Sunday, September 25, 2016
Sword Coast Legends (Xbox One) Review
Sword Coast Legends aims to bring an authentic Dungeons & Dragons experience to the consoles, the likes of which have not been done before. While the RPG portion of the game does that in some ways, it also has a DM (dungeon master) mode to try and add a truly unique multiplayer experience.
The game starts off with some backstory to understand the basics of what is going on. Depending on how much lore you want, this is either a good or a bad thing. Personally, I like that it gives me the basics and gets me into the game. Anything else is best presented as dialogue, books or glossaries in the game itself. After that, you get to make your own character! And boy, is it an involved process.
There are a ton of options...it's almost daunting. In fact, it probably is scary to some players. You can set normal things, like the appearance of the character and their race. Each race has different bonuses, so it can help to match a race to a particular class. You also set your alignment (chaotic good, lawful neutral, etc.) and a backstory for your character. This also gives a character a small bonus, so it's best to at least read what each one does to decide how it affects your created champion. Thankfully you can scroll back and change these, which I had to do after seeing what stats my class actually needed instead of what I thought they did.
Afterwards, you move on to choose starting skills for the character. All of the class' possible trees are available to look at, with many, many skills to check out. As if the time spent on the character themselves wasn't enough, you can spend just as long looking through the myriad of abilities they can get, and to start and plan your character. Each ability costs a certain amount of points which you will get from leveling up. Overall it was a lengthy process to create my character, which I do like. Two hours well spent.
I'd recommend playing the short tutorial. The controls of the game are laid out fairly well, but they do take some getting used to, as there are a lot of functions crammed into the controller's buttons. Character abilities are mapped to the face buttons and the triggers will toggle the sets. Abilities are on a cooldown instead of MP-based, which is great. The "boxes" button (select for you awesome old schoolers) pauses and unpauses the action (very useful) and the "wavy lines" (start) is the menu, inventory, etc. Left and right stick are movement and the camera as you would expect. Up and down on the d-pad switch which character you control, while left and right change your formation. Strangely, the left bumper is used to switch targets, which took a lot of getting used to.
Speaking of tutorials, they do have many of them, but they also have a massive drawback. They appear on the screen whenever you do something new that would require them, but they are only displayed for so long. There's an icon on the bottom of each pop-up (I think it's an outline of a D20) that counts down. When it reaches the end, the tutorial disappears, regardless of if you have read it. This might not bother me but some of the pop ups have a lot of text, and it would be nigh impossible to read and understand it all before it disappears. I didn't see an option to make them stay until I press a button, which would have been best for such a complicated and involved game.
The game is an isometric view, and combat is in real time. As mentioned before, you can pause the game to select your skills and targets. This is highly recommended, and there is actually customizable settings for this. You can set the game to automatically pause at the start of combat, after a certain number of turns, and even if someone drops below a certain HP threshold. When the game is paused, you can change characters, pick what ability to do, and switch targets. Combat can go by pretty fast, so pausing every so often helps a lot, but it's too slow to do it every turn. It's necessary to try and find the best balance for yourself, because your party can die really quickly, even on the easiest setting. If you don't pay attention, or have it stop every so often that you can make strategic adjustments, you'll wipe a lot. I would expect this kind of necessity on the hard setting and maybe sometimes on normal, but I think it's a bit too much to need it on easy.
True to any worthwhile dungeon diving, there are hidden traps and doorways in the game. To find them, you have a party member enter "sneak mode". You move slower, but there is a ring around your character where they can detect hidden things. This is usually best left to a rogue, since they have the best chance to find and then disable traps. Or, you can just trigger them by accidentally running across them, which is what ended up happening to me most of the time. Oops.
The game contains the original Sword Coast Legends story, but also the Rage of Demons expansion. These are both of the story modes. Next is Dungeon Crawl, which you can set to make a small dungeon to play by yourself or with others online. You can set the area, goal of the quest, enemy types, number of floors and even what kind of reward you get at the end. Unfortunately, it is really hard to do these dungeon crawls by yourself, since I didn't find a way to bring your AI partners with you, only online friends and other people.
Similar to the dungeon crawl, the Dungeon Master (DM) mode lets you set the same options, but you can also play as the Dungeon Master. As the DM, you can place new enemies for others to fight. Placing them takes "threat", which builds up as the other players defeat enemies. It is decreased when they die, since the goal of the game is to make it fun, not constantly kill the others. I think this makes it the first game to actually reward people for making a multiplayer game fun instead of just being a jerk to others. However, this is what the game tells me about DM mode. Since you set up all the options when you do it, plus have to constantly place enemies when you have threat, you sadly can't set up a dungeon ahead of time and play it yourself. I wasn't able to try this mode out, since none of my friends have the game, and I didn't have anyone join mine when I had it up. I could only play around with the settings, not actually have people run though my creation.
When I first started the story mode, I intended to set the game to normal. However, during this selection, easy was the only setting that had no friendly fire. Since friendly fire is a huge annoyance and pet peeve of mine, I was stuck with the easy setting. It would be nice if that were a separate setting. It's probably for the best that I did have it on easy, since you can still get wiped out easily by big groups. There are many different races, classes and skills to try out, so replay value is high. There is also a guild chest that you can use to share loot with all of your other characters. As fun as achievements can be, the ones in Sword Coast are on the ridiculous side. There's one for beating the game as every race and class, which would take a long time. It's not one I would have the time to get.
Sword Coast Legends is pretty fun once I got into the groove of playing it, but I would like it to be more accessible. It has long load times, and I've had the game crash on me and my wife a couple of times, too. You also only have one save for your character's story mode and it is possible to get stuck if you aren't careful. It's a good game for hardcore Dungeons & Dragons fans, but ends up being pretty average for other RPG players. If you have any interest or knowledge of D&D, it's worth trying out.
Lots of options when creating characters gives many reasons to play around with character builds. Multiple ways to solve quests.
The sheer plethora of options might scare away casual players. Even on easy the combat can be very unforgiving. Some of the achievements are ridiculously long.
No druid class :(
(Review code for Sword Coast Legends was provided by the publisher)