamer to employ more strategy than before, making combat a little more interesting.
Combat, however, reveals a problem in the program. Early on, your fighters are key characters, bearing the brunt of the fighting while magic users develop their skills and learn new spells. Later on, though, the opposition becomes so powerful that even high-level fighters can't seem to score against them with any frequency, and only high-level spellcasters can save your group of adventurers at this point. There is something vaguely unsatisfying about this, especially if your favorite character, carefully nurtured, is a warrior.
The realtime puzzles, better known as Snares, are a second major feature not found in Bard's Tale I. These puzzles, seven in all, must be solved because each one houses a piece of the Destiny Wand. The Snares are deadly. Virtually no magic works in these areas, and the game's pause feature is inoperative there. If the puzzle isn't solved in the allotted time (usually everything you need is contained within the Snare itself), your party perishes. This concept isn't inherently bad—as a matter of fact, several of the Snares are really enjoyable, but there is a down side to this feature, too.
I found some of the Snares to be not only deadly but also very frustrating. The fact that some of the puzzles are difficult doesn't bother me. What does bother me is the need to repeat certain actions over and over again when those actions add nothing to the information needed to solve the puzzle. For example, in one case, you literally must run back and forth between two walls a number of times to solve the puzzle. That's the type of “action” most gamers can do without.
A third area that can both delight and annoy is the interaction between the wise Sage, who is an indispensible personage, and your characters. The Sage possesses knowledge about the location of the dungeons. By conversing with him, you can gain the information you need. Be forewarned, though, that you must be very precise in what you ask and in how you spell the words that comprise your questions and responses. Errors in spelling or omitted words in a request can thwart your attempt to get answers from the Sage. This type of problem exists in many adventure games, especially text adventures; however, since it costs gold to talk to the Sage, errors are quite expensive in The Destiny Knight.
Before this review takes on too negative a tone, understand that I found the game to be a delight. It improves on Bard's Tale I in many areas, and it does what a sequel is meant to do: It expands the theme and adds features to enhance that expansion. The new monsters, graphics, traps and puzzles, and so on, make Bard's Tale II a real challenge. Furthermore, the graphics are, once again, done well, and there is more animation in Destiny Knight than in Bard's Tale I.
Also, powerful monsters can now be summoned to be a permanent part of your adventuring group. In Bard's Tale I, creatures can be summoned, but they vanish after the adventuring party returns to the Guild. Additionally, because a guild exists in each city in the new adventure, games can be saved at any one of six different locations. Finally, a beginner's dungeon exists to help new parties reach a competitive level prior to venturing forth in search of the pieces of the Destiny Wand.
This last feature, the starter dungeon, is a nice piece of planning. Many adventure games are difficult to get absorbed in because new characters get killed so quickly. While Bard's Tale II is no less deadly (more on this in a moment), it at least gives you a chance—not to mention some game play—to get characters off the ground.
Bard's Tale II is a game for the true adventure gamer. It is a very difficult and challenging game, and it requires great intestinal fortitude. Not that I should be the barometer, but quite truthfully, I could never have made it through the game without continuous help from the clue book (available separately from Electronic Arts). While I do not hesitate to recommend The Destiny Knight to experienced gamers, I'm not sure that it is the product on which inexperienced players should cut their fantasy teeth.
New Life For An Old Favorite
I would be remiss, if, at this point, I failed to mention that Bard's Tale I: Tales of the Unknown is now available for the Apple IIGS for $49.95.
The game itself is nearly identical to the Apple IIe version; however, the GS adaptation makes use of the machine's Macintosh-like interface, employing pull-down menus and the mouse to activate commands, and so on. And, from the moment the program is booted, it becomes obvious that the overwhelming features of Bard's Tale I for the Apple IIGS are, not surprisingly, its graphics and sound. It is unquestionably the most graphically stunning product that I have seen on any Apple computer.
From the title page, when a full-screen Bard strums his mandolin, to the Latin chants of the temple monks as they heal an adventurer, Bard's Tale I for the GS is one fascinating delight after another. Each instrument played by the Bard has its own sound; each monster and character possesses a different form of animation.
The game is so impressive that I have begun to replay Bard's Tale I on the GS, even though I have completed it on the IIe. I am willing to invest the time so I can discover the rest of the three-dimensional, animated delights in the GS version.
A program with no problems? Not quite. The graphics presentation of Bard's Tale I for the Apple IIGS is so good that I have become jaded. Other games have lost some of their appeal now that I have experienced the capabilities of a GS program—and that's a problem.
Bard's Tale II: The Destiny Knight
1820 Gateway Dr.
San Mateo, CA 94404
$49.95 Apple II–series version
$39.95 Commodore 64 version
Clue book: $12.95