I've played RPGs for a long time now. I'd be hard-pressed to name my first — maybe Shadowrun for the SNES — but either way they've been a presence in my life for a long time. Tabletop RPGs haven't been part of my life for quite as long, but I dabbled as a teen (I owned a set of Dungeons & Dragons books that I pretty much tried to hide in high school) and then started role-playing fairly regularly a few years back.
I give you this information mostly so if you see me on the street you can justify why you feel the need to punch me in the face, but also because I think it's important background for what I'm about to say: No video game has ever captured the essence of tabletop role-playing.
Which explains why I was so excited when I left my demo of Sword Coast Legends last week.
What we think of as a video game RPG is a pale imitation of tabletop RPG. The basic rules are the same: You create a character, imbue that character with certain stats, then explore an area while relying on those stats to survive. And there are things that a computer RPG does better — you become a character, without needing to dress up or put on a silly voice.
But it's static. A video game is coded, and then it is that thing. If you play on this difficulty you'll find these creatures in this dungeon and get this reward. You can add an element of randomness to the proceedings, but even that randomness is governed by its own rules.
If you'll allow me an analogy: A video game is like watching a movie. It's all scripted, and you're just playing your part. Tabletop is fluid. It's improv, and the key to proceedings is the dungeon master or DM. A good DM is constantly adjusting the rules on the fly, maybe faking dice rolls or inventing new rolls to accommodate first-and-foremost whatever will make the game most fun for players.
Sword Coast Legends lets you play dungeon master.
Okay, a bit of back-story. As you might have guessed from the name, Sword Coast Legends is an officially-licensed D&D product, and it's an isometric CRPG with active-pause combat, just like Baldur's Gate. Mmm, you already have me hooked. The developers over at n-Space showed me a bit of the campaign — which is based on the Fifth Edition ruleset so no THAC0 — and I'm sure I'll be excited to try it out. It's (according to them) lengthy, the primary path is fully-voiced, the character banter I saw was well-written, and — oh hell, I'm always down for another isometric CRPG.
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