You run into the most interesting people at E3! Case in point: I had an appointment with N-Space for a game that we’ll be talking about momentarily. While I was waiting for the proceedings to begin, I struck up a conversation with an older gentleman who was also hanging around. We talked about our hometowns, how we liked the show and the conversation eventually turned to Dungeons & Dragons, where I heard about my acquaintance’s campaign and how his party members were desperate to steal his character’s boots. Not long after, the presentation I was waiting for began. The unassuming-looking gent I’d just been talking to went up to the front. This was Sword Coast Legends and my new pal was director Dan Tudge, who’d also led Dragon Age: Origins. Wow.
Enough breathless prose about how I inadvertently met Someone From The Industry, though, let’s talk about the game I went to see. Sword Coast Legends is a coop-focused experience set in the Forgotten Realms using the D&D 5th Edition rules. Being only vaguely familiar with those rules, I can more easily describe the title as “Baldur’s Gate…Sort Of.” It follows a similar real-time-with-pause setup, though there’s more of a focus on abilities with cooldowns than you might expect.
The most significant innovation in Sword Coast Legends is the way the cooperative multiplayer is set up. This is a five-player game: four of those players are an adventuring party, leading customized heroes through dungeons and going on quests, that sort of thing. The last player, though, is the DM, much like a tabletop game. The DM has significant power over the proceedings of the campaign; he can spawn and buff monsters, for instance, as well as directly take control of the big bosses of the campaign in order to battle the adventurers directly. Both sides of the table are rewarded for skilled play, so what we’ve got is a sort of coop/competitive game happening simultaneously.
My hands-on experience offered a birds-eye view at the various systems in play in Sword Coast Legends. The campaign we were going to play through wasn’t quite complete, for instance, so one of the developers had a chance to demonstrate the campaign creation options available. These appear to be a little simplified compared to something you might see in Neverwinter Nights or such, focusing largely on placing objects, manipulating NPCs and basic scripting. Still, it’s enough to throw together something on the fly while also allowing for more complex setups. There looked to be a fairly sizable amount of content available in the creator, and DMs are able to customize their NPCs directly, which means that you can get your big baddies just to your liking before controlling them directly against the hapless players.
On the players’ side, the game feels like a fairly standard Baldur’s Gate-styled RPG. I controlled the Cleric, meaning I was largely in charge of keeping the party healthy. One slight irritation was the fact that the Cleric’s spells were all on cooldowns and those tended to be fairly long; if you’re used to MOBAs, for instance, it’s going to feel like an eternity between spellcasts. Aside from that, though, the combat feels snappy and got my attention. I’d certainly be interested making a character of my own and giving them a spin instead of just using premades.
The players-versus-DM mechanic that we’re all used to from our time playing tabletop games certainly seemed alive and well in Sword Coast Legends. While I didn’t have enough time with the game to get a detailed view of how things work, what I saw – in a closed room on a very nice gaming rig with plenty of refreshments close at hand – was enjoyable enough. Without any nasty surprises, I think I’d be interested in giving the final game a shot once it’s available in September.