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Sword Coast Legends

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Role-Playing
Developer: n-Space
Release Date: Oct. 20, 2015


PC Preview - 'Sword Coast Legends'

by Adam Pavlacka on May 6, 2015 @ 12:01 a.m. PDT

Set in the lush and vibrant world of the Forgotten Realms, Sword Coast Legends offers an all-new way to enjoy the time-tested magic of playing Dungeons & Dragons as a shared storytelling experience.

Video games and Dungeons & Dragons have a long history together. Over the years, games based on D&D have appeared on nearly every major console from the Intellivision to the Xbox One, with the genres ranging from first-person dungeon crawler to MMO. While many of those games were good in their own right, most overlooked one key aspect of D&D: an active DM, or Dungeon Master, running the campaign for the party. The only game that did this well was 2002's Neverwinter Nights, and even that had some limitations. With Sword Coast Legends, developer n-Space is attempting to bring a full, real-time, DM experience to life. From what we've seen so far, the team seems to be on the right track.

If the name n-Space sounds vaguely familiar, but you can't quite place it, don't worry. The developer has been around since 1994 but up until now has focused on developing titles for other publishers. n-Space's most recent console releases were the 3DS versions of Skylanders: Giants and Skylanders: Swap Force. Sword Coast Legends is the developer's first original title since Geist.

Set in the world of the Forgotten Realms and using the D&D 5th Edition rules, Sword Coast Legends immediately feels familiar to hardcore RPG fans and casual players. The UI is designed around a four-character party and allows for easy access to magic as well as an inventory screen, where you manage each character's equipment. An ever-present minimap sits in the upper right-hand corner to guide you.

Multiple quests can be active at once, and each quest can have multiple conditions that must be met for success. How you approach the quests will be driven by the campaign story and your individual play style. The developers were mum on the possibility of multiple branching paths, but they did indicate that lawful good won't be the only way to play.

The section of the single-player campaign that we were allowed to see is set in the coastal city of Luskan, the City of Sails. Given its location at the edges of both Icewind Dale and the Spine of the World, pretty much anyone has the potential to appear. Getting into Luskan is easier said than done, though, as the city gates were locked, and our party was looking to arrive incognito. This meant a trip through the sewers.

As our party made its way through the sewers, we saw all four party members show off their skills. With a cleric, fighter, rogue and wizard on-hand, the party was well balanced for fighting, looting and finding hidden passages. Other player classes include paladin and ranger, while available races include dwarf, elf, half-elf, halfling and human. One nifty option when playing through the campaign is the pause-and-play feature. Sword Coast Legends can be played in real time, but if you prefer turn-based combat, the option is available.

Once out of the sewers, our party traveled through the slums to a tavern, where a contact was supposed to be waiting. Of course, the contact disappeared under mysterious circumstances, so it is off to the graveyard, where he was last seen.

It's worth noting that even in this small section of the campaign, all of the environment art was distinct. The area in the sewers looked noticeably different than the city slums, even though they shared some common design elements. The same could be said of the graveyard, which featured its own aesthetic but still looked like an element of the city, albeit one on the outer edges.

Inside the graveyard, we ran into a NPC who seemed to know our party. He said he owed a debt to us for sparing his life earlier, so he offered to assist in finding the missing contact. Deeper inside the graveyard, we fought skeletons and zombies before facing off against a large Ogre Zombie. Defeating the Ogre Zombie allowed us to rescue the contact and close out the quest.

That ended the campaign demo, so we switched over to the Dungeon Master mode, which is called Dungeon Crawl. Although the campaign is what most will think of as "the game," it is Dungeon Crawl that holds the most promise for Sword Coast Legends.

Supporting up to four players, plus the DM, Dungeon Crawl looks and feels like a normal campaign mission to the players. There is an environment to adventure through, and there are monsters to fight and treasure to find. The only real difference is that instead of facing off against a pre-programmed AI, players are dealing with a live DM on the other side of the screen.

The DM is nothing more than a magic wisp on the screen, but his powers are (nearly) without limit. Whereas the players have to deal with the fog of war, the DM can see the entire dungeon at all times. This is useful, as it allows the DM to tweak the encounter based on what the players are doing and how they are approaching the dungeon.

D20 die icons allow the DM to set up an encounter. For cautious players, a DM might want to set up an ambush with monsters that don't spawn until a player has crossed a hidden trigger. The DM has full control over where the enemies spawn, allowing for some creative thinking.

In order to ensure balance (and to keep things fun for the players), a DM is limited by "threat" currency. This is earned by engaging the players in encounters and is spent when crafting those same encounters. Each room has a threat limit, putting an upper bound on what enemies can be spawned. By making threat a currency of sorts, DMs are encouraged to continually challenge players without steamrolling them. Balancing threat generation across thousands of potential encounters will probably be the biggest challenge facing the team at n-Space, but if they can get this right, Dungeon Crawl will easily be the main draw of the game.

In addition to spawning monsters, the DM can also micromanage monsters and bosses. With the ability to take direct control of any creature, the DM can fight head-to-head against the players in the dungeon. Maybe you want to be that random zombie that quickly attacks and then runs off to draw players into a trap. Or maybe you want to be one of the bosses that you fought against in the campaign. You can do all of it.

Dungeon Crawl isn't just limited to walking players through a dungeon. No, it also allows you to craft the entire level, so you can design rooms, place traps, set up hidden doors, etc. If you want to spend the time, you can create a full custom campaign in Dungeon Crawl. To ensure that the tools given to players are flexible enough, the n-Space team set an internal goal of re-creating their favorite D&D modules in Dungeon Crawl.

Individual DMs can be rated by players, allowing the community to recognize good DMs and good custom campaigns in Dungeon Crawl.

Getting what looks like a solid RPG in the world of the Forgotten Realms is an exciting prospect in and of itself, but having a full-fledged DM mode in Sword Coast Legends is sure to send D&D groups into a tizzy. Collecting all of the necessary equipment (books, maps, snacks) and gathering a group to play every week can be a time-consuming ordeal, especially if you have kids or other family obligations. Being able to connect online and experience those same custom adventures with the same friends, no matter how far away they might be, promises to be just as engaging — and you won't have to worry about losing a D20 die to the family dog ever again.

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