When I walked into the Sword Coast Legends booth at E3 I had a very eerie feeling of déjà vu wash over me. I felt as if I’d been here before and already played this game, or at least something similar to it. Of course I hadn’t, but the way the monitors were arrange I had a flashback to a short-lived Bioware game; a few of you might have heard of it, Shadow Realms. Shadow Realms put a team of adventurers in a dungeon. There were NPCs, but more importantly there was a dungeon master who the team were playing against. Sadly, it doesn’t really matter because it’s in a figurative trashcan somewhere as the game was canceled earlier this year. For my hands on time with Sword Coast Legends there were five computers setup around a small, rectangular table with little notes on each of them describing a specific class: fighter, rogue, cleric, necromancer, and dungeon master. I promptly chose the rogue, melee DPS is usually my class of choice, while the other players were a little more deliberate with their decisions.
Oddly enough, no one was brave enough to attempt the dungeon master role and it was filled by a representative from n-Space. I suppose most people don’t like playing the bad guy, or they simply don’t like the extra work that it involves. In hindsight though, not picking the dungeon master was actually a good call. Not because the role isn’t interesting, but instead due to the immense amount of complexity that goes into creating a scenario in Sword Coast Legends.
ALL ABOUT THE DM
The thing about Sword Coast Legends is that it’s a typical, old-school RPG. Anyone familiar with Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, or even Dragon Age: Origins (stretching things a bit for the younger crowd), should have a general idea of what the gameplay is like. It’s simply nothing new and not necessarily all that interesting, but it’s a solid formula for a game based around D&D rules. Where the game truly shines, however, is the key role that the dungeon master plays.
With an immense amount of complexity surrounding the dungeon creator, scenarios in Sword Coast Legends aren’t something you just whip up in 5 minutes and call it good. From the demonstration that n-Space put on, it honestly looks like players will have the opportunity to build whatever scenario they can imagine. This isn’t limited to a few text options, NPCs, or evil creatures either. The dungeon master can 100% customize everything in the game from shoulder pads to spell loadouts. It seemed like the only thing the dungeon master couldn’t do was create brand-new spells from scratch.
In a quick overview of the potential that the content generator possess, we were sent on a three-stage journey that began in town, had us investigate a murder in the woods and then battle nasty spiders in a cultist cave. Everything was just a bare template until the dungeon master began adding NPCs, quest triggers, enemies, tile sets, traps, secret doors and anything else you could possibly think of. There’s already an array of items and enemies that are pre-constructed, but players can also modify just about everything to their liking.
PUTTING IT TO THE TEST
So now that the scenario was set, my party headed into town and received an important quest to search for someone that was clearly doing something that got them into trouble. We did have a time constraint, which meant there wasn’t exactly a fountain of lore but there’s absolutely nothing preventing other players from writing novels. When we arrived at the ominous cabin we were quickly ambushed by a number of evil cultists, which were properly dispatched like henchmen ought to be. There was a body inside, covered in lots of blood, and a clue that just happened to send us into my favorite type of dungeon. Of course, it had to be spiders.
As the trusty rogue, I led the way with my improved sense of detection in order to disarm any dangerous traps along the way. The rest of my party still managed to find, and step on, quicte a few of them, but our healer kept the party alive. The first boss we arrived at was a particularly ugly cultist with a deadly array of poison skills. I did my best to pump out the DPS while our healer did his healing thing and our fighter did that tanking thing. After a few minutes, and some deaths, we managed to finish off the cultist leader and headed deeper into the cave.
One quick thing to note about the dungeon master role in Sword Cost Legends is that they can take control of any enemy at any point in the game. That means traditional tank and spank methods aren’t going to be as effective against a real person. Furthermore, the dungeon master can edit the scenario on the fly and even turn friendly NPCs against the party. The entire time they can add additional narration via text or voice chat.
STILL SOME BUGS TO WORK OUT
After we dispatched the cultist leader we had to work our way to the inner depths of the dungeon while fighting off hordes of spiders. Finally, we get to the spider queen (it had some other official title) and she’s this massive, creepy, messy looking creature. Obviously, my first instinct is to start stabbing it. After a few minutes of stabbing we back her into a corner and I try to be sneaky and use my cool backstab ability. Well it didn’t work out as intended. Instead of appearing behind the giant spider and dishing out some much needed DPS, I teleported into the wall and died. I tried to revive myself multiple times with potions and remained dead. Clearly this wasn’t supposed to happen, but it was noted that there might still be a few bugs to clear out before launch.
After my time with Sword Coast Legends it truly feels like a faithful roleplaying experience. Everything about this game screams old-school RPG, and the dungeon creation system finally allows players to act out in game all of the scenarios that they created with the pen and paper D&D. It was unfortunate that we didn’t have more time to try out the other roles available. But I think it’s safe to say those looking for an authentic D&D experience should definitely give Sword Coast Legends a look. It’s currently available for preorder on Steam with a PC release date of September 8, 2015, and the expected console release is Q4 2015.Related: E3, E3 2015, Early Access, Hands On, Steam, Sword Coast Legends