I read yesterday Syp’s concerned post about the state of Sword Coast Legends and felt that this was history repeating itself. According to his and other previews of the game it seems to stray pretty far from the spirit of the game it is emulating (D&D) probably in order of some lofty or idealised gameplay goals. Reading the post the game sounds unfinished and rather limited in scope but more importantly it sounds like players are encouraged to think and act as individuals more than as a team. That’s missing out on a core value of the pen and paper game.
This also recalls Pathfinder Online’s recent financial woes, when I first heard about early design concepts for the game I knew sadly it wasn’t the game for me. Open world PVP and an economy based on crafting has nothing to do with the D&D/Pathfinder rules! The game was also to be set in an obscure and rather plain little corner of Golarion, hardly the best choice to excite fans of this fantasy world. If a game is attempting to leverage an existing fanbase of this or that IP then it needs to capture the spirit of the IP for sure. But if that IP also has an associated ruleset, best not stray so far from it that the potential fans can’t even recognise their game anymore!
Other games have done better of course. Dungeons & Dragons Online, for all its many faults, actually did a very good interpretation of real-time fast-paced D&D 3rd edition combat. That game is my reference in the MMORPG genre for character customisation flexibility and breadth. It also placed a lot of emphasis on small group cooperative gameplay and it had personal loot many years before Blizzard decided to add this to World of Warcraft. Sadly the content and how it was presented (the most in-your face grind possible) fell far short of the RPG ideal.
Cryptic/Perfect World’s Neverwinter action MMORPG also did a fair job of implementing 4th edition D&D rules within an action combat MMO. Team play and grouping is encouraged in all zones and at all levels as you would expect in a game emulating the D&D experience. The availability of a user generated content system, the Foundry, could have really raised the bar for digital representations of the game but its reward system was so restricted as to discourage its use by the playerbase.
Let’s hope next time a game developer tackles the D&D license (or Pathfinder) they actually pay attention to the spirit of these games more than whatever is trending among MMORPGs at the time…