If you’ve ever enjoyed a game of tabletop Dungeons & Dragons, regardless of the edition, you’ve probably yearned for a video game that accurately captures the feeling of that experience in a virtual world. Lots of great games have been created within the realm of D&D, MMOs like Neverwinter and Dungeons and Dragons Online, old-school computer RPGs like Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale, or even modern RPGs like Dragon Age or Pillars of Eternity draw heavy inspiration from the pen and paper games. While all of these are incredible in their own right, they’re all missing a key aspect of what it means to play Dungeons & Dragons: the Dungeon Master.
Regardless of what happens in the aforementioned games, at the end of the day, you’re playing a pre-made and scripted experience. Even though The Foundry in Neverwinter is a collection of community-created content, once an adventure has been submitted, it becomes a static affair. Dungeons & Dragons is special because of not only the ruleset, the worlds, and the gameplay, but also because of the collaborative experience of playing with your friends and mixing in the human element of unpredictability and on-the-fly creation.
Sword Coast Legends, from independent developers n-Space and Digital Extremes, in collaboration with Wizards of the Coast, is poised to be the answer to this decades-old issue. “Developing a new way to experience such a beloved and culturally influential franchise is a dream come true for our team,” said Dan Tudge, President of n-Space. “We are giving players a way to experience the magic of playing D&D as either a player or the DM.”
I was lucky enough to be given a private, behind-closed-doors preview of the game at this year’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, CA. I didn’t get to try it out for myself, but I was shown the single player mode and the multiplayer DM experience. In the single player mode, it played a lot like your standard top-down view computer RPG with the ability to pause during combat.
The game will follow an original storyline and the team intends to deliver updated modules with new content after release as well. During the demonstration, all of the characters made comments as the game progressed, such as describing the world around them and thinking about the quests you were completing. “Sword Coast Legends has pause-and-play tactical combat, much like Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, or even Dragon Age: Origins,” said Tudge. And while getting a new D&D RPG with a great single player campaign is fantastic in its own right, that’s not really something fresh and new - that’s where the Dungeon Master mode comes in.
Sword Coast Legends’ Dungeon Master mode allows players to control a party, or gather a party with their friends controlling individual characters, to delve into custom created dungeons and adventures. As it happens,, it’s much like the campaign creation system from games like Neverwinter Nights, but it’s also designed to be more user-friendly and accessible. “For new DMs, it’s a really great way for them to learn and get introduced to the concept,” said Tudge. “The idea behind the mode is really about playing together with people - that’s what we really want to encourage. We want Sword Coast Legends to highlight the cooperative and competitive aspects of D&D.”
During the demonstration, everything was happening in real-time within the Dungeon Master mode. While one player was controlling his party and adventuring through the dungeon, the other player was moving his cursor throughout the area and altering everything on the fly. “On the player’s screen, the DM’s cursor is represented by a magical wisp, so they’ll always know when the DM is nearby. But they won’t know what he or she is doing,” explained Tudge.
While playing, the DM has a resource known as “threat” which can be used to do things like, “lock doors, spawn creatures, change encounters, promote creatures, drop traps, and pretty much anything else you can imagine to customize the experience further,” said Tudge. While DMs can set up encounters ahead of time and place all of these things before the game ever starts, but they can use their threat during the game to keep the player guessing. During encounters, DMs can even take direct control of enemies and receive loot in the form of special actions or “spawn groups” that can be placed throughout the dungeon.
One example I was shown had the player enter a room through an unlocked door, start exploring and looting the small treasure room, and then the DM locked the door behind them and laid traps through the exit. This layer of unpredictability allows DMs to update and change dungeons on the fly, while playing them, so you could theoretically run the same dungeon and make it different every single time. With the Dungeon Master mode, n-Space and Digital Extremes have tapped into an experience that has never before been fully realized in a video game.
Sword Coast Legends is currently planning for a Q3 release date according to Steam, and will be available simultaneously on PC, Mac, and Linux. n-Space will be announcing new features and showing new gameplay with hands-on sessions at E3, so check back at CGM for more coverage throughout the upcoming months!