FOLLOWING the success of The Bard's Tale, Electronic Arts has now released the Amiga version of The Bard's Tale II - The Destiny Knight. If part one was tough going then wait until you enter the realms of part two. Part three is also in the pipeline - heaven help us.
Bard's II is a role playing adventure similar in format to its predecessor. Puzzles are much improved, with many cryptic clues to be found and interpreted before each stage may be completed.
The story continues from where Bard's I stopped. Members of your team were looking forward to living off the tales of their exploits, but this is not to be. Evil still stalks the land and it is their fate to solve the mystery of the Destiny Knight.
They find themselves in the Adventurer's Guild in the town of Tangramayne and their first task is to rescue a local princess. She has been abducted and is being held at the bottom of a four level starter dungeon that will hone your team for the more serious work to come.
After this, they leave town and travel through the wilderness to consult the Sage. He offers advice throughout the rest of their quest - to find and restore the seven segments of the Destiny Wand.
Towns and places in the wilderness must be visited, mapped and their puzzles solved before the final objective can be achieved.
Following the instructions to copy the master disc and create a character disc and you are ready to start. As before, six ready made characters are provided, you may use them, create your own or import characters from a Bard's I disc.
When you create a character you first choose his race - human, elf, dwarf, hobbit, half-elf, half-orc or gnome. Random values are given for strength, dexterity, intelligence, constitution and luck. If you do not like what you are, you may re-roll another set. Finally you must decide class: Warrior, paladin, rogue, hunter, monk, bard, conjurer or magician, and name your traveller.
Classes have different abilities so read the instruction carefully before choosing. Initial attributes are important, especially in relation to the proposed class - strength to a fighting man, intelligence to a magic user, dexterity, constitution and luck to all.
Although you can take out a team of seven, it is often desirable, sometimes necessary, to leave one or more slots free. These may be occupied either by creatures you meet or by others called to your aid by your magic users. Friendly dragons are useful long range weapons in areas where magic does not work.
A Bard can both fight and cast spells by singing special songs. Singing is thirsty work and between drinks he can only sing as many songs as he has levels of experience. He is a pretty weak magic user but his ability to use magic instruments can make him very useful. Cold horns can freeze a number of foes and Death Drums administer the coup de grace to almost anything!
Bard's II differs from Bard's I in several ways but the most important are the option to save your game position outside the Adventurer's Guild, its recognition of distance and the use of missile weapons.
The first four team members may directly attack creatures up to 10 feet away. Other ranks of assailants may be as far away as 90 feet and may only be attacked by magic or missile weapons.
The team may only move forward - 10 feet a turn - when there are no opponents within 10 feet. One strong creature can hinder the team's advance while archers, dragons or magic users are showering death from afar.
The Cities are smaller than in Bard's I and are easier to map. There is a map of Tangramayne in the instructions which shows all the useful places to visit.
KILLING monsters add both to your experience and purse. As experience grows, visit the review board; if experience is high enough you will gain a level. This is important as an increase in level adds to hit and spell points and also to one of your main attributes.
Greater hit points enable you to take more damage and spell points determine the number of spells that may be cast. Loss or hit points in a fight can be restored by visiting a temple - in exchange for some of your hard won gold. Spell points slowly restore as time passes, visit Roscoe's Energy Emporium and you can buy them back - for more gold.
As in Bard's I, the initial stages are not easy. Each character starts with only a few gold pieces and must visit Garth's Equipment Shoppe to buy weapons and armour. Each item of armour will reduce your armour class, which in turn reduces damage sustained in battle. With such little money, you can only buy fairly low quality equipment.
Money is all-important, for better equipment, to heal wounds and as payment to the review board for magic users to learn more spells. Items found on your foes may either be used or sold at Garth's. You can cheat a little by creating additional members, pooling their money and then deleting unwanted characters.
As in Bard's I, low level warriors are expendable; concentrate on keeping higher level characters alive and improving the levels of your magic users.
Importing high level characters from Bard's I seemed too much of a cheat, so I only transferred a very rich magic user and started from scratch with the others. Even so it was hard work keeping the team alive through that first dungeon. As a reward for success, their experience was bumped up to 200,000.
Even with the levels that this gave the party, the other dungeons were no walkover and that original imported magic user is still with the team.
All special areas are loosely called dungeons, even if they are in fact towers, crypts or fortresses. In all but the first, they end up with a timed puzzle snare. Once this section is entered, there is no turning back and you cannot save or pause the game. If you have saved at fairly regular intervals death in a puzzle snare is not such a catastrophe, as you can always return for another attempt.
Dungeons are mapped on a 22 by 22 grid, but they scroll round and if you keep going east you could come back where you started. Map dungeons very carefully, you must be certain that you have been everywhere. Messages written on walls or spoken by magic mouths are nearly all vital clues to either the puzzle snare in that dungeon or to gameplay elsewhere.
Some areas forbid any form of light. These parts often contain spinner squares, where you are magically spun around. Using the Bard's song to produce light, or a magical item like a Dayblade , will produce a short burst of light - just enough to check your orientation.
Creatures met in some dungeons are very powerful and it is no dishonour to retreat. If one offers to join your team, accept and view its hit points with horror. On several dungeon levels I found the only way to survive was to run.
Your magic users start out as conjurer or magician, each with different sets of spells. With progress, they may change class to sorcerer, wizard and final archmage. The archmage has some powerful spells, but it takes a long time to master this level.
Lots of interesting items are found in the loot from defeated foes. Many have magic capabilities - experiment to find out what they do. The sage may tell you about some of them. The dungeons also have clues on what to ask the sage, but he charges more the further you progress.
SAVE before entering his hut: if you do not offer enough money, return to a guild and load a game. You will then be back outside the sage's hut ready to offer a little more gold. Offerings are not cumulative - it has to be enough first time.
Bard's II uses a lot of memory and it is unwise to use two disc drives as the small amount of memory used by the second drive can occasionally cause the program to crash. For safety, make a back up character disc at regular intervals.
Commands may be given via the keyboard or mouse and work very smoothly. The graphics, both of the scenery and the creatures you meet are good.
If you get really stuck, Electronic Arts Customer Service Department is happy to help on 0753 46465. It also provides an excellent clue book, complete with dungeon maps for £5.