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Solasta: Crown of the Magister (PC) – First Impressions

by on November 23, 2020
 

Solasta: Crown of the Magister is yet another RPG that aims to adapt Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition into a strategic video game. Tactical Adventures launched their game concept on Kickstarter back in September 2019 with a playable pre-alpha demo. The demo threw you straight into a dungeon with your typical ensemble of hero classes to mess around with. While it was rather difficult with a rough D&D mechanic learning curve, it also showed a lot of promise. After another year of development, let’s pop in to the early access!

Character Creation

Solasta is a single player tabletop experience with a party of four custom characters. Pre-made characters are available if you want to jump right in, but note that the characters you start with will also be your set party for the rest of the game. There is not a main character as each member of the party contributes to dialogue and story events as a group.

Solasta has eight race options and six base classes with their own subclasses. Character origin tags, and alignment define their personality and dialogue lines. You can make a refined, altruistic Fighter, or a Paladin character who spews curses and is only interested in lining their own pockets. Starting equipment and spells are fully customizable too. Players are able to preview what a class can access at later levels so you can strategizing builds from the very start.

The character creator was rather underwhelming. I am not a huge fan of the art style for the characters. The appearence options were also rather limited. Some voice options sounded very similar, but none of them appealed to me. It was odd that the third option for female characters seemed to be a male voice, but the male options didn’t have an equivalent feminine voice option.

A limited set of customization options, but its something.

Writing

Our characters are sitting at a table in an inn sharing stories, a classic start to any table top game. Each character tells a story of an adventure they had, resulting in four different unskippable tutorial missions.

You are a group of adventurers hired to explore the monster filled wasteland in the land next door. That land was once the kingdom of ancient elves before a catastrophe fell. Explains why there underground ruins full of treasure everywhere. Based on the blank options in the main menu, there will be multiple campaigns at some point. Characters maintain their levels or can be leveled up to speed for new campaigns, so you can bring along your favorites on other adventures.

Your adventurers work as a group in all situations, including dialogue. Each character gets a chance to pipe in whether its a response to something or a question you picked as a dialogue choice. Ability checks come into play as a group too, such as one character rolling an insight check to reveal the odds that different persuasion tactics will work on a person.

 

Depending on the tags your characters have, their lines will be interchanged with ones that were labeled with that tag. I am describing this in a bland logic manner since the implementation of this idea results in stiff, robotic dialogue flow. I wonder how they decided to pace and record lines since there is this weird gap in-between every line, even when one character is supposed to say a few in a row. It is tolerable, but it just sounds choppy and unnatural.

The quality of the writing was alright. There was definitely a blandness to the lines whether it was set lines for NPCs or your custom party members. I like dramatic flair and personality. Here we have straightforward conversations that tell you what to do, where to go, and a bare minimum of optional lore and a hint of sarcasm. Essentially, the game is talking to the player rather than the adventurer party. This has the awkwardness of a real tabletop session with your friends. Your DM stretches themselves thin playing so many NPCs that most come off as one note. This approach does not really work in a scripted, single player experience.

Gameplay

Combat and exploration is where Solasta excels. Environments are pretty with a good amount of prop detail and strong lighting. The underground realm is the big highlight here. Ruins can include winding cavern tunnels, wooden scaffolding goblin structures, or stepping stones of remaining columns that jut out from an endless abyss below. You will be doing a lot of jumping, climbing, and opening paths for your less dexterous characters.

Combat is turn-based with initiative, one main action, and one bonus action. You can also ready an action, meaning activating overwatch with a specific attack range in mind. You cannot pass or manipulate turn order outside of killing enemies. If you are familiar with the 5E rule set, then you will find yourself at home here. Playing Baldur’s Gate 3 prior to Solasta helped prepare me for the complicated action usage and magic systems, resulting in a much smoother experience than how I felt jumping blindly into the pre-alpha demo last year.

Light sources must become your best friend since otherwise you will never land hits. Lighting sconces before a battle, holding torches or candles in your off-hand, or casting Dancing Lights will aid you and possibly the enemy immensely. You are obviosly more likely to get spotted when sneaking while in the light. While stealth is useful for setting up character positions, as soon as combat starts you can only stay hidden for the character’s first turn and are then revealed.

