STAFF REVIEW of Sword Coast Legends (Xbox One)

Tuesday, August 9, 2016.
by Brent Roberts

Sword Coast Legends Box art Before the days of cartridges, discs, and digital downloads, and before the days when we picked up a controller to play a game, there was Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). It's an IP that harkens back to the days when dice were thrown (I still have mine all wrapped up in a velvet bag), Dungeon Masters quashed dreams, and we relied on our ability to roll necessary saves. Dungeons & Dragons paved the way. We are talking about creating fantasy worlds and legends decades before Bioware was even invented. Now Dungeons & Dragons is back on the Xbox One with the release of Sword Coast Legends, and while it's priced at the top end of the indie scale ($19.99), the developers Digital Extremes and n-Space are attempting to bring the lore of D&D back to life.

If you're thinking that this game is going to be your classic D&D then you're going to be disappointed. Sword Coast Legends suffers from what I would call a severe case of identity crisis. That's not to say things are bad, but to say that this is a pure D&D experience is a debunked myth. As you begin you're tasked to create your own character. Here you can select from a combined total of seven classes and six races, each bringing their own set of unique bonuses and proficiencies to the table. However, each character also has several skill trees from which to draw talents from and this is where the whole separation seems to begin as you start to think of this more like Dragon Age. Once you have your character selected and made the way you want, it's time to get into the real meat of this 17GB adventure.

In this behemoth of a game you are offered a few gametypes, though of course there is the massive single player story which can also be played cooperatively online or locally. This mode offers up a tale that not only is well written, but provides at least 40+ hours of content and will get you used to Sword Coast Legends. While the pacing of the story is good, the wealth of side quests will keep you busy, and the fact that this mode really does provide the best experience of the game, the issue that I have here exists not with the quality of the content, but the loading times associated with venturing between areas in the game. With seemingly over a minute in-between each loading sequence, you get the feeling that you could go catch some Pokemon while you wait for the game to load. You almost feel the game loads all 17GB of data every time you go to another area. It really becomes this game's biggest downfall, almost to the point where it becomes unbearable.

The other gametypes include your basic dungeon crawler where you go after loot, glory, and more loot. Then Sword Coast Legends tries to do something unique and allow you to step into the shoes of the Dungeon Master (DM) itself. This mode allows you to take up to four other people (totaling 5 in the lobby) and create a quest from which you have to decide if you want to be a fair DM, or one that is cursed by all and burned in effigy. This mode, while fun, has fairly limited resources at its disposal, and you use the resources called Threat to place traps, enemies, and more. When you take into account that the DM cannot alter the story and is forced, along with all the players, to take a direct route despite the choices made by the players, this mode can feel a bit restrained and under developed.

After you decide what mode you're going to want to play and dive into the game itself you'll be very happy to read the timed pop up instructional directions. Think of the gameplay mechanics mapped to the controller, where X, Y, and B are all mapped to abilities that you can learn from your skill trees, and the A button is for generic interaction/attacking. Then using Right Trigger, you can have a second set of four skills at your disposal, while using Left Trigger you can have a third similar blank set of four to work with. And finally, if you press in the Left and Right triggers you can bring up your consumable menu (time isn't halted in this mode) and have access to a whole new menu. This is how the developers have compacted the long list of skills available on the PC platform into a console controller. Pressing the back button will allow you to pause time where you can not only issue commands to your team (which you can also do on the fly using the D-Pad), but access inventory and much more. You will also want to familiarize yourself with the entire menu system altogether.

Being able to equip items to your other party members, as well as develop their skill trees, is all nice and fun, however you have to realize that in some menus the left stick can act as a selector which switch from left to right sides of the screens, while the Left and Righter Bumpers can be used in some screens to cycle through your heroes in your party. This is a clunky setup, and while I understand the reasoning for trying to literally cram everything in terms of gameplay into a controller layout instead of becoming innovative on the console roll out, I still can't excuse that. I can comprehend the resources needed by a company to essentially remake a game with a different UI; however, with a vast amount of resources that are already being used, the time is significantly lower in development and at a cost that is marginal, of which you could easily charge $39.99. Outside of the God awful loading times, this compact controller layout becomes incredibly frustrating.

While the negatives seem to keep piling up, there are a few bright spots as we wind our way home on this review. The graphics feel incredibly dated but this is either a deliberate art style or because this game released October 2015? Regardless of the reason, the graphics in Sword Coast Legends aren't anything you're going to find spectacular, but I have seen worse. Thankfully this mediocrity is broken up by the soundtrack. I'll never forget the first time I heard the soundtrack kick in. I had been listening to decent voice acting and sound effects like crazy, but then I heard this almost Celtic melody start to creep through my speakers and it literally haunted me. I absolutely fell in love with this and want to actually say thank you to everyone involved with the sound of Sword Coast Legends. However, amidst all this enjoyment I was also thoroughly let down. Not because of the quality of audio, but the sheer lack of times you hear it. It almost feels like 3-5 minutes pass in-between this wonderful music and every time it ends, you feel a little deader inside.

Normally I'm a very hard critic when it comes to games priced at $19.99 which are ported over from the PC, as I look at it as entertainment versus the value. As a quality Dungeon & Dragons game, I feel Sword Coast Legends falls short to what we have grown to expect from games such as Baldur's Gate; however, do I feel that this game is a quality gaming experience? Without a doubt, yes. That being said, if you're looking for a genuine Dungeons & Dragons experience, then there are better choices for you, but if you're looking for a quality 40+ hour single player experience along with co-op and multiplayer dungeon crawling options, look no further.

Please shorten the loading times. Also maybe look into innovating the UI in ways found from other games such as Diablo? And please, in the name of everything that is Holy on this planet, please release a soundtrack and make the soundtrack more frequent.

Overall: 7.0 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 6.5 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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