Why Sword Coast Legends is the digital Dungeon & Dragons RPG you've been waiting for

Sword Coast Legends' Dungeon Master mode and custom campaigns make this game a love letter to CRPG enthusiasts. It's even officially sanctioned by Dungeons & Dragons.

Sword Coast Legends

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Sword Coast Legends was my favorite game of GDC 2015. Now, three months later I think it has a pretty damn good chance of being my favorite game of E3. And yes, I know we just got started—that’s how incredible Sword Coast Legends is.

In case you missed my GDC preview, let me recap: Sword Coast Legends is an isometric CRPG officially sanctioned by Dungeons & Dragons. It’s like the D&D folks saw Pillars of Eternity and went “We can do that too.”

Except Sword Coast Legends is taking the isometric CRPG in some pretty amazing directions. At GDC we got a peek at the game’s Dungeon Master mode, wherein one player takes on the role of DM and basically crafts a challenging dungeon for 1-4 other players on the fly. That alone helps Sword Coast Legends capture the essence of tabletop role-playing in a way no other game successfully has.

But at E3, we got a look at something even more interesting to me (as a tabletop player): Custom campaigns.

sword coast legends screenshot 6

It’s a huge feature and we only had half an hour, so apologies if any of this seems rushed—we basically glazed over most of the game’s capabilities in order to both see everything and get a brief hands-on run through a custom dungeon.

But what we saw looks amazing. There’s a very robust design and scripting editor built right into the game, as far as I can tell. The only thing I couldn’t figure out is whether you can create custom maps or whether you’re just adding props to prefabs—but either way, the amount of customization here is phenomenal.

sword coast legends screenshot 8

You can create custom named locations, custom quests, write custom dialogue, custom vendors, custom characters (replete with custom stats and items), custom enemies—basically anything and everything can be tailored. Is it infinite customization? Of course not. I don’t think you can import your own character models or anything really crazy.

But this is a spectacular amount of control ceded to the DM. You can even, as I mentioned, decorate dungeons with props. During our demo, we watched an empty dungeon room turn into a grim ritual chamber, with rows of torches and an altar. Give two players the same dungeon layout and they’ll undoubtedly put the space to very different uses.

We saw quite a bit of the dungeon stuff before, though—this is just a further extension of it. Far more interesting is the idea of customized quest chains, whether wholly original or based off some classic D&D modules.

sword coast legends screenshot 7

To give the sensation of linear progression, you can make it so your party only triggers new locations when certain items are searched, or after dialogue, or what have you. Basically, you can make a whole new CRPG with the tools in Sword Coast Legends. As a fan of the genre—one that basically died for ten years—the idea of mod crews working on a huge story-driven experiences within Sword Coast Legends? That’s pretty exciting.

Further reading: 33 must-see PC games revealed at E3 2015

The one (sort-of) downside from my meeting today: I confirmed there are no ties between the main campaign and DM Mode. At GDC it sounded like there might be some tie-ins—and, in fact, the developer I spoke to today said they went back and forth on it for a while. But ultimately it didn’t make a ton of sense.

There is still four-player co-op in the main campaign though. The way it works is the host ultimately possesses the save files, while the other four players drop in. Dialogues can be initiated by anyone in the party, though, which could either be interesting or a total disaster depending on your friends.

sword coast legends screenshot 2

All in all, it’s looking great! I don’t love the 3D aesthetic quite as much as Pillars of Eternity’s Infinity Engine-esque art, but the game still looks pretty good (at least as good as Wasteland 2 and Divinity: Original Sin) and it plays well. Some of the animations still need more feedback and movement could be a bit more fluid, but overall I have no huge complaints on that front—it played like an isometric CRPG.

It’s almost like the genre never died in the first place. Almost.

Stay tuned for more coverage of E3 2015 from PCWorld, and be sure to follow my Twitter account for up-to-the-minute impressions and shots of the show floor.

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