Enemies hit hard, so strategy and saving often is essential. You can spend rations to take short rests in return for spell recovery for certain classes and the choice to roll hit die to restore HP per character. Long rests can only occur at designated camp fires. While traveling on the world map you also have to rest every once in a while or suffer exhaustion penalties. You can get ambushed in the middle of rests which could potentially get old over time depending on the frequency and difficulty.

A rather difficult encounter with lizardmen.

UI

Alright, this one gets its own section since I have things to say about the user interface in Solasta. It is okay and certainly works, but I feel it is TOO clean and modern looking for a fantasy setting. The clean squares and rectangles make me think I am playing a sci-fi game except its actually people fighting orcs with sticks and metal. This look exists everywhere in the game, so I expect it will not be changed.

Aesthetics aside, the standard UI is WAY too big. I mean look at it! It covers up so much screen space it makes it hard to see the environment and in combat it gets worse with the huge initiative tracker at the top. If you crammed all the UI elements on one side it would probably cover half the screen. I think having an option for a bigger UI would be a nice, but the average player does not need icons this big given that they tell you so little on their own without the tool tips.

Solasta has a problem of hiding vital information in additional tool tips. You can hover over spells and abilities, but in order to access all of the spell information you need to hold ALT. Sometimes I wished things, like damage dice a spell did, were part of the standard description. I had to check for more details for everything all the time since a simple hover was not enough. Sometimes I hit the space bar by accident trying to hold ALT and ended my turn early.

A Difficult Encounter

While most encounters in Solasta offered a fair challenge, the last battle I fought was definitely not in your favor. The map design in this area favored the enemy with all cover facing toward my party. Lizard archers were sniping me across the field as I was forced to stand in the open. Lizards also have a nasty habit of crawling on the sides of the platforms to get cover bonuses. My melee fighters were utterly annihilated in the darkness with these disadvantages.

On the next attempt I avoided the deathtrap that was the intended encounter area entirely. A scout lured all of the melee enemies to a nearby bridge. Here, I could position my units to encourage the enemy to get off the walls and stand in the light. Their distant rangers were still doing some work, but a few volleys of Magic Missiles cut them down. It felt like a cheap, but effective resolution to a poorly planned arena.

Hit and run tactics to bring the fight to a bridge.

After completing this fight, I was instructed to return to the main city. However, there was no such option on my map. I was soft locked.

I did not want to suffer through the previous fight again and reloaded to no avail. There is a neat system where you can have all the dungeon junk loot gathered for you in exchange for a cut of the profits. The softlock meant I was not able to see it in action though.

Speaking of bugs, there were very few. Creatures were able to hide under lit sconces to not be affected by lighting. Dancing Lights also cannot move across gaps or be recast in a new spot. Or you could get soft-locked and stuck forever, yes I am still mad about that

Which 5E Game to Play?

Its hard to not compare Solasta with Baldur’s Gate 3’s Early Access since they are both 5th edition Tabletop RPGs. However, I feel that there is so much disparity between these two games (and a huge difference in budget and scale) that it is not fair to compare them side by side. They are different games for different people. They have different amounts of content, are at different price points, and have different play styles.

If you want a rules as written D&D 5E experience where battle planning takes the forefront, then Solasta would appeal more to you. It is the most solid in terms of combat systems and challenge. You also build your party from the start so prior player knowledge is more important here.

Do you value the quality of everything else, whether its quality voice acting, music, or writing, and don’t mind a more casual friendly, homebrew version of the rule book? Then you may enjoy Baldur’s Gate 3 more, although this one is the more buggy and unbalanced of the two. However, D&D fans may not be happy with some of the ruleset changes, such as Mage Hand a mostly offensive tool in current builds.

Conclusion

Solasta is a mixed bag for me, but I can also see a lot of people liking it. The main appeal is the combat system and strategic fights, given it receives some balancing tweaks for some encounters. I am not really into its visual aesthetics, writing, and I don’t remember a thing about the music. I value these elements more in RPGs as they stick with me when I put down the game. To me, combat is a fun little distraction between the engaging story and character moments. If the writing is bland, then I lose my investment in the story and lack motivation to keep playing, even if the combat was fun. I might pop open Solasta on release, but it is not on the top of my waiting list.


Note: GameOctane received a digital code from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing this game. Any code or product intended for reviews is distributed to the team to review and stream for our audience.

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