The Remastered Bard's Tale II was released recently by InXile Entertainment. I've given it a playthrough and found it quite well done, with a lot of new features and gameplay enhancements. This is a review of the game from a long-time Bard's Tale fan, with some comparisons to the game play of the original version.
Remastered BT2 runs on the same game engine as the remastered BT1, which I cover in my previous post. All of the gameplay improvements from the first game are available in BT2 as well, such as the inventory management, 3D game engine, mouselook, and combining the list of spells from all three games in the original trilogy. Read that post for more background information.
So, what's new in Bard's Tale II Remastered?
Like the remastered Bard's Tale 1, this game uses the upgraded graphics and sound engine, which was a pleasure to play. I've discussed most of the upgrades in my Bard's Tale 1 review. But there are a few notable enhancements specific to BT2.
The Grey Crypt now has some suitably creepy sound effects. You hear scraping and groaning sounds, making it feel like you're really in a decrepit old tomb full of terrifying undead. They're loud enough that you can hear them even with a bard song playing.
The entrance to the Destiny Stone is now a big, gnarly rock in the middle of a square in Colosse. There's a glowing crack in the stone that changes color as you watch. It's a nice addition; in the originals there was no graphic for the entrance at all, and you found the Stone by just stumbling upon an apparently empty square on the map.
Like its predecessor, Bard's Tale II Remastered uses generally the same maps as the original Apple II and DOS versions. If, like me, you mapped everything out on graph paper years ago, your old maps will still be useful.
However, there are a few notable changes to the maps. The wilderness map is now called the "Realm of Caith" and has hills you can climb, flowers, and butterflies flitting around. In general, you can see farther than you could in the classic game, so it's easier to find the cities and other places like Fanskar's Castle. There are also roads to guide you around.
The wilderness no longer uses "wraparound magic" like the dungeons. Instead, there are mountains, dense forests, and lakes at the edges, which prevent you from traveling off the edges of the map. There is also one new building containing some clues and a unique special item, which I won't spoil for you.
There's also a new locked-off area in Philippi, which can't be opened with the Masterkey. This is a brand-new dungeon called Saradon's Workshop. It's a little 8x8 map with no monsters, though it does have a tricky teleport maze in it. Your reward for navigating it is a set of clues about your quest and Lagoth Zanta, as well as another unique special item.
If you import your characters from Bard's Tale I, you have a choice to keep all their experience and items, or restart them at level 1, with no items. This is basically to make the game more challenging, because a party that has beaten Mangar would be pretty bored in the first few BT2 dungeons.
Note that your BT1 bard will still know the BT1 songs when imported, and can learn the BT2 songs if they can find someone called the Scarlet Bard. (Ask barkeepers in any city and you can find out his location.) Bards created in BT2 will only know the BT2 songs, but can learn the BT1 songs from the Scarlet Bard.
As you'd expect, combat is very easy in the cities, wilderness, and the beginning of the Dark Domain. Starting with a brand-new party, I had no trouble until I got to level 3 of the Dark Domain. Then things got tough. I tried sneaking my way down to level 4, and was routinely getting toasted by the first group of monsters I ran across.
In the original games, I usually tried to reach the Dark Lord as soon as possible, because saving the princess would bump your characters up to level 13 from whatever level they were at. And I was usually able to complete the Dark Domain quest by level 9 or so. In the remastered game, not so much. I ended up getting all 3 of my mages to Sorceror before being able to handle the lower levels easily. (Mind Blade is a big help down there.)
The reward for saving the princess is now 200,000 xp for every party member, regardless of current level (assuming they're alive when you reach the magician at the entrance). This means there's no rush to finish the quest. I ended up having to grind on Dark Domain level 2 for a while to get powerful enough.
If you're importing an experienced party from Bard's Tale 1 Remastered, you'll find the Dark Domain a cakewalk, just as you'd expect. When I tried this, I also learned that any light-producing song will open the double doors. Both the Watchwood Melody and the Seeker's Ballad from BT1 will work.
I was happy to note that the Princess looks like a real woman now, unlike some of the original versions where she looked like an ogre! (Due to the lack of female character graphics in those versions.)
Once I completed the Dark Domain with my new party (not the BT1 imported party) I found that the combat was more balanced in the middle dungeons. I didn't really have to do any grinding from the Tombs onward. It was only in the latest dungeons (Grey Crypt and Destiny Stone) that I found my fighters unable to hit almost any monster. It turns out that learning the Seeker's Ballad from the Scarlet Bard helped a lot here, as it increases your party's chances to hit in melee combat.
Note that Mangar's Mind Blade still does its BT1 damage rating of 10-40 per monster, unlike the 25-100 it didi in original BT2. This means it loses its usefulness pretty quickly and you'll be wise to look for alternatives (Force Focus, Flame Column, and Wizard War come to mind.)
By the late stages of the game, I found that my monk's unarmed attack wasn't doing enough damage to be relevant any more. ~200 damage isn't much when the monsters have 1,000 hp. Maybe look for a Death Dagger which has critical hit ability to solve this problem.
