While The King of Comedy is a widely reported inspiration for the Joker origin movie, new clues from the set hint that another Martin Scorsese/Robert De Niro classic — Taxi Driver — could also be an influence.
The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver are both profiles of deranged and broken men, delusional urban loners who criminally lash out at those they feel have rejected them, and the Joker movie — penned by director Todd Phillips (the Hangover trilogy) and co-screenwriter Scott Silver (8 Mile, The Fighter) — certainly sounds like it’s in a similar vein. The official plot synopsis for Joker describes Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck as “a man disregarded by society” and the DC film as “not only a gritty character study, but also a broader cautionary tale.”
InXile Entertainment’s resurrection of this long-lost series from the age of Ronald Reagan and Max Headroom takes the role-playing genre back in time for better and worse. The Bard’s Tale IV: Barrows Deep‘s visuals are a charmingly nostalgic reminder of the origins of 3D role-playing games, but most of the game’s features are too outdated to hold up to today’s standards.
Actually, the first challenge here is remembering what the Bard’s Tale franchise is all about. The plot is supposed to follow 1988’s The Bard’s Tale III: Thief of Fate, although most of us will have to take their word for it given the 30 years between major franchise installments. Skara Brae and a rogues’ gallery of familiar villains from the original Bard’s Tale trilogy are the main hallmarks here, along with new live-action cutscenes that brings to life the iconic cover art from those ’80s RPG classics. They are beyond cheesy, but these clips provide plenty of old-school atmosphere.
Other shout-outs to RPG history are evident in the core design, which is minimalistic by comparison to modern role-players. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the straightforward character development and combat systems are easy to learn. Your group is depicted via portraits in the “party bar” along the bottom eight slots (for the six party-member maximum plus two for summoned allies) on the screen. Movement is handled fluidly with the party being directed as one in real time while exploring. Encountering enemies switches the game over to turn-based combat where you give orders to attack, cast spells, and so forth based on objective and spell points. Overall, it’s a tried-and-true system for a retro RPG experience, especially if you want something basic.
But with that said, Bard’s Tale IV is too simplistic. Characters come with just four core stats (strength, constitution, armor class, and intelligence) that can basically only be adjusted with equipment and skills earned when leveling up. If you want to raise your constitution (which functions here as hit points, unlike a more traditional D&D system), for example, you need to put on armor, wield a bonus-granting weapon, or take a skill that gives a corresponding buff.
Serious customization is hard to come by. There aren’t a lot of character choices provided beyond standard fantasy races like humans, elves, dwarves, and the goblin-like trow, and classes like fighters, practitioners (mages), rogues, and bards. Bards do feel somewhat unique due to their ability to power skills and magic in battle by chugging booze. Leveling up provides some ability to tweak your heroes, but choice is limited because you’re allocated just a single point with each advancement to distribute among the four skill trees
Combat has a narrow focus. A handful of objective and spell points are given to the party to use collectively each turn, and you have to spend them on just four selected skill masteries from your overall pool of abilities. Attacks always hit, so strategizing involves looking through each hero’s masteries, choosing what does the most damage, and deciding on the best enemy target. You can deal physical damage via melee and ranged attacks or mental damage via spells.
Masteries deal with one type of damage or the other, which causes problems as there is no way to switch them up once a battle has begun. As a result, readied masteries regularly don’t match up with what enemies bring to the table. For example, heavily armored foes are vulnerable to mental damage, but if your ready-to-go masteries don’t have enough mental attacks, you’re out of luck. You can try to build a balanced party, but many masteries aren’t shared across classes, so there’s not a great range of options if you want a group that’s prepared for everything. Because of that, combat feels gimmicky, with you failing at times through no fault other than not guessing what the game is about to throw your way.
The one positive aspect of combat–and it’s a positive with definite drawbacks–is that every region is populated with the same four or fives types of enemy. So once you take on the first mob of goblin fire archers, cultist sorcerers, skeletons, assassins, or whatever in a particular location, you know what to expect in that entire area and can go on autopilot when it comes to battle strategizing. Enemies help out by not being very bright, either. They waste their own objective points on moving around unnecessarily, do nothing in the back row, ignore wounded heroes and threats like spellcasters, and so on.
