Sword Coast Legends Review

Eschalon: Book II

Developer:n-Space
Release Date:2015-10-20
Genre:
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay

Interface

Sword Coast Legends is played using an isometric view of your surroundings.  You left-click where you want your currently selected character to move, you right-click to rotate the camera, you use the mouse wheel to zoom in and out, you use the spacebar to pause, and you use a variety of hotkeys to bring up information screens or to activate an ability or consumable.  If you have party AI turned on, then the rest of your party follows along behind your selected character.  Otherwise, you have to move everybody individually, or select them all to move them in a group.  There aren't any formations, and you can't rotate the way your party is facing.

Other than the basic control scheme detailed above, n-Space didn't do a very good job in creating the interface for their game, which is strange given all of the good examples they could have looked at.  For starters, the text is tough to read.  The font is small and bold, so the letters tend to be blobs that look alike.  I often had to sit close to my monitor and squint to read what was going on, and annoyingly, lots of information appears only briefly on the right side of the screen, and there isn't any way to scroll it back.  And while there is a text window on the left side of the screen (complete with scrollbars), you can't re-size it or change its opacity, and opening it up also opens up the chat interface, which sometimes causes the game to think you're chatting rather than pressing hotkeys.  So I left that window closed 99% of the time.

Or consider shopping.  When you visit a vendor, you have to buy or sell items one at a time (even if you have a stack of them), and to do so, you either have to drag the item between inventories, or right-click the item and then select buy or sell, or double click the item.  None of these options is quick or convenient, and sort of dopily, the game employs a "junk" system, where you can designate an item as junk and then sell all of your junk items at once, but it takes just as much effort to junk something as it does to sell it, and so the system doesn't actually help you.  Meanwhile, all of the "miscellaneous" items you find (including a myriad of gems and statues) aren't used for anything, but they don't get a "sell all" button.

Or how about the save interface -- or lack thereof?  Regardless of whether you're playing the campaign solo or online with friends, you only get one save slot.  That's just lame for a 50-hour campaign, especially if you're like me and you like to see what happens when you make different choices.  Early on I didn't realize how the save system worked -- because along with everything else, n-Space didn't bother to write a manual -- and I killed a guy to see if he dropped anything interesting.  Well, the game auto-saved after his death, and I was stuck with a choice I didn't really want.  Luckily, there's an option where you can turn off auto-saves, and that mitigates some of the problems, but I hated only having one save available.

Or how about exploring?  The game world has a bunch of hidden objects, secret doors and traps, which is great, but there isn't a party search option.  Instead, only a character with points in the search skill can hunt for hidden things, which means you're pretty much required to play as your rogue when you're exploring a new area.  That's fine if your main character happens to be a rogue, but it's annoying otherwise.  If I decide to make a paladin, the last thing I want to do is spend 90% of my time controlling my rogue companion.

The interface has some other issues as well -- like the tooltip for mimics saying "mimic" rather than "chest," just slightly giving away the surprise -- but it's all stuff you can deal with or work around or, sadly, get used to as you play the game.  But it's unfortunate.  Sword Coast Legends feels like a game where the cool programmers got to do the fun stuff, and the interns had to create the interface.  The disparity is evident, and it's a huge negative for interface snobs like me.

Combat

Sword Coast Legends focuses on the city of Luskan, but even so there are a bunch of caves, forests, secret labs, sewers and more where you fight things.  Combat takes place in real time, and it's much faster than I was expecting.  I started out trying to micromanage my party, but even with the ability to pause the game at any time (not to mention several auto-pause options), I couldn't keep up, and I eventually let the party AI take charge.

The AI is pretty decent, but it has some quirks.  Characters make sensible use of their skills and spells -- a caster invoking a buff always moves to include as many allies as possible, for example -- and since all skills and spells are attached to cooldowns (there isn't any resting or memorization), characters freely choose between all of their abilities, and there isn't any need to restrict them.  The only problem I had with the AI is that my cleric kept waiting too long to heal (giving me flashbacks of my MMO days), and so I frequently had to take charge of her in battles to keep my party alive.

When your characters take too much damage, they get knocked out rather than killed, but you can revive them to get them fighting again.  Reviving is easy.  All characters get a "stabilize" skill, and there are also healing kits and spells that can do the job.  But you still have to be careful.  Characters knocked unconscious seem to earn less experience than their peers at the end of a battle -- even if you revive them while it's still going on -- and the only way to lose the game is if your entire party is knocked out.

After every battle, along with experience, you also usually pick up some equipment.  The equipment in the game isn't very exciting.  Most of it is random with one or two basic bonuses, and other items are of the Longsword +1 variety.  There aren't any set items, but there are a few unique pieces that are worth tracking down.  The most notable thing about the equipment is that all of the bonuses on your worn items stack together, so if you have five items giving bonuses to strength, then you apply them all to your character (instead of just the best one, which is normally the case for D&D games).  Because of this, it's easy to advance primary attributes to 30 or reduce spell cooldowns by 50%, and it's tough to tell if this system was intentional or if it's simply a "feature" of the game.

I started out playing Sword Coast Legends on the "hard" difficulty setting, but my characters kept getting knocked out, and I kept having to use cheesy tactics to win battles (like running around in circles so my cooldowns would expire), and so I eventually switched over to "normal" just so I could get through the game in a more timely fashion.  Unfortunately, "normal" was so easy that it was boring.  Only one fight (against a mindflayer) was even halfway difficult, and maps are filled with trash battles devoid of interest.