I’m more an MMORPG player than a Dungeons & Dragons tabletop gamer, but I’m familiar enough with D&D to be intrigued by the addition of a third online game in the franchise to the market. Still, I wasn’t sure what to expect from my Dungeons & Dragons: Sword Coast Legends demo at E3 this year. We have two other D&D MMOs, and Neverwinter already has a way to let players build dungeons for other people to play and enjoy in the form of the Foundry. How could SCL be different?
As I did with Neverwinter, I first looked at SCL’s six classes and wondered, “Why so few?” D&D is well known for its customization, and the SCL team at n-space gets that. The problem is development takes time, and it’s impractical for a small studio to pump out a long string of classes that are truly balanced and polished. The most recognizable classes will come first, and others will be added later, some potentially at a cost, and though we do know there will be some free updates, we don’t know when or for how much they might cost us.
N-space again cited practical limitations when it came to the lack of cross-platform play between desktop and consoles (the game is landing on PC, Max, Linux, Xbox One, and PS4), which is a disappointment especially when consoles don’t have local co-op as an option. I like knowing that it’s at least an option.
When talk turned to gameplay, that’s when things got interesting. For non-dungeonmasters, the game brings in traps and treasures. As you may have guessed, these make rogues more valuable to the player party. A rogue can disarm traps, open locked doors, find more treasure, and enhance the amusement of the whole party. Most MMOs get rid of these kinds of mechanics since they’re generally a bit of a pain in the butt and limited in their utility when they’re available for just a single class that may not even be in every party.
Fortunately, SCL has improved on the tropes in the event you’ve gone dungeon-delving without your trusty rogue friend. First, you can just soak the damage from traps. Bring healers; if someone dies anyway, you can actually rez her yourself, no matter what class you are. And warriors can just break down doors. Both are serviceable options that may allow traps to make a comeback people are satisfied with, but that remains to be seen.
Ability-wise, I found my character didn’t feel as iconic as I expected it to during my demo. I had one rogue move everyone at the demo told me to use; it teleported me behind my target to position me for a sweet backstab, but nowadays that’s a pretty standard rogue move, especially in a top-down, isometric game. I can at least spin my camera to look at my surroundings, but it didn’t blow me away. My racial, however, was much more interesting. Dwarves have a “secret flagon” that heals the player character a bit and gets you quite drunk, causing you to miss more. I can appreciate that nod to realism and roleplay, since racials are becoming something MMOs eliminate in the quest for ultimate balance.
It’s the dungeonmaster system that is the biggest game-changer. During my demo, I had something called an “adversarial DM.” Though the team expects the DM to guide players through a challenging but fun experience, DMs do have the ability to kill off the party or at least make living very difficult. I didn’t get any hands-on with the DM system myself, but our DM spawned a ton of mobs and landed some few high-level spells on our tank, nearly wiping us out. It made me realize that getting a random DM who sees himself as the boss mob you need to fight can make your gameplay extremely unpleasant, especially if you’re more of a traditional D&D player who’s used to cooperation. It’s something I think the team really needs to look out for since the current plan is to use a matchmaking system. That means PUGs, and let’s be honest: Random people on the internet are more willing to act in negative ways since they feel anonymous.
The game does have a single-player mode, though, and you can acquire companions of your own, one of which was the dwarf rogue I played during my demo. I’m not sure what other uses they may have in multiplayer, but rest assured, you can make your own character and name herif you wish — you aren’t stuck with a pre-made character.
Overall, Sword Coast Legends has some interesting options for those who like D&D but aren’t interested in D&D MMOs that already exist, but I’m still not fully sold on the product yet. It feels like a simpler version of Neverwinter with a slightly different POV. The single-player aspect of the game may turn out to be good, and the DM job seems much easier than Neverwinter’s set-up, so if that’s the side of the game appealing to you, Sword Coast Legends should be on your radar. If you’re looking more for a rich, online, D&D experience, I’d say remain cautious at this point to see how the playerbase and mechanics sort themselves out once the game is live.