Developer: Digital Extremes, n-Space
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Platforms: Windows PC (Version Reviewed), Mac, Linux
Release Date: October 20, 2015
Sword Coast Legends did the unthinkable, sticking to a decade-old formula with a license that’s trying to revitalize itself. It searches for compromise between depth and convenience and manages something that should satisfy all but amaze few.
At the table, 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons made it faster to get adventures started, and Sword Coast Legends follows suit. At character creation, you choose from the basic five races (sorry gnome lovers) and just six basic classes. The whole character customization process feels more limited than in games past, and no multi-classing options makes for fewer mechanical choices.
There’s not a huge variety of abilities, and as a spellcaster, you don’t get to select your spells from a book as you would in the tabletop game. Instead, Sword Coast Legends opts for a skill tree approach to spell and ability advancements. This may disappoint D&D players, but can also be relief to the less committed.
Once you complete your adventurer, it takes several levels for your character to differentiate themselves from every other party member. If you’ve picked a class that is already represented in the starting NPC party, you can feel pretty useless as well.
The wizard I played the game’s campaign with was my second attempt. Initially, I created a pirate rogue named Nakas, but you begin the game with a rogue already in the party. Nakas quickly felt insignificant and ineffective compared to my NPC counterpart, and I quickly scrapped him for my wizard.
You can eventually choose who to bring with you, but it takes quite a few hours till you have meaningful party composition choices at your disposal. If you’re playing with a group of friends, you can make whatever classes you need from the start.
The campaign stays mired in stereotypical fantasy as it creates excuses to get you into the next dungeon. The Forgotten Realms setting from Dungeons & Dragons has never gripped me, and Sword Coast Legends isn’t changing that.
You’re part of the Burning Dawn, a guild that has been labeled as a demonic cult by the Knights of the Gilded Eye. You and your fellow guild members battle nightmares in your sleep and Gilded Eye Knights in the day as you seek to free yourself from demonic ties.
The story doesn’t waste time throwing you into the action, but it also doesn’t take the time to make you care about the characters. They’re all voiced adequately enough, but fall into the generic cookie-cutter roles you’d expect. If you look hard enough there are some funny surprises along the way, but the story of Sword Coast Legends never won me over, and the world outside of dungeons feels noticeably small.
The game’s combat comes in the form of pause-and-play action strategy. You can choose never to pause the action and play it in the real-time clicking style of WoW, or use heavy pausing to break up combat into a seemingly turn-based affair.
On the tactical side of things, Sword Coast Legends offers an extensive menu of pausing options. With a little trial and error, you can determine what triggers warrant the game pausing for you, such as an enemy being spotted or an ally becoming incapacitated. Unfortunately, there’s no option to make real-time combat more engaging, and treading this flexible middle ground doesn’t allow the game to commit to either end of the spectrum, making combat feel a little wonky.
The speed of combat is too fast to easily comprehend each simulated die roll, but it’s also too slow to feel fluid. Easy encounters require little thought and quickly devolve into prison-style beatdowns, though difficult fights necessitate an extremely tactical approach of carefully sequenced spells and abilities.
The Chaotic Orchestra of Battle
…I ambush enemies and debuff them in a Blitzkrieg-styled assault.
There’s no mana or stamina to worry about, so your only restraint is each ability or spell cooldown. Your AI compatriots use every tool at their expense (except potions) during combat, so when switching from character to character you’re often looking at timers rather than cool moves. To remedy this, I assumed the habit of disabling AI tactics before engaging with enemies. It gives you full control to orchestrate a symphony of destruction, ambushing enemies and debuffing them in a Blitzkrieg-styled assault. But soon after the carefully rehearsed opening movement, your concert tends to descend into a chaotic free-for-all of selecting targets and cycling characters.
These opening moves at the start of an encounter are hugely satisfying, but I find myself falling into the same rhythms and making the same choices no matter the enemy. And once you’re in the thick of battle it’s usually best to re-enable AI tactics otherwise you can find your courageous adventurers standing idle after slaying their assigned Bugbear.
Of course, these problems cease to exist if you have another human at the helm, and Sword Coast Legends offers plenty of ways to play with both friends and strangers. The campaign offers a fully cooperative experience, and the Dungeon Crawl mode gives you the option to make a custom dungeon dive with just a few clicks.
Dungeon Crawls give you just enough authorship to make something you’ll enjoy without needed to learn the module creation tool in Sword Coast Legends. You can quickly choose the complexity, content, and atmosphere of your mission, along with its objective. It’s a great mode for spending an hour with friends or getting others acclimated to the game’s mechanics. While they may be quick to pick up, they don’t afford you the creative control you’ll find in the custom module tool.
Master of Creation
Dungeon & Dragons wouldn’t feel right without the option to homebrew your own stories, and the module creation tool allows for just that. But keeping with every other aspect of the game, the creation tool seeks a compromise between convenience and depth. You’ll be able to tell your own story and formulate your own encounters with relative ease, but you won’t get exactly what you wanted. There’s a fairly diverse selection of dungeon types, but most above-ground locales are all sourced from the main campaign, making adventures using these feel like imitations rather than original creations.
Dungeon & Dragons wouldn’t feel right without the option to homebrew your own stories…
You can also take the role of Dungeon Master in any of these modes. As DM you construct encounters for your players on the fly, and can possess monsters to actively control them. The only limitation on the DM is his “threat meter” that fills as the players overcome obstacles, but drains when you place monsters or players die. Beyond this economy of threat there really aren’t any constraints, so your DM can spawn monsters behind you or even place traps around you in the midst of battle.
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Sword Coast Legends tries to be a lot of things to a lot of people, and it does a reasonably good job. It’s a competent RPG with an old dungeon-crawl style, yet it brings a modern pick-up-and-play attitude to the table with varying gamemodes. You can customize the gameplay to fit your style, but they forgot that the most important part of any roleplaying game is the character, and a lack of customization options and classes dilutes this integral aspect of the game.
A copy of this game was provided to GameSided for the purpose of this review. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.