Surprises still happen, though. Difficulty jumps around. You can be steamrolling all comers for ages and walk into a brutal fight against an all-new creature with a never-before-seen ability like regeneration, or undead that revive unless you send them all back to the afterlife in one turn. You learn how to fight different creatures as they appear, but because there’s no save-on-demand feature–you instead save at totems strewn around the landscape–this can lead to frustrating trial and error.
Making matters worse is the inaccuracy of the enemy warning system. Look at a mob of foes and they highlight green, yellow, or red. To try to make matters even clearer, party members chime in by assessing the potential bout as a cakewalk, a challenge, or suicide. None of this is very accurate, though. While green scraps always seem easy, some yellow are murderous, and some red are a lot more painless than expected. As a result, you can get a nasty shocker and get killed in a fight that looks like no problem–which is a major pain if you haven’t been able to save in a while.
Stability is a also problem. Crashes are a frequent occurrence, especially at the end of battles. Usually the game went down with an error message, but a few times it froze up at the end of a fight while looking at the loot that dead foes left behind. Because of these crashes, it’s wise to save constantly–even when you have to run back significant distances to find a save totem after a tough battle.
More serious issues arise due to problems with the level design and structure of the game’s locales. The maps are huge and labyrinthine and that’s befitting the history of dungeon crawlers, of course, but the game is too loaded with narrow corridors with minimal incentives. Despite the maze-like appearance, you are led in a linear fashion from Point A to Point B in the dungeon ruins of Skara Brae, the forest of Inshriach, or the tundra of Stronsea. There is little room for creativity, as both plot and maps run on rails from start to finish. Inaccessible areas are crudely blocked off with rubble or piles of crates, as well, reinforcing the feeling that you’re playing a game of connect-the-dots with extra steps.
While there is a good variety of brainteasers in the game, ranging from switching gears to moving blocks to shoving faeries around an obstacle course to routing blood into connected streams, there are far, far too many of them. Puzzles are used to pad out levels too often. Instead of having to face one or two of these innovative enigmas at a time, you get five or more in a row, almost always of the same type, which gets very monotonous, very fast.
Aspects of the map design appear unfinished. While loads of NPCs are ready to chat, these encounters generally lead to dead ends. Some wayward monk or lovelorn peasant will tell you a story of woe that seems to be leading somewhere, as their conversations tend to revolve around boilerplate RPG quests like hunting for an artifact or finding a lost girlfriend. But then these talks either come to an abrupt halt or the guy or gal turns into a merchant. Your only response to somebody pouring their heart a lot of the time is to ask if they’ve got any stuff to sell.
Most areas offer little beyond solving puzzles and fighting. Loot drops are limited. You collect the same swords, helmets, and armor constantly from defeated enemies and the crates and barrels scattered across the landscape, along with various types of food and drink that both recover hit points and can be used in crafting. There is little sense of reward. For every cool sword you discover, you smash open 50 barrels and chests filled with vegetables and bottles of water. There’s nothing like taking 10 minutes to solve a puzzle leading to a chest…and then finding nothing in it but three carrots and a potato.
The visuals aren’t technically impressive and cause even the best systems to chug and stutter when moving the camera on all graphics settings. Character faces have an oddly disturbing appearance in the middle ground between a mannequin and a melted candle, and animations are stiff and jerky, both in real-time dungeon delving and in turn-based battles. Still, the look of the game remains charming. Everything is given a Celtic/Scottish look that could have been taken from Braveheart, and a bright color palette evokes an ’80s RPG mood recalling the vivid hues of classic D&D art.
Audio is hit and miss. Well-acted dialogue perfectly handles the Scottish brogue of most characters. Enemies repeat cheesy taunts in combat, though, and party chatter consists of juvenile insults. Some audio effects don’t fit with what’s taking place on-screen. Gulping down water triggers the same crunching and lip-smacking that accompanies eating a cabbage or apple. At least the music has a beautiful Celtic flavor with plucked strings, fiddles, and choral odes that make the game sound like Enya outtakes.
Other quirks add aggravation. Load times are long and frequent; it takes over a minute to transition between areas, even when leaving a tavern to hit the streets. Level maps can be misleading. Key items like save totems aren’t included, and you can’t make notes. There is no way to sort character inventories, leading to tedious item management.
