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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2001

    Default Sword Coast Legends Head Start Review

    Sword Coast Legends

    SCL is the latest D&D CRPG to hit the scene. The game offers a single or multiplayer game play in an official campaign, random dungeon crawls, and a toolset for players to create their own adventures.

    The last two weekends have been limited preview weekends for those who pre-ordered the game, allowing the players to check out the random dungeon crawls and the module building toolset. As the developers kept the official campaign under wraps this review will focus on the basic game play and the toolset.

    If you have played any D&D CRPGs from Baldur's Gate to Neverwinter Nights 2 then you will find SCL familiar. It has the same top down view, click to move, pseudo real time combat (with configurable pausing for a pseudo turn based mode), and spells and abilities on a button bar as its predecessors.

    SCL is loosely based on D&D 5th edition; the canonical skill and spell system was dropped in favour of an ability tree system where the player picks skills, proficiencies, and spells from a list governed by their character class. If someone is looking for a close and accurate interpretation of the 5e rules then they will be disappointed.

    The artwork is quite good in general; the landscapes and underground maps are attractive and the characters are good given the limitations of a top down view game. That kind of view doesn't allow seeing much detail, which means the developers wasted a lot of time and resources on facial customization. It doesn't matter if you got the perfect sneering expression for your character if the limitations on cameral placement mean no one will ever get a close up view of your characters face.

    The random dungeon runs easy and quick to set up if all you want is to crunch monsters and look for loot; you can choose what kind of monsters you will fight and the dungeon difficulty, tileset, size, and complexity.

    SCL also offers a toolset for designing custom adventures. The developers have worked hard to make this toolset accessible and easy to use, it is nothing like the Aurora toolset from NWN. There is good and bad to this. On one hand it is easy to set up simple adventures with basic quests to follow, on the other hand it is impossible to set up an adventure that offers the same kind of complexity and depth people are used to from single player games like Baldur's Gate. The first thing would be DMs will realize after playing the SCL official campaign and deciding to create their own adventure is that they will not be able to do most of the things featured in the official campaign.

    The long shadow of NWN falls on the SCL toolset and in general this does not produce a favourable view. Dungeon maps are randomly generated, and while they are good randomly generated maps you will not be able to realize your personal vision of the perfect haunted crypt. Exterior maps are basically static with some minor random variations. There is no dialogue editor, the only way to communicate is through short text paragraphs when giving, updating, or completing a quest. There is no scripting of any sort or any events or triggers beyond the random encounters. While the marketing blather promised customizable monsters all you can do in most cases is rename them, add abilities, or change the colour of their pants or skin. Map locations are limited to one entry point and one exit point. A designer cannot create custom magic items and cannot award specific magic items, all they can do is choose the category of weapon, armour, or trinket for a quest reward. Items on the map, other than doors, offer no interaction; there are no puzzles or levers or switches for the player to use or solve. In short, the toolset is a shallow and limited application despite the answers provided by the developers in online Q&As and the rather dishonest and inaccurate promises made in reviews linked on the official game website.

    The game uses a rather unsatisfactory level scaling mechanism for monsters, you can place either scrawny little goblins or nasty demons down and it will scale them to a first level or 20th level party. This dilutes the impact of high level monsters by reducing all encounters to something you can probably handle and removes any sense of having to build up your power to be able to assault some challenging foe.

    The primary focus of SCL multiplayer is intended to be the Live DM mode where the DM can guide the adventure, active and possess NPCs to talk to the players, spawn enemies on the fly. Clearly the developers thought this would be the big draw for the game but in fact over the head start weekends most people preferred to design and/or play in autopilot modules that did not require a live DM on hand (similar to playing a normal single player game). This matches the experience of NWN, live DM games were fun and popular but not the dominant mode of play, most people preferred to play in scripted games that could be run any time without a DM present.

    The developers of SCL are very concerned about game balance and limiting the impact of a DM on the rest of the game universe. Characters in SCL are mobile, they can jump from module to module retaining all items and experience, so the developers limit access to magic items and rewards to minimize the munchkin factor. They don't want a character to break a module due to non-standard accumulated advantages from other modules. Despite this goal, there are no controls available to a DM such as limited access to a module based on character level, items, or such. In fact a DM has no way to look at an incoming characters stats or items. All this results in a DM feeling the heavy hand of the developers on their neck, limiting their creativity and control. In many ways the slogan of the game should be "Play SCL the way we want you to play, not the way you want to play."

    All that said the game is fun to play and if you are a toolset junkie then it offers an outlet that hasn't been available since NWN faded into obscurity. The developers are promising toolset improvements such as custom "tile by tile" map creation and a proper dialogue editor. Other improvement suggestions are piling up in the official forums that may or may not be implemented. There is the potential for the toolset to become more versatile and complex but the developers are committed to keeping it easy to use which will limit how far they can go in that direction.

    The success of the game will rest on the quality of the official campaign and the ability of the community to produce content and maintain interest in the game between official expansions and DLC releases.
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  2. #2

    Default Re: Sword Coast Legends Head Start Review

    Excellent write-up

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2003

    Default Re: Sword Coast Legends Head Start Review

    Thanks for that Alex. No branching dialogue and only one entry and exit to a dungeon mean that the editor is completely pointless in my book. It just becomes a game of let's throw my friends against drow instead of orcs this time.
    "Doubt is not an agreeable condition, but certainty is an absurd one." ~ Voltaire

  4. #4

    Default Re: Sword Coast Legends Head Start Review

    Thanks for the info dump Alex. You covered everything I wanted to know. May pick it up when it's on sale at 50+% off.
    "The argument that “people now have more freedom than ever” is based on the fact that we are allowed to do almost anything we please as long as it has no practical consequences."

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