My glasses were rose-colored for Sword Coast Legends, a game that has been heralded as the spiritual successor to Neverwinter Nights (or a Neverwinter Nights for the high-speed Internet age). The press release also states that it’s been designed to simulate the tabletop Dungeons & Dragons experience, allowing a fully-immersive Dungeon Master role where the DM could pull any strings they wished with the ease and freedom that a Cheeto-and-dice littered tabletop session could afford. This struck me at first as bit of an overzealous claim. After all, the very core of a pen-and-paper RPG experience is the back and forth between players, sewing an imaginary tapestry that only a skilled DM can unfold in just the right ways. Surely this corporeal experience couldn’t be truly translated to the digital realm. As right as I was, I also turned out to be half wrong.
I’ll be frank: Sword Coast Legends is not a tabletop D&D emulator. That really can’t be done in a video game anyway because once you add graphics, sound, and the rest of it you lose the myriad of possibilities the mind once was tasked to fill in. However, as much as Sword Coast Legends is not the digital equivalent to a Friday night with your campaign group, it is a compelling computer RPG with a DM toolset that allows for a heck of a lot of fun. In that way it really is today’s Neverwinter Nights, and then some.
As soon as I got my review copy, I sat down with the game and immediately rolled a rogue as I always do when experiencing a new RPG in the vein of D&D. I saw all the expected options for him: stats, alignment, skills, and so on. Near the end of the character creation process there was a spot to fill in his personality and I went wild. I love when games do this, the other one I play that springs to mind being the MMORPG The Secret World. After I felt his story and character had been sufficiently painted, I began the game. I was so elated and felt like I did when I first began Baldur’s Gate. The story begins in a dream sequence where your companions are being attacked. This gives the player a few tutorials on how to equip gear and how the dungeons will play out. All went well and before long I was out of the dream with the gear, gold, and experience points I had collected in the dream, like something out of A Nightmare on Elm Street.
My first issue with the game came when I had completed a few minor sidequests. It became apparent that the missions I had completed, save but one that involved a bit of thought, were the same quests I’d seen in every other cRPG since before Betrayal at Krondor. Go here, get this. Go there, kill these. Talk to Mr. A, go tell Mr. B what A said. Rinse, wash, repeat. I was a little disappointed by this at first but then I sat back and tried to imagine what kind of quests I’d want, ideally, if I could create my own. But then I realized that these imagined quests were also just carbon copies of what I’d been seeing in the game and that I had been having a lot of fun.
These early criticisms aside, I was having a complete blast on the Sword Coast and I felt like I was there. I was immersed. Even though the quests I was completing weren’t fresh or new by any stretch of the imagination, I was still enjoying them in a way I hadn’t enjoyed an RPG in a long time. Having personally experienced more than a few adventures in Faerûn (the setting for D&D’s Forgotten Realms world), I was seeing the familiar with a fresh coat of paint. It was tense and glorious.
For a while my critical eye was too busy having fun to take in the small nuances that might have soured my time on The Sword Coast, but eventually a small crack began to form in the dam of my exuberance. To frame this I will first say that I’ve not played current D&D; my campaigns have been firmly in the world of the 3.5 rules. It seemed odd to me that I was finding so much high-quality gear, and gear that sold for extremely high prices. At first I thought the gear I was finding was for a party member yet to appear but with this phantom member’s absence I was ready to sell and sell I did at great profit. I don’t remember gold being so plentiful for a level 6 character before. Once again, I chalked this up to this being a video game and needing to keep the pace of such, so onwards I went, ignoring the water leaking through the dam.
Then I noticed that I wasn’t dying, or coming anywhere close. At first I thought that I must just be a badass at this but no, unfortunately. I had been gathering healer’s kits, items capable of reviving dead comrades, at an alarming rate. So much so that I didn’t have to be worried about seeing any “game over” screens any time soon. In fact, I have yet to see such a screen and I’ve finished the main campaign on Normal difficulty. My toes were beginning to squeak in my boots from all the water loosed by my quickly falling diversion dike.
The last straw was when I went back in to look at my character’s personality that I had gone crazy with back when I first rolled him into being, but now it was locked. I couldn’t edit it or add to it in any way. Now, if there is a way to do this then clearly I’m missing something. If there isn’t a way to do this, and if anyone involved in the game is reading this, please update this in a patch to allow for players to customize this facet after rolling. This is a game where you can play one character in multiple campaign settings both single player and multiplayer. It would be super cool to be able to write in my single player experiences to show what he’s been through when I’m playing a player-made campaign.
I had a blast by myself on The Sword Coast in single player mode. I took off my boots, wrung out my wet socks and hung them to dry over my amazing analogy fireplace.
Next, a friend and I decided to rock out some multiplayer together to see how much it could improve the already solid game play. What we found was a very simplified array of options from quickly running through a dungeon to creating our own campaign. I’m not one for complicated menus clogging up game play. After all, the idea of muliplayer is often to just jump in and play, not set up a thousand different settings before you get to the good stuff (i.e. loot and violence) but in this particular case I feel like the complex tools of Neverwinter Nights should at least be an option. This is a sub-genre that thrives on fully painting a world with as few limits to your imagination as there can possibly be. I appreciate the streamlined (what many PC gamers would call “consolized”) approach to player-made content, but I feel like the box should be able to open for those inclined to do so.
Luckily, this has been a common complaint and was heard by developer n-Space’s president and Sword Coast Legends‘ director Dan Tudge who posted the good news that next month we’ll be seeing full mod support for the game, allowing the most creative of players to go hog-wild crafting their own campaigns to the fullest. This will allow people like myself to see other’s work while still letting me to create simple multiplayer experiences.
Overall, I had and am continuing to have a fantastic time in Sword Coast Legends and look forward to the game’s future, with the constant stream of player-made content every day, which will no doubt get even richer with the full support of mods in December. With the lush graphics, extremely well-implemented atmosphere from people who clearly have a passion for D&D, the plethora of options for user content, and only the small things really being an issue, I can easily give Sword Coast Legends a 4 star out of 5 rating and recommend it to anyone willing to tint their rose-colored specs to a different shade.