There’s no denying that the Baldur’s Gate series is foundational in the evolution of single-player RPGs. The gameplay in Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn, along with their expansions, inspired a generation of isometric RPGs, including genre favorites Planescape: Torment and the Icewind Dale series. Thematically, these games also gave rise to spiritual successors Neverwinter Nights and pretty much every Bioware title thereafter, along with a number of indie games that have sought to recreate the zeitgeist around the original releases.
More recently, we’ve seen a resurgence of isometric single-player RPGs, which correlates to a larger trend of revisiting older video games and genres in a democratized, downloadable, and Kickstartable landscape (platformers, shmups, adventure games, and HD remakes come to mind). We’ve got new entries to the isometric RPG genre based on older settings or games such as Shadowrun Returns, Divinity: Original Sin, and Wasteland 2, as well as original remakes in the enhanced editions of Baldur’s Gate, Baldur’s Gate II, and Icewind Dale. We’ve also got new ventures by veteran developers like Obsidian with their upcoming Pillars of Eternity.
All of these games bring something special to the RPG table in terms of gameplay, story, and in the case of remakes, inspirational nostalgia. Still, one title is starkly missing from the lineup: a true-to-type isometric Dungeons & Dragons-based successor to the lineage represented by Baldur’s Gate, Planescape: Torment, and Icewind Dale. Neverwinter Nights was groundbreaking in its own right, and Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, Dragonshard (anyone else remember that game?!), Dungeons & Dragons Online, and Neverwinter are all fun within their own genres, but none have attempted to take the same formula of isometric visuals and character-driven storytelling and shoehorn them into an Infinity Engine type of gameplay.
n-Space and Digital Extremes’ Sword Coast Legends is the first game in a good long while to utilize the Forgotten Realms campaign setting to develop a modern isometric RPG. I took a look at it last week at GDC 2015, and although it’s not yet playable, the game does look like it’s heavily taking cues from its predecessors. Its graphics certainly pay homage to Infinity, and the single-player campaign appears to be story- and character-driven in the ways that you’d expect from a Baldur’s Gate spiritual successor. Equally important, it’s based on the recently released 5th Edition of D&D, which could provide for a fresh outlook on gameplay.
Additionally, Sword Coast Legends aims to offer a feature that has been sorely missing from single- and multiplayer RPGs: an accessible and synchronous DM mode. Many games have attempted to implement a comprehensive user-generated content system, to varying degrees of success, but none have quite hit the sweet spot of feature richness and ease of use. Furthermore, none have yet made it possible to easily run a real-time, D&D-based campaign with multiple players over the internets (my buddies and I have been waiting on a fully-featured solution for this for years). It’s not clear yet that Sword Coast Legends’ DM mode will check all of these boxes adroitly, but we do at least know that the game will support the ability to create adventures for others to play as well as synchronous DMing, as well as a DM rating system and full-fledged campaigns (see my preview for more).
Will Sword Coast Legends attain the mantle of best new Dungeons & Dragons RPG? We’ll have to wait until the game’s release later this year to answer that question. But as a fan of single-player RPGs, Forgotten Realms, 5th Edition D&D, and user-generated content, I’m excited to see what n-Space and Digital Extremes do with it.