One of the big changes in this version of BT2 was the handling of the Dreamspell. That's been something that was implemented differently in several versions of the classic game as well.
In the Apple II original, any mage with Sorceror Level 7 spells could cast the Dreamspell any time he wanted, as long as you knew the code, which wasn't in the manual. Back in the day, I used this to cheat. A lot.
In the DOS original, you had to actually find the relevant special square in the Destiny Stone which would teach you the Dreamspell.
In the remastered game, it's a lot more complicated. You need to find some clues in several of the dungeons in order to learn the spell. This meant I had to map most of the squares of each dungeon, even though I knew the answers to most of the puzzles from playing the originals.
Also note that Second Sight doesn't detect the dreamspell clues from a distance, so you need to actually step on every square to find the clues.
Most of the items were the same as in classic BT2. But there are a few items that changed, and a few welcome additions.
Aram's Knife is now an "off-hand" ranged weapon. It can be equipped in place of a shield, and can't be used as a primary weapon.
The Diamond Dagger has +4 to AC and +5 to hit. This makes it good for Hunters who just need the to-hit bonus, because their actual damage amount is irrelevant due to critical hit.
There are a few new instruments for the Bard, like the Blast Horn and Molten Horn. These are just like the Flame Horn, but they do more damage at a longer range. You'll find them in some of the middle-late dungeons like Oscon's Fortress.
There's an upgraded version of the Boomerang as well, called the Deadlyrang. It's also an "off-hand" weapon and is pretty useful for the Monk.
The other noteworthy new item is the Ring of Accuracy (+3 to hit). This is helpful against high-level monsters who are very hard to hit. (I wish you could equip both this and the Shield Ring at the same time.)
This is an area that got a huge upgrade. The songs were so powerful and useful that I wished I could have two or three running at the same time.
The Watchwood Melody, in addition to providing light, solves some of the auto-map problems with teleportation (see my BT1 post for more about this). You can keep auto-mapping without having to cast Scry Site every time you teleport. It also weakens the spinner traps, which is most useful. In addition, if you enter a Darkness area, it will still be dark, but the song keeps playing and will provide light again as soon as you leave the Darkness.
The Zanduvar Carack will protect you from all traps, including the ones on chests. This means that your party will just automatically open every chest, without having to use a Rogue or cast Trap Zap. I didn't have a Rogue in my party, so I found this very handy in anti-magic areas where Trap Zap doesn't work. (And, boy, you really don't want to trigger a Mindtrap and end up with a possessed party member in an anti-magic area...)
In the original game, the Rhyme of Duotime would give every fighter +1 attack in melee combat. The remastered version gives them something like twice as many attacks. (This may depend on the dungeon level. I didn't investigate fully.) Useful when you want to do a lot more damage.
As mentioned above, the Seeker's Ballad (a BT1 song which you can learn from the Scarlet Bard) is powerful in later dungeons, because it's the only way I found to increase my party's chance to hit in melee combat. I usually ended up having my Bard play it on the first round of each combat. This let me also keep the Zanduvar Carack going for trap avoidance.
The Grey Crypt is always one of the most interesting dungeons, due to the entire thing being an anti-magic area. I found a few useful tips here in the Remastered version that didn't work in the originals.
First, continuous spells cast by a mage (even including light spells) will be extinguished as soon as you enter an anti-magic area. However, continuous spells cast by wands or other items will stay running. This means it's a good idea to keep a Lightwand handy. Better yet, one of the Wand Segments casts the Batchspell. That meant I got to have Ybarra's Mystic Coat of Armor and Sorceror Sight running all the way through the Crypt! (It does say "your spells waver" at every step, naturally.)
Unless you have a high-level Rogue in the party, you'll need to keep the Zanduvar Carack playing at all times. Otherwise, opening chests will be an adventure. (Mindtraps are common down there.) The Zanduvar Carack also protects against trap squares on the map, so I'd say to keep it playing all the time in general inside the Crypt.
You'll want to equip every mage with a magic item that has attack capability, like a Wizhelm or Segment 3 which casts Wizard War. Along with the Bard's instruments, this is your only hope of doing any bulk damage to the pesky critters down there.
You'll also want to have one mage keep an Exorwand readied, in case someone gets possessed. I found that the game's "Equip an item during combat" feature doesn't seem to work in intra-party combat.
If a party member gets killed in combat, you can reanimate them with a Deathring, but the only way I could find to fully resurrect them in the Crypt is an item you find at the end of the Crypt itself, so by the time you get it you no longer need it.
For that matter, I couldn't find any way at all to heal a Stoned character inside the Crypt. Your best bet is to keep your party's AC as low as possible, so the monsters just can't hit you. An AC of -20 to -25 is usually sufficient to make you virtually unhittable.
To finish things up, here are a few other oddities I noticed in the game.
Over all, the Remastered Bard's Tale II was a fun play, and a good upgrade over the original, which is still one of my favorite games of all time.
The remastered version of Bard's Tale III is due out in early 2019, and I'll be posting a review of that as well, once I get a chance to play it. So, stay tuned for updates. In the meantime, happy gaming, and make sure Lagoth Zanta gets what's coming to him!