If you trace the lineage of every single RPG ever released, especially fantasy games, they will all lead back to Dungeons & Dragons at some point. And the lineage goes far beyond that of just the tabletop origins, as D&D has firmly established itself as a legend in the video game space as well. Games like Baldur’s Gate, Planescape Torment, and Temple of Elemental Evil are some of the best RPGs ever made and all of them are rooted in D&D lore and systems. Now with the upcoming release of Sword Coast Legends, n-Space and and Digital Extremes are looking to capture that magic once again, but this time, they’ve created some brand new elements to enjoy.
This year was my first E3 and my very first appointment of Tuesday at the moment the show officially opened, was a press-exclusive hands-on preview of Sword Coast Legends. I can firmly say that this game has set the tone of E3 for me and was a wonderful way to kick off the expo. Four other members of the press and I gathered around a group of computers – much like people would at the table for the pen and paper experience – to embark on our adventure together.
Each of us had a different character to play and one person was assigned to the role of Dungeon Master. For the first half of the session, members from the development team took us through the campaign creation process. Our goal was to find out what happened to an NPC that hasn’t been heard from in a while. Simple enough, right?
They pulled up an editing menu and loaded a premade map of a town. From there, they placed NPCs around, gave them dialogue, created a merchant with a merchant’s wagon, gave him potions to sell, and created the quest NPC. Once speaking to her, we would be sent off to an abandoned shack in the middle of the forest. The forest was currently set to day time, so in order to make it a bit spookier, they switched it all to night time and created a heavy lightning storm. The mood immediately shifted.
The impressive part of all this is just how quickly it was accomplished. Granted, they had pre-written all of the quest dialogue and descriptions, but all of the other tweaks and placements were happening on the fly. Switching from day to night was a matter of clicking an option in a dropdown menu. Turning the rain on was equally as simple. It happened in a matter of seconds, without loading screens, really showing how powerful the campaign creation system can be.
Once all of those areas were completed, the development team randomly created a dungeon using one of the tilesets then started placing enemies and traps. Overall, the entire process from start to finish (minus planning and writing) took about 20 minutes. Not too bad considering how detailed the areas are and how customizable each facet is.
My station was equipped with a dwarf rogue, ready to sneak around and lay down the pain from the shadows. Abilities ranged from AoE cone attacks, the ability to hide, the ability to disengage from combat, and many others. Our party was rounded out by a fighter, healer, and mage. The final members of the press took the role of the DM for our dungeon.
We were dropped into the dungeon and the gameplay was immediately familiar. I clicked spaces in front of me to move, rotated my camera with the right mouse button, and used WASD to shift the camera around the environment. Abilities were mapped to my numbered keys and the action was fast and intense. Everything reminded me of a slightly more fast paced version of Baldur’s Gate, or more recently, Pillars of Eternity. The biggest difference is that in multiplayer, there is no pausing for combat – that’s only reserved for the single player campaign, for obvious reasons.
During the experience, I could see the Dungeon Master’s wisp icon fluttering around each room, which meant he was actively looking and potentially tinkering with the room we were inside. In real time, while we are playing, the DM could adjust encounters, add or remove enemies and traps, and perform a variety of other tasks as well. It allows for the type of on-the-fly tweaking and customization that you’d typically only expect to see from a proper tabletop game of D&D.
Ever since Sword Coast Legends was first announced, this is the mode I’ve been the most excited about. We know the single player campaign will be, at worst, solid and entertaining. The big question mark has always been the innovative new Dungeon Master mode and it looks like it very well may live up to the hype.