Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s isometric computer role playing games or cRPGs were all the rage on the PC scene. Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, Planescape Torment and others dominated the lives of those who played them, immersing gamers in a feeling of being truly in the worlds and experiencing the stories and adventures of the characters on screen.
These types of games lost their lustre over time (while still maintaining a loyal following) and gave way to third-person and first-person RPG experiences. The recent resurgence of the genre with crowdsourced games like Pillars of Eternity, Wasteland 2 and Divinity: Original Sin has shown that there is an audience for this type of game again. Sword Coast Legends is the newest player in the genre and has the advantage of being placed in the deep and sprawling Forgotten Realms D&D world. Unfortunately a shallow story and repetitive scenarios make the game fall short of greatness.
Sword Coast Legends is a cRPG from a relatively small developer called n-Space, with help from Digital Extremes, and is a multi-faceted game. There is a story mode that can be played solo or with other players, as well as custom dungeons also playable solo or multiplayer, with a Dungeon Master mode that allows one player to ‘control’ the scenario.
None of the modes is particularly brilliant, and the issues all stem from to the constraints of the game rules and combat mechanics. Each of the modes could shine, but ultimately everything boils down to: kill these creatures or collect this item. This rigidity seems to be caused by having designed a modular game around toolsets so users can create their own dungeons.
For me the core mode of Sword Coast Legends would be the Story Campaign. I certainly don’t play games like this to dungeon-raid with strangers; instead I want an interesting and complex campaign that will pull me into the fantasy world. In the case of Sword Coast Legends, the licensed world of the Forgotten Realms’ Faerûn is wasted in a shallow and painfully repetitive campaign. The gist of the story has you as a mercenary with a guild called the Burning Dawn that is being hunted down by a sect of Helm worshippers who know about your guild’s early association with Demons. Your character is, of course, special and has nightmares that lead to a larger destiny for your custom (or pre-generated) character.
The main issue I had with the campaign was how unfocused it was and how generic all for the environments tended to be. Sword Coast Legends is designed to be a game that supports creation of content; as a result the maps are essentially tile-based, with specific designs and constraints. As I was travelling through the varied locations I felt that nothing truly stood out. In other recent games like Wasteland 2 and Pillars of Eternity many of the handcrafted environments cause a sense of wonder. This never happened in Sword Coast Legends.
The game itself is also very repetitive and static. You kill hordes of enemies, you collect items, you return to people and you find mountains of loot. The game also really desensitizes you to the value of magic items which has always been a cornerstone of these types of games. In Sword Coast Legends there is no excitement in finding a flaming +2 sword as you generally already have 15-20 of them in your inventory.
The story campaign can also be played with online players in your party, and this was a disaster the times I tried it with a friend. I believe the goal was to replicate a tabletop session with your friends in an online realm, but if you do not know the people you are playing with (and even if you do) playing a game with point to click movement and pausing and digging through inventory results in chaos. Coordination between people as they play their own characters is hard to deal with and often when playing with online strangers everyone is off doing his own thing. At least when you are solo and in control of the whole party you can pause and direct commands. In a multiplayer scenario it generally falls apart.
Outside of the story mode there are some positive points. The creation tools themselves are very solid and intuitive. Many years ago I (painfully) created levels for Neverwinter Nights (NWN) and these tools are head and shoulders better than the ones in NWN in all ways but scenario flexibility. I felt with the NWN toolset that if I put effort in I could pretty much do anything. With the Sword Coast Legends toolkit I could easily create dungeons, ruins or wilderness levels with traps, monsters and treasure, complete with dialogue choices, but the core experience ends up being very limited. Due to the nature of the game mechanics and rules you can add a lot of exposition if you want but ultimately your scenario will end with collecting items and killing a boss or X number of enemies. There is no way to make multi-tiered decision-based, puzzle-themed dungeons as Sword Coast Legends does not support that kind of gameplay. The end result is easily created levels that are generic and repetitive, much like the main campaign.
The other main feature of the game is the Dungeon Master, mode where one player can act as the eponymous Dungeon Master (DM) and, in theory, manipulate the scenario as the other players are working through it. Many games have made this claim and in Sword Coast Legends the toolset is well implemented, but once again the constraints of the mechanics and rules prevent any real exciting potential in this mode. As the DM all you can basically do is drop new traps, spawn monsters and add or remove loot and doors. There is no way to efficiently adapt dialogue or truly reshape the scenario. It ends up becoming, as it did in my attempt at the mode, a pile-on of monsters and death traps to frantically try and stop the player characters.
The game as a whole suffers from some issues that are hard to swallow in a modern game: basic visuals, out-of-sync dialogue, an awkward search system for traps and secret items, as well as far-too-long loading times.
But there are some shining points within the systems that show there could have been more here. The characters have some wit and depth in their random dialogue and conversation responses that actually made me chuckle often. The skills and levelling system are fairly satisfying and I did look forward to each level to see what else I could do with my characters. The loot system, while far too generous, is at least saved by the fact that the extra items are placed in a communal storage so you are not faced with encumbrance issues. The good bits show that there is potential here but the game as a whole feels unfinished, even though the product is feature-complete.
Sword Coast Legends is a game that I really wanted to be successful. As a huge fan of the D&D rulesets and Forgotten Realms setting I was looking forward to experiencing the title, but found it ultimately being a wholly average experience. The static and repetitive scenarios, the drab visuals and environments and the thin storyline failed to immerse me into the game and ended up being a fairly boring experience. The included creation tools, while well implemented, are not enough to reinvigorate interest in playing the game as the mechanics are limiting and lead to simple and generic custom levels.
In the end Sword Coast Legends feels like a game that is lacking in depth and ultimately not one I can recommend when there are much better alternatives like Pillars of Eternity or Divinity: Original Sin on the market.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B016OWWR6M][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00UXI36FU][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00QCMDO44]