Could there finally be a game to rival the likes of Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights?
Sword Coast Legends promised it all. A fantastic Dungeons & Dragons-inspired experience with good single-player and co-op, an opportunity to create our own campaigns and more. Unfortunately, it doesn't live up to its promises.
There probably aren't many people out there that are completely oblivious when it comes to Dungeons & Dragons. It's a well known franchise with many years and a lot of loyal fans who support it. But despite this popularity - or perhaps precisely because of it - it has been difficult for game developers to capture its essence in digital form. However, there are games that have been praised for having come close to this magical essence. Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights come to mind.
So when n-Space and Digital Extremes mention these heavyweights as inspiration for Sword Coast Legends, they set the bar high. Wouldn't it be great with a digital D&D experience with an exciting single-player campaign, countless of playable homemade adventure, and hours of co-op fun? Too good to be true?
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During the main campaign, which can be played solo or as a four-person group online, you play as a member of adventurous guild The Order of the Burning Dawn. You have been hired to protect a trade caravan headed for the big city of Luskan. The otherwise uneventful trip is suddenly interrupted when mercenaries attack your group and others from your guild. It soon becomes clear that the attacks are due to a suspicion that your guild is in alliance with demons. So is your guild really in cahoots with a demonic ally? As you've been haunted by dark nightmares about demons as you've sleep in recent nights, the answer doesn't seem clearcut.
But before the campaign or anything else can start you have to create a character. First we determine the race; halfling, dwarf, human, half-elf, and elf. Then we choose which one of the game's classes to play as. There is mage, paladin, cleric, fighter, rogue and ranger.
Considering the game primarily takes place viewed from an isometric perspective, the opportunities to go into detail in the character creation are surprisingly good. You can change your hair, skin colour, facial features, etc. In-game you never really come close enough to enjoy your character in detail. But somehow the character just feels more personal when you get to create them exactly the way you want to.
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Having chosen a race, class and appearance your character's backstory needs to be determined. You can choose to be anything from former spy, criminal, monk, hero or loner. Each of these background stories not only contributes to the feeling of a deeper character but also gives a starting bonus - such as gold or points in various stats.
With high hopes we started our adventures. Unfortunately, the first few hours of the main story are quite a struggle to get through. First there is a rather dull prologue with incredibly linear dungeons and environments. The missions were not motivating, and we began to fear that this is what the entire game would be like. Fortunately it changed for the better as we reached the city of Luskan. This is the central hub where everything unfolds and the game moves away from linear exploration. There are more exciting quests, better dialogue and the atmosphere improves. We met a lot of interesting characters that were brought to life by really good voice acting, and began to enjoy the campaign a lot more.
The enjoyment, however, was repeatedly interrupted by small annoyances. Several technical problems were encountered. We had to repeatedly abandon enjoyable quests, because important people disappeared or items were not found where they should be. Our entourage told us on several occasions that it was a shame we killed a certain enemy, as we probably could have solved the conflict by talking to him. This after they themselves had started the fight with the enemy and killed him without asking for our guidance. Characters respond verbally to everything you ask them to do, and this results in a steady stream of "At your service", "If you say so" and "Alright" every time we ask the group to move. This gets very old a few hours into the game.
It's not a complete mess, but the whole experience was a bit wobbly. Perhaps an update will take care of these technical issues.
As mentioned the game offers much more than just the main campaign. You can also take part in dungeon crawls with up to three other players. It's nice to have the opportunity to jump straight into a randomly created dungeon with others. It's easy and simple, and works fairly well. In fact, multiplayer is a big part of the game, and all of the different elements can be enjoyed in the company of up to three other players. Even the main campaign.
The combat system, complete with pause option and a four-character party, brings back memories of vintage Bioware. We're big fans of their games, but somehow the systems just doesn't work as well as they could here, and the isometric view doesn't help things. The combat system seems bland. There's no excitement felt during combat situations, and the satisfaction of having to overcome enemies is virtually non-existent. The battle system looks to provide scenarios where strategic considerations are needed, but that is seldom the case. The fights are often won by simply clicking on the enemy and then hammering the different character's abilities at the bottom of the screen.
There is one important element left to cover, the game's big selling point - the Dungeon Master. Something that could make Sword Coast Legends stand out a little from other games. Here the players get the opportunity to create their own adventures. You can team up with friends and test various Dungeon Masters and their creations. There are hours of fun waiting to be had.
As Dungeon Master you can create your own NPCs, characters and custom enemies. You can make simple quests for other players to complete and thereby also craft your own narrative. When we tried this part of the game we quickly noticed how time flew by. We spent several hours designing our very own adventure, but the more time we spent on it, the more we realised that the freedom we first imagined was actually quite limited.
You're not able to make your own maps and populate them as you wish. You can't design your own cities with streets. You can't construct your own dungeons. All the surroundings are created randomly in advance. This means that the layout of a dungeon is always predetermined - all we had to do was fill it with monsters and traps. Easy enough, but it also means that players won't be able to really let their creativity flow.
There is so much potential here and we fully believe that players are going to create some amazing adventures. But we do hope that n-Space will continue to work on this concept and give their community of players more freedom. If they do then this could turn into something genuinely amazing.
When we first heard about Sword Coast Legends and the vision for the game, we were excited. It sounded like a game we would absolutely love. However, it doesn't deliver on the vision, and it feels like a title that's trying to be a mixture of all the good bits from a variety of other great games. On paper that's great, but in practice it simply doesn't come together. Sword Coast Legends never really becomes its own game. It's a bit like when you mix a lot of colours together. The colours are beautiful individually, but if you mix the whole palette together, sometimes you're just left with a strange and dull greenish-brown colour.
It's not a complete disaster. It has something to offer in the way of a decent main campaign, and there's plenty of opportunities to play co-operatively in different contexts. It just never reaches the heights of the games that came before and inspired it. Hopefully the technical issues will be sorted, and the Dungeon Master mode expanded on, but as it stands Sword Coast Legends is a rather disappointing and mediocre experience.
5 / 10
A decent main campaign, Good co-op, Great voice acting.
Several annoying little issues, A rather bland combat system, Too many restrictions for the Dungeon Master.