Solasta: Crown of the Magister Early Access Impression
The game is more focused on the puzzle and combat aspects than providing a deep narrative, but it plays to its strengths well.
Though Baldur’s Gate III is the most high-profile, it is certainly not the only Early Access title for Dungeons & Dragons fans out there. Tactical Adventures’ Solasta: Crown of the Magister features its own setting but does a fine job making use of the Dungeons & Dragons SRD 5.1 ruleset to effectively translate the tabletop combat to the screen. Based on the first act available in its Steam Early Access version, the game is more focused on the puzzle and combat aspects than providing a deep narrative, but it plays to its strengths well.
The game starts with players creating a custom party of four adventurers, using pre-built characters or creating their own. Though visual customisation is somewhat limited compared to other titles, there are all of the expected elements from Dungeons & Dragons character building, including race, class, proficiencies, and spells and attributes determined by dice rolls, though players are free to re-roll or just type in their own values if needed. In addition, players select a background and alignment for each of their characters, selecting a pair of tags from each that are used by the game’s narrative and conversation systems.
The narrative is fairly basic; after some introductions that act as a tutorial, players control a newly-formed group of adventurers hired to become deputies of the Legacy Council, an amalgam of the most powerful factions in the region, and sent out to investigate an incident in a nearby outpost. Upon arriving at the outpost, the party finds it has been attacked by a lizard race called the Soraks thought to be long gone, but the Soraks remove all physical evidence of their being there, making for a readily dismissed report. Faced with a skeptical council, the party is given the task of finding proof of the Soraks’ return, starting a story that seems likely to uncover details of the cataclysmic destruction of the High Elves’ empire a millennium ago.
Solasta handles dealing with a player-created party in an interesting manner. The game is fully voiced, including all of the party members. The game doesn’t try to create any deep interpersonal relationships, but gives each member their own variations of lines based on their character tags. There are social encounters where players can choose a response for the party, each character providing an option again based on their tags and/or abilities. For example, one particular character at the aforementioned outpost will provide extra information to the party if they have someone with the spy background. Again, though none of it’s particularly deep, it does enough to provide interest, tie the quests together, and give players a goal.
Where Solasta: Crown of the Magister feels strongest is in its combat. The implementation of the Dungeons & Dragons SRD 5.1 ruleset feels great with an effective and nice-looking UI that provides all of the relevant information, including dice rolls and modifiers. It’s as close to straight translation of the tabletop system as one could expect, including rolling for initiative; movement, action, and bonus action options; most of the spells that tabletop players will be familiar with; and the same short and long rest mechanics. Players are able to set themselves up before battle if they can do so undetected using the stealthy “Cautious” option and this can certainly turn a tough battle in the player’s favour. Solasta looks to differentiate itself with a heavy focus on 3D and more vertical battlefields, with the game’s environments built using cubes that translate well to the regular grid-based tabletop layouts.
The 3D elements work well and allow for some interesting battle layouts. Light also plays a significant part, but unfortunately the options to manipulate it on the battlefield are currently limited enough that it often doesn’t feel in the player’s interest to try and do it. It feels fairer to just have both sides deal with the disadvantage of being in darkness rather than allow enemy ranged units to have a clear shot at well-lit party members. On the whole, however, combat is highly satisfying and the balance between the uncertainty of dice rolls, general strength of characters, and the impact of good tactics is nicely poised. The vertical focus is certainly appreciated when the opportunity to knock enemies of ledges is afforded.
In addition to its strong combat, Solasta has a good amount of exploration and puzzle elements to it, combined with the usual D&D skill checks. The 3D elements come into play nicely here as well, with Tactical Adventures building some very interesting layouts, especially in a couple of areas where the gravity is not universal. Skill checks are vitally important, but at times it feels like the skill checks encourage save scumming as the computer GM doesn’t have the flexibility of a person behind the screen, and a poor skill check can spell doom. One particular point saw a poor roll result in a fight that seemed impossible to survive with the party’s current level, but loading a previous save and getting a success completely eliminated the fight.
Though the narrative is straightforward, Solasta: Crown of the Magister definitely has appreciable depth in its systems. The expected equipment options are present alongside an encumbrance system, though the game thankfully allows for easy switching between three weapon sets on each character. There is a faction reputation system that grants discounts or other bonuses in the hub town’s store that rises based on artifacts found and gifted during the party’s adventures, while the game’s travel system adds some interesting trade-offs between keeping supplied and risking random encounters. The random encounters, however, are a little bit repetitive, especially with the limited set of battlefields currently on offer. Meanwhile, an adventure and quest log helpfully keeps track of what players are doing and a bestiary provides plenty of details on enemies encountered so far, with more details provided the more a particular enemy is fought.
Solasta: Crown of the Magister has certainly gotten off to a strong start with its initial Early Access release. It’s one that fans of the exploration and combat elements of tabletop games will enjoy more, but Tactical Adventures has done a good job ensuring the depth of the gameplay overcomes any weaknesses of the story. The game is currently expected to fully launch in early 2021, and console versions are also under consideration. In addition, those who want to take the setting into the tabletop realm will be able to do so with a campaign book also coming.
Disclosure: This impression is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.