Over the past few years there has been a resurgence in isometric cRPGs. Divinity Original Sin, and Pillars of Eternity paid homage to the classic Dungeons & Dragons games from Black Isle such as Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment. The recent success of Divinty and PoE should have paved the way for Sword Coast Legends to be a resounding success and in the process place D&D squarely back in the forefront of cRPGs. The only problem with that dream scenario is SCL has come up a little short.
It is a double edged sword working on a well-known IP and when it comes to well-known IPs Dungeons & Dragons is one of the biggest there is. It is an impossible task to create a true to rules D&D experience as a computer game straight from the table top books. The best a developer can hope to do is boil down the essence of what makes D&D special and try and transfer that to the computer.
When it comes to the setting N-Space was able to make that conversion a reality. Their inclusion of subtle jokes that make reference to the overall Forgotten Realms setting helps prove that point. For those that aren’t big fans of D&D or the Forgotten Realms they just may come off as corny characters. For those in the know these are bits of lore in a meta way that help pull the whole experience together for you.
Things start to get hazy though when it comes to character progression. D&D has always had an interesting spell system and never one that worked very well as a computer game system without a lot of finessing. Fifth Edition has made it a littler easier with the use of cantrips; however, and the developers take full use of that in Sword Coast Legends. As far as the way the rest of the skills progress, they have been boiled down to work a lot like other RPGs that don’t have the D&D name associated with it. This is the other side of that sword. If a non D&D game had a skill system like this very few if any would complain. I consider this to be a needed change for the greater good.
Aesthetically Sword Coast Legends is run of the mill at best. The characters models during creation looked quite nice but once you were in game you could never zoom in close enough to them to appreciate any of their finer details. The camera does rotate a full 360 degrees and had some tilt but having that extra bit of zoom could have added that extra bit a flair it really needs to grab you and pull you in.
The story is interesting, if not inspired, and has a few truly memorable moments. It also ties into the overall D&D Rage of Demons season that is currently happening across the entire D&D suite of products (minis, table top, Neverwinter, etc). The characters feel lacking though and my personal favorite ended up making his swan song in the first act. The voice acting is also a point of contention. Some characters are done well and others are not. Then again that could be because the characters weren’t that well developed to begin with. Speaking of underdeveloped characters, the protagonist throughout the whole thing, you, feels a bit underdeveloped itself. A lot of the “choices” you’ll make in the adventure don’t seem to have any real consequences. In fact most of the time you’ll still end up having to pick the same final answer through a dialogue tree regardless of which route you take. You’d think killing a bunch of people that probably didn’t have to die would have a profound effect on you. Turns out not so much.
Another place where SCL feels lacking is in the combat. There is room for strategic combat in cRPGs and the pause feature in the game is a nice touch if the rest of the combat could pick up the pace. However the overall combat experience just ends up feeling slow and sluggish. This has been pointed at as having to deal with the cool downs on abilities and the rounds that characters take in combat. Regardless it doesn’t have the crispness that is found in games such as Pillars of Eternity. It just feels like the characters are constantly fighting in mud.
What could have been one of the greatest features to this game turns out to be one of its biggest weaknesses, the DM Mode. You can set triggers for quests, create dialogue for characters, set flavor text for items, and choose what type of monsters you would like in certain areas but you lack the tools to really build those dungeons. I think this will end up curtailing the development of user generated content that so many of us were hoping for. Live action DM mode is still a lot of fun though. The ability to change difficulties of encounters on the fly, add a few more monsters in, give a unique monster a special ability or even to take over and play as the monster. The fact that you can gain DM loot and gain a DM rating also is a plus. Overall though the inability to build those truly custom campaigns will prevent most DMs from spending more than a few hours with these tools.
Sword Coast Legends had the table set for it. The huddled masses had shown their willingness to gobble up isometric cRPGs with abandon. The problem is this holiday season in the consumer should probably stick to gobbling up Turkey instead.
Gameplay: 7 Combat felt sluggish. The pause feature was welcome but felt largely unnecessary. Quests were linear and lacked diversity.
Visuals and Sound: 6 The 360 rotation on the camera is a nice feature. The overall graphics didn’t do it for me. The characters in game felt lacking compared to the way they looked in the creator. The camera scrolling in more might have helped.
Polish: 7 The developers kept this one in the oven a bit longer than originally planned to add some polish and kill some bugs. It’s a shame they couldn’t get do more work on the DM mode to make it a real creative tool.
Longevity: 7 The main campaign should last you about 30 hours but with no real freedom of choice a single play through will suffice. User generated content could supplement what the developers churn out for DLC but the quality of that is dubious.
Value: 7 $39.99 on steam. Pretty middle of the pack on pricing.