"Some version of D&D has been involved in over half of my gaming life."
What initially drew me to Sword Coast Legends was the Dungeons and Dragons license, because some version of D&D has been involved in over half of my gaming life. Whether it was playing Warriors of the Eternal Sun on Sega Channel, Eye of the Beholder on SNES, 2nd & 3rd Edition paper/pen style with fellow nerds, dying frequently in Baldur's Gate for PC, or scoring mad loot on BG: Dark Alliance. Recently, I had the opportunity to take Sword Coast Legends for a spin, and I found it to be more than a game. It is the next evolution in fantasy storytelling.
Character creation is always the start of a D&D experience. Are you a Gold Dwarf Warrior of noble beginnings? Maybe a Stoutheart Hafling Rogue raised in the rough streets? Perhaps you are a Sun Elf Wizard who spent years honing your spellcraft in isolation? The background and race you select in Sword Coast Legends allot stat bonuses, starting skills, and the items/gold you begin with. After you choose your equipment, remaining skills, and proficiencies, you have a chance to write out your backstory. You can even go so far as to adjust your facial structure and appearance. The game follows the core rule set of 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, so those familiar should feel right at home with their selections. Make sure you are satisfied with what you choose, because you cannot go back and adjust your preferences.
In the early build I played, the first choice in the Player menu is Modules/Campaigns, as the Story mode is not yet accessible. Here, you are treated to a plethora of user- and developer-created quests and short campaigns, ranging from serious story telling to a remake of The Goonies. Some of them have been updated through the numerous builds and contain extensive version notes. These digital DMs are not messing around. All experience and loot you gain can be retained, so some creators developed modules to help players gain quick XP for testing character types or making higher-level characters for difficult campaigns.
Dungeon Crawling is exactly what it sounds like, but also so much more. After you create your party, which can include AI characters from the main story, you start in a camp with item and equipment vendors. You then interact with a sign board to create a randomized dungeon for you to explore. You can adjust monster types, tile sets, environmental aesthetics to change up the visuals, the size and complexity of the dungeon, if you want a boss character at the end, even quests with adjustable criteria and rewards. You can even make multiple floors, each with completely different monsters and environments. If your buddy is an opposing OS user, take heart in knowing that SCL has cross-platform multiplayer.
The combat formula is nothing new, which is perfectly fine by me. Hotkeys for skills/items, first/secondary equipment switching, point and click assignments to auto attack enemies, skill cooldowns instead of point consumption, SCL has your standard action combat mechanics, but with a interesting change. Your character's preferred skill or cantrip can be mapped to a second slot on your menu, allowing you to auto-attack with that skill. For example, this mapping allowed my Cleric to switch from a holy melee strike to a ranged holy fire spell for retreating enemies. In single player, you can pause the action and assign commands to your characters. Unfortunately, they cannot stack, so you have to pause again if the strategy needs a change.
To fully discuss the options and volume of resources at your disposal with Dungeon Master would require a second preview. While you cannot custom build the maps, you can still sprinkle in many NPCs and meticulously-designed environmental objects that players can interact with. Even the time, weather, and lighting can be adjusted to help set the mood. What is interesting about the randomized dungeons are the "suggested encounters" that can come with them, based upon the selected enemy type and difficulty. Rooms with higher elevation may have a suggestion to use archers at the top with heavy melee enemies at the base of the stairs. If you want to continue customizing, you can build each enemy to suit your encounters. From adjusting stats, equipment, skills, even their color palette, you can create your own army of antagonists. If you think Dungeon Master mode is just a campaign creator, though, you are sorely mistaken. All of your resources are even available in game while the other players are engaging with your world. If a player starts communicating with a NPC, the DM can chat right back with them. If you create a barrier to stop the player's progress, you can make them roll check in the chat window and make up how they react to it in real time. Are the players advancing too easily? Drop some undetectable traps and create an ambush with stronger monsters. You can be a live Dungeon Master and carry your written campaign into Sword Coast Legends.
After experiencing the game first hand and speaking with n-Space Community Manager and Development Coordinator Ash Sevilla (who was also my DM for his custom campaign), there is one clear fact about this game. Sword Coast Legends has almost infinite storytelling potential, and plenty of resources to keep the live action combat gamers interested. Mix all these elements together with an enthralling music score from Inon Zur (Dragon Age: Origins, Fallout 3, EverQuest), powerful vocal talent, and rich sound effects, and you have a serious contender in the WRPG circuit.
"The big wrinkle is the DM, who is controlled by another one of your friends."
I have never played a game of Dungeons & Dragons, so when I heard that n-Space and Wizards of the Coast were putting out a PC game meant to approximate the experience of playing a D&D campaign complete with dungeon master, I really did not know what to expect. What I found was a fairly standard co-op action rpg experience, enlivened by the presence of a live DM.
Combat plays like most MMORPGs, with teams of heroes raiding a dungeon. I played a healer and joined a party with a rogue, a melee character, and a mage. Enemies tended to swarm the screen, making it a little difficult to handle a combat scheme that I was not familiar with, but ultimately the party prevailed through solid cooperation.
The big wrinkle is the DM, who is controlled by another one of your friends in DM mode and can take a variety of actions to help or hinder your party. For instance, the DM can lay traps in your path or spawn enemies. However, he gains points as your party succeeds in overcoming obstacles, so it is in his best interest to see you triumph in the end. In my game the DM tried to catch us unawares with several traps, but we had a rogue in the party to keep us safe. The DM is also represented by an onscreen cursor, so observant players can guess at what he will do.
The dungeon I played was relatively short, and I was not able to experience much of the story. However, the developers have promised an engaging campaign with fully fleshed-out lore. You can catch the latest trailer for the game below.
Sword Coast Legends comes out on PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, and Xbox One on September 29th of this year.