(This piece is based on the Headstart and Pre-release versions of the game, on Apple OS X, and excludes the single-player story and console gameplay, as well as pre-release bugs/issues)
The game itself
Sword Coast Legends, in short, is a Fantasy Roleplaying video-game (cRPG) based on a license of the well-known Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) game, 5th Edition, and is set in the world of Forgotten Realms’ Faerûn. This places it at least as an emotional sequel to the Baldur’s Gate games, Icewind Dales and the Neverwinter Nights games.
Add in the Isometric 3D and the Dungeon Master functionality, and it is easy to see why people draw parallels with especially the Neverwinter Nights PC games, the first of which came out just over 13 years ago and is still being played to this day.
Sword Coast Legends, though, takes it a bit further in some regards, being designed especially for 4+1 gameplay, with a Dungeon Master and up to 4 players playing together (and not against each other), along with game-mechanics tailored for video-gaming instead of Pen-and-Paper (PnP, or Tabletop) gameplay. This is also where the most controversy lies, with purists decrying the game as being D&D in name only.
N-Space and Wizards of the Coast (WotC) decided to forego certain elements, like resting, permanent death and spellbooks, to produce a more mainstream experience with familiar skill-trees and easily revivable players, as opposed to a design like that of Roll20 and other Virtual Table Top products. The result is an easy-to-access game, that affords new players a quick way into D&D, while possibly being a step too short for those wanting to transfer their Thursday-night tabletop games to the computer.
Playing the Sword Coast Legends pre-release copies over the last month-or-so, one word keeps coming up when trying to describe the experience: Naïvete.
The game is actually a good game, with a sound base and the ability to be a great source of entertainment both in single-player and multi-player, but there is constantly that nagging feeling that something is missing: Controlling your own storytelling.
The toolset allows for creating story-modules of almost any length, and hosting them as an engaging Dungeon Master, where you can truly tell stories of epic scope, while quickly setting up the locales, friendly peasants, and hostile Mindflayers. However, the moment you want to step away from the Dungeon Mastered gameplay, you find that the toolset is limiting you in ways that I can only describe as naïve. it is the way that the game is focused on the dungeon mastered play-sessions that results in a simpler, more accessible game, but also one where the complexity required for truly in-depth stories, is simply not there.
Talking to various players creating story-modules for themselves and their friends, it is a recurring theme that they are being limited by what the toolset can do, even if they each have their own set of wishes for future versions of Sword Coast Legends; the lack of user-scripted events, of branching dialogues, of custom equipment and of truly customized settings limits the creators who are looking to tell a story without a Dungeon Master, and after a while all player-created modules ends up being a case of “Deja-Vu all over again”.
Playing the game
Searching for modules, or for ongoing public games, is also a matter of using basic, and naïve functionality. For modules, you can currently only search on names, and sort by score, name or creator, while searching for ongoing games gives you slightly more control, though mostly through technical elements like where the host is, or what level the other players are.
Concepts of modules being story- or action-driven, part of a longer campaign or have recommended level-ranges is not controllable by players, or even the module-creators.
Once you’re in a game, controls are largely familiar for anyone who have played other western RPGs, especially Iso-3D point-and-click games. Some reading is recommended, at least early on for things like selecting skills and distributing attribute points, though players familiar with D&D will quickly feel at home with these as well.
Enemies and monsters are automatically balanced towards the average level of the players, meaning the games scales itself to the players as best it can. This usually works, though in some instances encounters are clearly meant for a higher or lower level group of players. It also, naturally, fails when the level-discrepancies between player are too great, but this is truly something players themselves can control.
N-Space, SCL, and the Future
The company behind Sword Coast Legends, the Florida-based N-Space, appear dedicated to keep developing content for the game, and with a cursory glance showing nearly a thousand story-modules created by players just during the early access weekends, it is easy to see the game presenting itself with a long life-span. The publisher for Sword Coast Legends, Digital Extremes, are also known for keeping their own games going across multiple updates and multiple years, which adds to the expectations for a long-lived game, and gives reason to hope that even if the game is not quite everything you want right now, it is worth coming back to later.
Sword Coast Legends is being released for Windows, OS X and Linux via Steam on October 20th, and for Playstation 4 and XBox One in early 2016.
Responsible for many of the day-to-day operations, for messing up website code, and generally for whipping the rest of the team into an odd shape, G took on the Evil Overlord title because the rest ran around like headless chicken. He doubles as the other main host on Rated-R, when actually around and awake.