Sword Coast Legends
AMD Radeon R9 270X
Sword Coast Legends is an isometric RPG from Digital Extremes and n-Space set in the world of Dungeons & Dragons, and more specifically the Forgotten Realms setting. Dungeons and Dragons has a history spanning 40 years, and the Forgotten Realms setting has been around for a good portion of that history, so the big question is if Sword Coast can take advantage of the Forgotten Realms rules and settings while not collapsing into a complicated mess of a game.
Dungeons & Dragons, and RPGs by extension, always have that classic idea of a ragtag bunch of rogues, fighters, wizards and the rest teaming up to fight evil, get into misadventures, and rolling the dice every once in a while to see if they get fireballed to death in the process. Sword Coast Legends has those elements of fantastical adventure in a lore-stuffed world, it’s hard not to have that in the Forgotten Realms setting, but the characters and quests fall short of classic D&D.
Sword Coast Legends is filled with choices, just like any RPG should be, letting you choose class, race, abilities, and even meaningless flavor for your character like which god you worship at the beginning. Dialogue options are abundant, maps are huge with optional areas to go into for sidequests, but we’ve seen all those choices before, and the biggest issue with the game is that it just doesn’t do anything that hasn’t been done better in other RPGs.
Could it be a puzzle? Yup.
Five minutes into Sword Coast Legends I saw a demon, an occult ritual, and glimpses of a plot that can go places, so it had a strong start to say the least, but right after those first five minutes the first quest I picked up was to go collect a mushroom and find lost goods. It’s understandable that with a game series that spans back 40+ years you’re going to have some pretty washed out questlines eventually. It’s D&D, that’s fine, but after the first dozen or so sidequests that have been in every RPG since the beginning of time you just don’t want to do them anymore and suddenly Sword Coast Legends loses half of its content.
Being an intensely D&D-esque game has its limitations like with the quests, but it has its advantages too. Right from the start of the game you get the choice of playing by yourself or playing with your friends whether it be in the main story, a custom adventure, or a randomly generated dungeon, and that brings to the table a very D&D vibe of a bunch of friends gathering around a table to kill some monsters. It’s something that’s not done enough, but it's not done well. When you’re playing with your friends the pause is disabled, making it nearly impossible to plan your moves or play on any difficulty but easy.
Unfortunately, playing with the AI isn’t easy either. When you’re traveling with AI companions you get the pause button back but you lose any competence that comes with human players. Every other battle you’ll see at least one of your companions standing in the back doing nothing as goblins are mauling you right in front of them, and unless you pause, tell them what to do, and resume, you’ll be seeing a lot of mid-battle apathy on the part of your AI “friends.”
It's not D&D until you fight a giant thing.
The main questline involving demons, recurring prophetic nightmares, and the famous cities of Forgotten Realms is much better admittedly and that ever-present choice really helps it. Just like a skilful Dungeon Master might let his players open a door by ramming it down instead of searching for the key, Sword Coast Legends lets you find options to solve a progress-blocker whenever it can, a feature that even big title RPGs like Dragon Age rarely do.
Dragon Age, with its obscenely charismatic characters and constant action, is a bad comparison for Sword Coast Legends though. A much better comparison would be Pillars of Eternity, or the older, more turn based and classic isometric RPGs that it’s based on like Baldur’s Gate or Neverwinter Nights. You can play Sword Coast without ever pausing the game to use your skills, but prepare to get magic missiled into the astral plane if you do.
The Dungeon Master mode works well and it's easy to craft your own adventures for friends or fellow adventurers, but it limits you to using assets, textures, and monsters that have already been seen in the main game making it hard to build anything original or built specifically for your gaming group.
The map reminds us of good old days in Icewind Dale.
The aim of the Dungeon Master mode was to recreate that feeling of sitting around a table, eating Cheetos, rolling dice, and slaying dragons to save the princess, but even with voice chat and Skype, it's not the same. Tabletop Simulator and Sword Coast probably come the closest to recreating that “friends around a table” feeling, but it lacks the creative options that a real DM would have in choosing setting, monsters, conflicts, and the stuff gives good adventures some extra heart.
Sword Coast Legends isn’t bad, it’s just very standard, and in a world where Divinity: Original Sin and even Kickstarter game Pillars of Eternity are reinventing the isometric RPG genre it falls short of the better games out there. That being said, it’s far from being a glitchy mess, and the few bugs that are still there are being smoked out by the developers right now, so some of the problems like the AI standing around doing nothing when not given a command might be fixed in the future as they patch in more content.
- Dungeons & Dragons: It’s from the granddaddy of RPGs and has the lore, world, and settings that show that experience.
- Main Quest: The main quest has demons, dragons, visions, and all sorts of cool fantasy stuff.
- Stereotypical: Sword Coast is about as standard fantasy as it gets; don’t be expecting any deviation from might & magic fantasy.
- Sidequests: They’re numerous, not well written, and detract from the main plot.
- Dungeon Master: DM mode is ambitious and a nice idea, but it’s a long shot away from what was promised.
- Companions: When you play with people you can’t pause or plan your moves, when you play with computers you’re forced to use that pause button too much.