Review: Sword Coast Legends

I don’t normally get caught up in hype. I may get excited when it comes to upcoming games, but it’s usually based on my own opinion of whether or not it looks interesting, not communal buzz or marketing.

My party meeting Soronil Noonshadow in Sword Coast LegendsI don’t often get caught up in hype, but when I do, I usually regret it, and that’s true of Sword Coast Legends.

That’s not to say it’s a bad game. But I could probably have found a better use for the money I spent on it.

The game:

For those unaware,  Sword Coast Legends is meant as a throwback to classic CRPGs, taking place in Dungeons and Dragons’ omnipresent Forgotten Realms setting. A lot of its hype in the gaming community came from its dungeon master mode and player content creation tools, but this review will mainly focus on its story mode and core mechanics, for reasons I will get to in a bit.

Sword Coast Legends is pretty much what you’d expect from an old school-inspired RPG… which mostly means it has really crummy combat. It’s a lot like the combat of the first two Dragon Age games, and long-time readers know that’s not a compliment coming from me. Mostly it’s a lot of sitting around and watching your party auto-attack while you wait on cooldowns to refresh.

This can be mitigated by acquiring cooldown reduction gear, but that’s a double-edged sword for the game. The end result is that you never want anything other than cooldown reduction gear — it vastly outstrips any other stat.

Fighting ochre jelly in Sword Coast LegendsTo be fair, though, I didn’t hate the combat in Sword Coast Legends as much as I did in, say, Dragon Age: Origins. If only because the top-down camera creates a different expectation of pacing for me than over the shoulder does. Playing a ranger also helped — they’re a ridiculously versatile class that always has something to do.

Something I found refreshing compared to most other RPGs these days is that classes in Sword Coast legends are quite versatile and can be built a lot of different ways. This also opens up a little more freedom for party composition. For example, I didn’t need a rogue in my party, because I trained my ranger to pick locks and disarm traps.

I really loved the ranger class in this game.

On the downside, unlike pretty much every RPG I’ve played in the last… ten years, at least, party members will not gain XP or otherwise match your level unless you’re actively bringing them adventuring with you. Since leveling is very slow in this game, that means you pretty much have to pick a single party composition and stick with it the whole through.

Which is even more problematic because there are points in the story where you can lose companions (yes, plural) permanently, often with no warning and no way to prevent it.

I also did not care for the fact that a full play through of the story mode, completing every side quest and fully exploring every map, will still leave a few levels short of the cap.

Picking a lock in Sword Coast LegendsOne thing I did really like, though, is that Sword Coast Legends often offers multiple ways to solve problems beyond simply killing things. Characters with a high strength score can attempt to intimidate enemies, or force certain locks, while a high charisma will allow you to persuade NPCs to a variety of ends. This is certainly a refreshing change of pace, and it makes the game feel a lot more detailed than the average RPG.

I also liked that, unlike pretty much every other game I’ve ever played with systems like this, upgrading your non-combat skills doesn’t seem to hamper your fighting prowess too much.

The story:

The storyline of Sword Coast Legends would be best be described as a mixed bag.

Its greatest strength is its characters. Nearly all of the party members are fleshed out, interesting, and likable — if often bizarre and quirky. They’re not quite Bioware-quality, but I definitely got attached to my little crew of oddballs after a while.

The voice acting is also pretty good. Not the best I’ve heard, but good enough to sell the characters.

You have a few choices to make over the course of the story, but most of them don’t have a lot of impact. It’s better than nothing, though.

A cutscene in Sword Coast LegendsThe main storyline, though, is at best adequate. It’s a pretty cliche “bad monsters want to destroy the world, you are the chosen one” affair. It’s mostly pretty predictable, and there just isn’t much that’s memorable about it.

There were also several storytelling decisions made near the end that I did not like at all. One twist, in particular, in addition to being very frustrating to me as a player, could be considered borderline offensive. I’m sure the writers didn’t mean any harm, but they really should have thought things through, given the context of real world history and culture.

So, on the whole, it makes for a somewhat underwhelming experience from a story perspective.

It also didn’t help that the last boss fight bugged out for me badly, causing all my companions’ AI to stop functioning. That did not make for a good time.

The toolset:

As of this writing, I haven’t done anything in Sword Coast Legends other than the story mode. I never had much interest in playing as a dungeon master, and my lukewarm feelings on the game mechanics have put a damper on any desire I might have had to play content made by other players — though it could still happen at some point.

My ranger contemplates a scenic vista in Sword Coast LegendsI was fairly interested in the campaign creation tools, but I quickly discovered that they are currently severely limited in what they can do. I recall games from the nineties having more powerful content creation tools.

To the developers’ credit, they have released a fairly detailed timeline of planned improvements, and it sounds like the content creation toolset will soon be much more robust, but as of right now, there’s not much to it. If I do any campaign-building, it will be after those changes are made.

* * *

Overall rating: 6.7/10 Not a bad game, but not a particularly memorable one, either.

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