We recently had the opportunity to see an updated version of The Bard's Tale in action at Gen Con Indy 2004. In the game, you play as the wisecracking, cynical bard who begins the game alone and with only one magical talent--the unimpressive ability to summon a rat. But the bard, who has a full set of role-playing-game-style attributes and gains experience levels after defeating his enemies in battle, learns a set of powerful new songs and gains the ability to recruit an increasingly larger party of summoned followers.
One of the new areas we visited was the besieged town of Dounby, which gets overrun by a sect of vengeful, hooded druids. The druids aren't especially big fans of the bard and blast him and his companions with energy bolts and a snaring spell that immobilizes its target. In this and other battles, we saw that it's possible to simply summon tough allies and let them bear the brunt of the attack, especially if your bard has a bow, which can be used to pick off enemies from a distance.
This isn't always an option, especially in tight areas like a later-game multilevel dungeon inhabited by walking tree-people. Since you'll eventually gain the ability to have as many as five different followers in your group at a time (and many more from which to choose, including a rogue character that uses dual poisoned daggers, a healer, and two kinds of heavy-duty fighters), choosing a good party configuration will be a key part of your strategy. However, since these party members are summoned by sorcery, if they fall in battle, they can be resummoned later simply by singing their particular songs again at a cost of mana.
Of course, one of the most distinctive features in this upcoming game is its irreverent humor--specifically, how the game takes so many role-playing game conventions and ridicules them thoroughly. The example we saw was of a "metal mouth" (known as a "magic mouth" in the original Bard's Tale)--a gigantic pair of moving lips mounted on a steel door that require you to answer a riddle before you can pass. Unfortunately for the metal mouth we encountered, it wasn't able to consistently make the lines of its mystic riddle rhyme consistently, which caused the bard to rib it mercilessly. The flustered metal mouth forgot the eldritch magics that powered it and exchanged a few huffy remarks with the bard before allowing him entrance. You can expect to see plenty of other gags like this one in the final game, which, if what we've seen is any indication, will offer plenty of hack-and-slash action and plenty of goofy gags. The Bard's Tale is scheduled for release on the PS2 and the Xbox later this year and for the PC next year.