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The face-generating technology is mind-boggling

Role playing games have come a long way since those halcyon days of Dungeon Master. No longer are we confined to a single, multi-levelled dungeon with only a single tile set for decoration – thanks to advances in technology there are worlds out there for us to explore with two or more dungeons in. Heck, we can even have more than 4 characters in your party. All stored on a single square of plastic. I know: witchcraft!

The Bard’s Tale 2: The Destiny Knight is the new pinnacle of these brave new worlds, taking up the baton from its predecessor and running off into the distance with it. Some of you may think it’d be hard to improve on the original – after all, it gave you an entire city full of dungeons, sewers and castles to explore – each with their own, distinct feel and monsters; had 6 character slots; and multiple NPC’s to interact with. Just saying that, it seems staggering that a game can give you so much more, but Bard’s Tale 2 manages it with ease.

This time round you have an entire world to explore – with 6 sprawling cities each containing shops, inns, temples and dungeons to lose yourself in, as well as a packed and detailed wilderness in between. To be honest, it’s a bit mind-boggling at first. Never before have we had such choice – where to go first? Who to talk to? Do you want to visit the Sage for some early advice? Deposit what scant funds you do have in a bank? Shop for that shiny new buckler you’ve seen in Garth’s? Or just do some hardcore dungeoneering?

It’s the latter, isn’t it? You want to spank some monsters. Of course you do, and Bard’s Tale 2 gives you a huge array of weapons, powers, spells, and songs to go adventuring with. However, there is a plot to all this – it’s not just a bland ‘escape from this dungeon with as many riches as you can grab’. Oh no, we’ve an epic tale of a world under threat from a master-wizard. There’s only way of stopping him and that’s by becoming an Archmage (yes – they’ve even expanded the wizard classes from the first game!) and putting the destiny wand back together again. This isn’t an easy task – the wand has been split into 7 pieces, each resting at the end of increasingly difficult dungeons. Not only that, but you also have to complete a mind-warping, real-time puzzle ‘snare’ (a self-contained area on the last level of the dungeon). As these are genuinely real-time, they’re areas of no return. Fail and your party is dead. This makes these areas doubly tense and winning the sceptre segment is a truly momentous achievement.

The dungeons themselves are fantastically varied – there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of different species of monster, all with unique traits and abilities; and they’re stuffed to the gills with varied and unique treasure. Fancy a blade that instantly petrifies your opponent? It’s in there! A helmet for a wizard that electrifies all enemies up to 30 feet away (another innovation! Enemies can appear at anything up to 90 feet away, leading to some spectacularly tactical battles)? Look hard enough and you’ll find it. I’m not going to say any more on the dungeons, as I don’t want to spoil them for you. Let’s just say that some of them are grand enough to warrant a game by themselves!

Magic has improved too. As previously mentioned, there’s an extra character class to play: the Archmage. Although to access him you’ll have to perfect all 4 other classes first. Each existing class has been beefed up. Old favourite spells remain, such as the dimension bending Apport Arcane and the beastly Mind Blade, and they’ve been joined with some truly spectacular new spells, such as Mage Maelstrom and the ever-enigmatic Dreamspell (which one of the game’s biggest secrets). Magic is as satisfying as ever and can turn the tide of a brutal battle in your favour.

Changes to the party structure have also been made to allow even more flexibility. You can have 7 party members now, any number of which can be NPC’s – some incredibly power monsters can now join you party, including the fearsome Brothers Kringle.

Look, there’s just so much more here I don’t have enough time or even words to describe it all. It expands and improves on every single aspect of Bard’s Tale 1, and represents such a stunning leap forward for video games in general that my head’s spinning just thinking about it. You need to play this game. Even if you don’t like RPGs, you need to play this game – just to see what is possible these days. Bard’s Tale 2 is a breath-taking achievement: a whole world for you to romp about in. It’s not only a brilliant RPG and brilliant game, it’s got me so excited at what’s going to be possible in the coming years. This is a glimpse of the future, and you should all have a peek its vision.

Draw distance in wilderness is impressive. FPS should use this engine