From Dragon Age: Origins to Divinity: Original Sin, the d20-based RPG has been a mainstay in gaming whose flame will hopefully never extinguish. Sword Coast Legends, the upcoming RPG from n-Space and Digital Extremes with a partnership with Wizards of the Coast, plans to continue the tradition of the genre and modernize it by adding a Dungeon Master mode, a mode where one player can guide and challenge a team of players in real-time. It reminds me of a time when I would take out my aggression on poor fools by spawning ogres and cutting their character's feet off for rolling critical failures. Such fun!
In the thirty-minute hands-off demo shown behind closed doors at GDC 2015, I observed a party of four characters comprised of three fixed characters and a created character of your choice (from six classes and five races) move through the city sewers beneath the city of Luskan, which fans of The Forgotten Realms will recognize. The group consisting of a fighter, rogue, cleric, and wizard delved through the dungeon, picking up potions at a nearby alchemy table and scouring for loot like a +2 Longsword from a corpse, all while being controlled in third-person by a single player.
Pursuing an Ashen Priest, a necromancer responsible for destroying The Order of the Burning Dawn, the party had to first deal with the Dead Rats gang. Fighting off scouts and thugs in the sewers isn't too difficult, so long as each of your party members remains true to their role. The fighter tanks and controls threat, the cleric provides defense and minor healing, the wizard can blast groups with fireballs and lightning, and the rogue can deal quick damage and unlock chests and hidden doors. Based on the fifth edition ruleset for Dungeons & Dragons, combat doesn't seem as brutal as Original Sin but also not as automatic as a pure action game, relying on player tactics and positioning. At any time, players can pause or un-pause combat for a more careful approach and use up to ten abilities on a hotkey bar.
Dialogue choices will play a major role in how other NPCs react to your party. At one point in the demo, your party meets an informant in a tavern and which dialogue choices you pick for the Irish-voiced character, Tam Olefsson, can affect his overall attitude. That said, the informant seems to be a part of a major questline so we'll see if it really matters in the long run. Where you can influence the story more is in choosing whether to save a character, like Sir Banagar, a knight who is sent to capture your party earlier in the game. If you do, he will appear later in the story and can be recruited as an AI-controlled ally against the hordes of undead and one giant zombie ogre. Outside from that, you'll hear plenty of well-placed banter between your party members in the downtime while traversing between battles.
In Dungeon Master mode, one chosen player directs an experience much like the role of the same name in a formal pen-and-paper Dungeons & Dragons setting. Before play, the dungeon master can choose the relative dungeon size, theme, tile set, overall complexity, and general encounters, and then view the randomly generated dungeon as the other players run through in real-time. The Dungeon Master can use certain amounts of Threat to increase the difficulty of dungeons, adding ambushes, traps, and locks. Of course, the DM can also make battles easier by removing enemies too, though the best DMs don't try to wipe the party greedily or make the game too breezy. DMs will be rated by the community, so we'll see what kind of DMs people prefer.
Sword Coast Legends will launch on PC via Steam sometime in 2015. You can pre-order the title off the official website for $34.99, as well as pre-order a Digital Deluxe Edition for $59.99 or a Limited Edition for $239.99. Campaign versions for both special editions cost more but come with more copies of the game so that you and up to four players can play for a much lower overall cost.