Barbarous: Tavern of Emyr, or diners, dashing, and dwarves

We are truth-tellers, we men of Gondor. So I have to confess that I went into Barbarous: Tavern of Emyr with some trepidation. Naturally it was part of the fray whenever I would go searching for tavern games, but it had all the hallmarks of a garbage mobile game: cartoonish graphics, some buff dude on the cover, obvious Diner Dash mechanics. So I avoided it. Until I didn’t.

Now I’m happy that I gave it a try!

If you like a tl;dr, here it is: Barbarous is a fantasy diner dash game that doesn’t suck.

Even if you care nothing for the fantasy tavern, the fun and fast mechanics are addictive and enjoyable. You click (or, as I did, tap on mobile or Switch) the ingredients necessary to complete your customers’ orders, deliver the meal, and collect the cash. When the diverse cast of customers starts queuing up, though, it’s not as simple as it sounds. Thrown into the already hectic mix is table cleaning, rat catching, and at least one side quest per level. Juggling it all is almost like an exercise in mindfulness.

You bounce between several location, each serving as backdrop to individual parts of the story and each of those is four levels apiece. We follow our hero-in-retirement-but-not-really/proprietor/barkeep, Emyr, from his own tavern, to magical towers, swamps, and beyond, slinging drinks and cooking grub as we go. And it’s so fun.

Fantasy vibes abound as well. Your tavern will be visited by nicely drawn elves, skeletons, dwarves, barbarians, standard humans, lizard-folk, and hobbits halflings with obvious (but copyright respecting) leaf cloaks. The standard mutton and ale tavern fare changes from stage to stage and you’ll be crafting weapons, as well as sushi, and serving up potions, along with other exotic foods. Strange as some of the choices can be, the pub grub never feels ridiculous or out of place.

We could have left it there, a fantasy-skinned time management game for the masses, and that would have been enough. I would have still granted it the Tavern Hunter stamp of approval. But the developers kept going, taking Barbarous to the next level without overwhelming things. This was done through a few simple touches, like being able to spend diamonds to fill out Gwen’s room, a great story, and even an achievements menu that automatically scrolls to highlight your latest win. So simple, but so satisfying.

The biggest highlight for me, apart from running the tavern, is the story. My initial worry was that it would simply be a tack-on to attract poor schmucks from the app store. But it is hilarious. Every cut scene, before and after each level, is loaded with silly jokes. The sparse animation only adds to the silly mood and the writers were not afraid to throw in more than one or two yuck-yucks (see below).

The aesthetic is a smash hit, running from the greens and browns traditional, Tolkienian fantasy to darker elements, like the black and purple of contemporary Ravenloft D&D. Immersion is a toss-up. The gameplay is so frantic that you won’t often stop to admire your customers enjoying themselves in your tavern. And yet, there is more style and atmosphere here in Barbarous than in calmer tavern games. What you miss during play, however, you can pick up during the excellent cut scenes. I like it.

Barbarous: Tavern of Emyr is available across just about every platform, so consider giving it a shot.

What do you think? Is Barbarous too frantic for cozy, tavern feels?

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