Common wisdom and clichés aside, The Bard’s Tale IV: Barrows Deep proves you can go home again. But why would anyone want to? While the game re-creates what we played in the 1990s, misty water-colored memories of hours spent with Eye of the Beholder are not enough to fix numerous design miscues, performance problems, and bugs. This is a tough sell to all but the most dedicated and patient retro fan.
On platforms where the full experience exists, Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition is in a strange position. The version of Final Fantasy XV released two years ago is a sprawling behemoth of a game where it’s fully expected and encouraged for players to just meander around for the first three to five hours, getting to know Noctis and his friends, toying with the mechanics, and meeting the people of Eos. It’s one of the scant examples of a game where an extremely pared-down experience–which is, ultimately, what Pocket Edition is–remains as engrossing and immense an experience as the average 30 hour JRPG designed to be such.
The main story and the fundamentals of the game’s combat are reproduced here, save a few minor narrative beats and some of the fancier gameplay flourishes, like Link Attacks. But regardless, it’s still the story of the warring kingdoms of Insomnia, Niflheim, and Altissia. The three countries are on the verge of a peace that will only be solidified if Insomnia’s King Regis signs a treaty with Niflheim and if the prince of Insomnia, Noctis, enters an arranged marriage with Lunafreya of Altissia. Noctis, still immature and lackadaisical about his future, is fond of Lunafreya, but not necessarily ready for the responsibilities that come with marriage, and as such, decides to take one last road trip with his three best friends, Prompto, Ignis, and Gladiolus, toward the altar. When the signing of the peace treaty turns out to be a trap, leaving Insomnia devastated and the prince without a home to go back to, Noctis is forced to gain the divine blessings of his ancestors and claim his birthright ahead of schedule.
Like most demakes, a lot of Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition’s charm is largely in seeing how it compares to the original game. In this case, FFXV’s stunning locales and photoreal CG have been redone in a bright, abstract, cartoon aesthetic, akin to watching the game acted out by Funko Pop figures. There’s an element of warm, familiar nostalgia to it all. Having to fill in the visual blanks of a heavy scene being played out by these expressionless dolls gives you the feeling that you’re just playing a souped-up 32-bit Final Fantasy game. The visual dissonance of blocky, polygonal Cloud mourning an equally blocky Aeris can very easily vanish when you’re swept up in the moment. It’s much the same here, watching giant-head Noctis grieve his father and the fall of Insomnia. It only stands out as dissonant because unlike, say, Final Fantasy VII, you’ve likely seen what a photoreal version of these same scenes looks like.
Really, losing nuance from the world itself is more noticeable than losing out graphically. One of Final Fantasy XV’s greatest strengths was leaving a lot of narrative details about the world of Eos to the environment, hearing stories from the people you meet, overhearing gossip, and taking on sidequests. The vast majority of that has been stripped away. Also, the wide-open world has been pared down to an ongoing series of linear top-down maps. Pocket Edition’s quest is, quite literally, a critical path only that only communicates the essentials, with very little ability or reason to wander off. Yes, that means no fishing, no photography, no Hunts, no Justice Monsters Five, no Formouth Garrison, no Pitioss Ruins, no messing around. Ignis’ recipes are still part of the mix, but in a much more limited capacity. It says a lot about just how dense and layered Noctis’ journey was to begin with that even having so much of the original game and its narrative jettisoned off still leaves enough material for a very traditional, linear JRPG to take place.
With these limits in mind, it’s rather impressive how meticulously the most vital locations and story beats in the game had been reproduced. Having played the main game twice, it’s a delightfully surreal experience seeing how much of the world I was able to move through by sheer memory, knowing where traps, shop, and enemy ambush locations would be long before the game decided to point them out. A new player will likely have to refer to the map fairly often, but each area, even the more twisty dungeons in the game, is small enough where the potential to get lost is diminished relative to the original game.
