Platforms: Xbox One (Reviewed), PS4, PC
As much as video game RPGs and their tabletop cousins have in common, there are many aspects of the pen and paper game that the digital version has simply never been able to recreate. Sword Coast Legends attempts to bridge that gap, not simply but giving you a Dungeons & Dragons-style campaign to play through, but by giving you the tools to create your own adventures. While the game doesn’t recreate the experience perfectly it does give you an expansive tool set for creating RPG battles linked together in a campaign framework.
Dungeon Crawl for fun and profit
While Dungeons & Dragons was the original dungeon crawler, many other games, like Diablo and Dragon Age, have picked up that mantle and done more with it in video games than D&D has. For that reason the single-player campaign in Sword Coast Legends may feel more than a little like you’re played this game before.
In character creation most of the races and classes will feel very familiar to players of nearly any fantasy game, but for those familiar with 5th edition D&D, which Legends is based on, too much is missing. Several of the standard character races are not available. For some reason neither Bard nor Druid are available classes either. This is frustrating because the parts that are missing are the parts that would help differentiate the game from others like it. There’s also the addition of non-D&D variations, like making your elf a “moon elf” or “sun elf” -- these make sense in the game’s campaign but aren’t anywhere in the core Player’s Handbook.
Each character has multiple areas to spend skill points, and many of these also line up with some of the character archetypes in the tabletop version as well. Several of the pen and paper game's new character backgrounds also make an appearance.
The in-game campaign can be played either single player or in a co-op group of four. If your life is lacking for a dungeon crawler, this one will serve you well and give you and your friends several hours of enjoyment. It has the requisite random dungeons and miscellaneous overworld areas to explore, quests to find, and bad guys to kill. You likely won’t remember the single player once it’s over, though the game promises additional free DLC in the future. The story mode could have been okay, however, if the other half of the game was more complete.
Be The DM, Kill Your Friends
The single player, while fun enough, is forgettable. On the other side of the coin the Dungeon Master mode, which has serious potential but misses the mark in a big way.
There are really two aspects to what makes a D&D game: combat and role playing. Sword Coast Legends' DM Mode focuses on the former to the near total exclusion of the later. You can create a dungeon full of monsters for a party to fight, you can control the individual hit points of every monster and dictate what loot they might drop. What you can’t do is create an NPC that your players can have a meaningful conversation with in order to gain information. While the game allows for VOIP, so that the DM can talk the party through any non-combat sections as they normally would if this were a tabletop game, it would have be nice to see some attempt at making this a part of the video game.
DM Mode is full of these shortfalls. Dungeons are simply given a set of parameters and then are randomly generated. While the ability to create dungeons from scratch might be a little much for many players, it would certainly have been useful for many DMs. Overworld areas are even more limited, as you only have a couple of prerendered screens to choose from for each environment type. Cities add the ability to go into a few buildings, but you can’t control how many buildings are available or where they’re located. Making a town with a bustling main street is essentially impossible.
One added feature that does give some life to the game is the ability to upload created campaigns for others to play. This means that even if you’re not the type to spend a lot of time creating in the game, you can still access additional gameplay through the creations of others. You and your friends can play through these modules as a co-op dungeon crawl or with a DM. When playing through a player-created module DMs have the ability to modify the game on the fly, so if high-level characters are tearing through the existing enemies too easily you can add more or make them tougher.
With plans for regular updates, Sword Coast Legends may evolve into the RPG creation tool it wants to be, but it simply is not there right now. There is a lot to be experienced in the game right now, but the complete game is simply not as great as the sum of its parts. If you’re looking for the video game equivalent to a classic Dungeons & Dragons game this may be as close as we’ve ever come, but we’re still not there yet.