Platforms: PC, Mac (PS4 and Xbox One version coming 2016)
We played on: PC
Despite Dungeons and Dragons‘ recent renaissance, we’ve yet to receive a proper, officially licensed D&D video game since Neverwinter Nights 2 in 2006. The ’80s, ’90s, and early 2000s were replete with fantastic D&D-style role-playing games that helped define the genre in video games. So, developer N-Space had a lot to live up to with Sword Coast Legends. Though it had high potential, the current offering is a disappointing example of oversimplification.
Sword Coast Legends’ main selling point is the ability for one player to act as a live Dungeon Master. The Dungeon Master runs randomized dungeon modules or a custom-created campaign for up to four players. It’s an intriguing concept. It’s frankly astonishing that we haven’t seen a D&D game attempt before.
The execution is a mixed bag. Creating your own dungeons is a simple series of menu options. You pick the size, density, tileset, and monster layouts. Then the dungeon is randomly generated and voila! Instant dungeon crawl.
Except, you aren’t really making your own dungeon. The game is. You’re just working with the limited options at your disposal. This concept streamlines the entire Dungeon Master experience. But it hinders your options at every turn.
Running a game from the Dungeon Master perspective is interesting. It affords some neat options, like speaking through NPCs and changing foes to friends and back again. It’s mostly an exercise in being an evil overlord and antagonist, spawning new monsters and thwarting your players. The Dungeon Master has a threat level that increases as the players do well. You can spend it to make their journey through ooze-infested sewers or spider-filled caves that much hairier.
The entire structure is streamlined to get you hacking and slashing as quickly as possible. Those looking for a more story-driven atmosphere will be at the mercy of extremely talented Dungeon Masters or extraordinary user-created campaigns. Though the gamepla utilizes official D&D Forgotten Realms classes, races, monsters, and setting, it feels a lot more generic. This is thanks to extremely simplified ability trees and cooldown-based spells and powers.
To make matters worse, every time my friends and I played, both as Dungeon Master and as cooperative players, we experienced a crippling amount of lag and varying performance issues that threatened to derail the entire experience. Because the game’s biggest selling point is online play, connection issues are inexcusable.
Sword Coast Legends does include a single-player campaign. It’s far more than an afterthought. It’s actually a fantastic, well-written, lengthy adventure that feels like a solid D&D campaign. All the major NPCs and fellow party members are fully voiced. Each area is built to impressive detail—making the limited editor options for creating your own content all the more frustrating.
Sword Coast Legends has been rated T for Teen by the ESRB for Violence, Blood, Mild Language, and Use of Alcohol. It’s the typical warfare you’d see in a PG-13 fantasy-action film like The Hobbit. Online interactions are obviously not rated.
It’s odd that the best part of Sword Coast Legends is the single-player campaign. By trying to streamline the editor they limited options like the ability to craft your own dungeon tile-by-tile or handle in-game loot as the DM. Playing other users’ content can be a lot of fun, but constant connectivity issues sour the entire experience. I still have hope that given enough post-game support and strong user-made content, Sword Coast Legends could blossom into the online D&D experience we’ve been waiting for. For now, I’m still waiting.