Combat is similarly streamlined, though this is the one area where the main game’s depth is deeply missed. The fundamentals are, as mentioned, the same: hold the attack button and Noctis will spam attacks until you let go. You can dodge and roll out of the way, and you also have the Warp Strike, allowing you to close great distances and strike hard against a target clear across the screen. The arsenal is here, but there’s far less actual thought that needs to go into the majority of encounters in the game. Only one magic spell can be held at a time, and there’s a strange delay before Noctis can even cast it. Weapons like the Greatswords and polearms only vary in terms of striking speed, but generally do the same damage. And even when Noctis dies, with only a few exceptions later in the game, it’s so much easier to either throw yourself a potion or wait for an ally to revive you. For most of the fights in the game, you’re just holding attack and the left stick in the vague direction of the thing you want to kill. That likely made sense when Pocket Edition was solely a mobile title, but it’s a bit undercooked on consoles.
Thing is, though, as flashy as it could be, combat wasn’t exactly a shining example in the genre in the full game either. Final Fantasy XV’s brilliance shone forth in the interactions Noctis had with the people of Eos, friend and foe. Family friends reappear in Noctis’ life to offer guidance and comfort. Locals in every town have their own inner lives, surviving under the occupation of the Empire, and will gladly take Noctis on a tour of their town to see what life outside his kingdom is really like. The bounty hunter who tries to kill him while on a secret mission will later escort Noctis’ group through a dungeon and speak honestly about her own government job for the first time. The characters, their stories, and how they all contributed to Noctis growing into the man he needs to be to become king were the soul of Final Fantasy XV.
All these things have been admirably translated, in a way far less intimidating to newcomers and logistically fascinating to veterans. You get the parts of that experience that count the most towards the narrative from Pocket Edition, and the gameplay, rudimentary it may be, has been as elegantly streamlined as possible to obtain that experience. This is still, ultimately, Final Fantasy XV, and while there’s a lot of the game that you might want out of Pocket Edition, there’s an argument to be made that this version of FFXV will serve you just fine.
There’s an unusual relationship between Marvel Comics and Marvel Studios. The comics are the original source material, and they’ve inspired every MCU film to some degree or another. At the same time, the MCU tends to make big, ambitious changes to that source material, a lot of which winds up inspiring similar changes in the comics. Sometimes comic creators find inspired ways of working these new elements into their books (Exiles introducing an MCU-inspired version of Valkyrie being one recent, notable example), and other times… we get Nick Fury, Jr. The constant back-and-forth relationship between the comics and the movies begs the question – why doesn’t Marvel publish more comics that are actually set in the MCU? Why aren’t they exploring that mostly untapped storytelling potential?
The mysterious island floating above Loot Lake in Fortnite has started moving, though to exactly what end remains unclear. For those that haven’t been keeping up with the latest happenings in Fortnite, a strange purple cube appeared in the game and plunged itself into Loot Lake just before the start of Season 6. Once the season kicked off, however, it floated into the air, taking a chunk of land up there with it.
Currently, the cube and the attached island seems to be just moving between locations on the Fortnite map. Fans have speculated that the it’s moving between the runes that the cube left on the map towards the end of Season 5, before it dropped into Loot Lake.
Data miners also seem to have discovered evidence that, in addition to travelling around the map, the cube will grow in size. A folder called “CubeGrowth” has been discovered in game files, which could lend further weight to the speculation that this is all part of upcoming event that developer Epic Games is planning.
So, the cube is going to grow this season 👀 pic.twitter.com/LgbjWT27AL
— Fortnite: Battle Royale Leaks (@FNBRLeaks) September 28, 2018
As previously stated, Season 6 of Fortnite has kicked off and there have been some pretty significant changes to the game. In addition to a few new areas on the map–some thanks in part to the cube, again–Epic has also introduced a number of new items, including Pets. While they are undoubtedly the cutest new addition, you’ll probably be wanting to see all the cool new skins and cosmetics, and we have a Season 6 rewards gallery for that. If you need help unlocking these, you can complete Fortnite’s latest challenges using our Season 6 challenge roundup.
Another surprise fans received alongside the launch of Fortnite Season 6 was cross-play on PS4. On September 28, Sony Interactive Entertainment said it had “identified a path towards supporting cross-platform features for select third-party content,” including Fortnite. An open beta that allows for “gameplay, progression, and commerce” across PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch, Mac, Android, iOS of the game is currently underway. If you need a hand with linking your console accounts to Fortnite, we’ve got a guide.