søndag den 27. september 2015

Sword Coast Legends Early Access Review

I preordered Sword Coast Legends and since it has been delayed to October 20th, I had the opportunity to play the early access instead. I have many thoughts about the early access game, but I'll try to stick with my own expectations vs facts so that you can draw the conclusions yourself.

I first started reading about Sword Coast Legends after playing Pillars of Eternity, a spiritual success to the RPG game Baldur's Gate. I enjoyed the character creation, universe, and beginning of Pillars of Eternity, but it was still only a single player game, and worse yet, it was a very difficult game, especially compared to Baldur's Gate. I lost countless battles and got frustrated that I had to keep reloading or had to play the game in a certain way for things to make sense or in a certain order in order for my party to survive the combat encounters. About half way through the game I stopped playing, and that's when I started reading about Sword Coast Legends.

My first impression of Sword Coast Legends was a game similar to Baldur's Gate but with two additional aspects. First of all, you didn't necessarily control the whole party. Other players could join and you could play through the game in the same way that you would play through a tabletop RPG adventure. Secondly, it was possible to play as the DM. You could create your own adventures and campaigns, and you could even be part of the game to add a more personalized feel to the game instead of just letting the AI run things. I immediately created the outline for an adventure before the early access.

One final thing I expected was that the game used 5th edition D&D rules. I expected the same classes, races, features, skills, feats, and spells.

Early Access
Last weekend I got access to the second early access. I logged in, all excited to play the game. First I created a character. You can choose between 5 of the iconic races from D&D 5th edition: Elf, Halfling, Dwarf, Human, Half-Elf, along with their respective subraces. My first character was a dwarf and my second was a human. There are 6 classes to choose from: Cleric, Fighter, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Wizard. My dwarf was created as a dwarven wizard while my human became a human fighter. There's a lot of customization about what your face looks like, hair color and style, even the color of your clothing. You also get to choose your starting weapon and armor. The class features I chose was Arcane for my dwarf and Champion for my human, focusing on Sure Strike with my human fighter. There are two skills (Search and Lock Picking), which are chosen with the same point system as your proficiencies and class features, so I opted to stay away from them.

I created my dwarf for the story mode and my human to run dungeon crawls. I wanted to start with seeing the early access of the story mode, but it was greyed out. I guess the story mode will first be available at launch. I therefore jumped into a solo dungeon run, mainly because I had no friends online and whenever I queued up, nothing happened. You get an array of options to create your randomized dungeon crawl. I decided to create a 2 level sewer dungeon filled with kobolds, and even changed the story so that it stated that the kobolds had set up a beachhead in the sewers under the city, which they were slowly destroying, and that it was my character's job to fight his way past the enemy line and destroy their headquarters before the city fell. I even added a quest where my character had to kill a certain amount of kobolds.

Dungeon crawl has never really been my thing, not even in tabletop RPGs, so as soon as I had completed the quest, I returned to the surface to turn it in. I didn't even clear the first sewer level of kobolds. The game restarted when I returned to the surface, leaving me a bit confused. I then decided to look into the DM aspect of the game and create the first encounter in the adventure I had planned.

In the DM toolbox I noticed that I couldn't change the map. The map of the Sword Coast would have to be the template for my adventure, so I changed the location of the city where the adventure began to be set somewhere in the High Forest. I then picked one of the available scenes, one set in a town. I found out that I could set this scene as the starting scene and that there were two accessible buildings. I started filling one of the buildings up with furniture so that it looked like a tavern. I put in the NPC and set up a quest. This is where I imagined that the game would begin. I had forgotten that the starting point was set to the scene overall, and not to the tavern, mainly because there was no option to set exactly where the players started in the scene. I then went outside and created the first encounter by placing 2 mercenaries that I renamed to brutes and changed their appearance. Not knowing the difficulty of the encounter, I simply guessed that two brutes would be good enough. Then I placed the second NPC outside, the one that would complete the quest after the brutes were dealt with. As soon as I placed the NPC, the brutes attacked him. I had forgotten to pause the game. I made some final adjustments and then I started up the encounter with my human.

My human started out in the street instead of inside the tavern. The brutes immediately attacked my character forcing me to kill them. The difficulty was way too easy compared to what I had planned. I went into the tavern, got the quest, but then I couldn't complete it because I had already killed the brutes. This is where my experience with the early access ended.

Future of the Game 
I have hopes and dreams for the future of this game, but in my experience things never go the way you expect them to. Still, here's my view of the future for the game, both short term and long term.

I expect that when the game is officially released it will contain a story mode. I'm hoping that the story mode will let you create an entire party and that you can add NPCs. If you want, you can then switch out partymembers of NPCs with other player characters and RP your way through the story mode. I expect them to create additional story modes, which you probably have to pay for. As long as the story modes they create have enough content and don't cost too much, I won't mind.

I expect that they will add additional races and classes, and hopefully more skills too. I don't expect the class features to change or that you will be able to customize the world even though that would be a sweet feature. I hope that the game evolves in the same direction as D&D 5th edition, but I expect it will take a life of itself and that in a few years it won't resemble D&D 5e anymore.

I expect the game will mostly be multiplayer dungeon crawls where people zerg through the content, although I hope it will be used more as a platform for internet tabletop roleplaying games, but I doubt it. My hope has always been to use this game to play D&D with friends and family who live on the other side of the world, but I guess I'll have to stick with Roll20 or Fantasy Ground.

I expect that they will release additional items, furniture, scenes, maps, quests, monsters, etc. I hope they will add scripts, because at the moment the AI is more simple than the one in Space Invaders. I expect all of this to cost money, which will be quite annoying, but hopefully it will come in bundles along with the additional story modes. If everything comes in such a package and that it doesn't cost too much, then I won't mind paying for it... if I actually play the game or use it to host my own sessions.

I had high hopes for the game, but after having played the Early Access, my expectations have been lowered, and I no longer expect to use the game in the same way that I had initially planned. My fingers are still crossed that it will be a great game to play.

Next week (week 40 as they call it here in Denmark), I'll be writing about creating a campaign and setting with several gamemasters. We are starting a project in November/December after Extra-Life where we'll assemble a group of six D&D 5e players who will take turn being the gamemasters in the same setting/campaign. I'll tell you about my past experience with these types of games, how we set it up this time, and what my hopes and expectations are for this future project. If you have ideas on articles that we should write about, let us know on our Facebook page, or leave a comment.

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