There's an amazing freedom you have playing a pen and paper RPG like Dungeons and Dragons. Worlds filled with magic and monsters that your party can adventure in to your heart's content. Your only limit is the imagination and planning of your DM. Solasta: Crown of the Magister uses the 5th Edition ruleset of Dungeon and Dragons and a world of developer Tactical Adventure's own creation, Solasta. The more structured nature of a Video Game does remove some of those freedoms from the TTRPG experience. Does Tactical Adventures still manage to build a world of wonder now that Solasta: Crown of the Magister is available on Steam Early Access?
Solasta: Crown of the Magister starts out as any good new homebrew campaign starts in DnD, at the Tavern. Your four adventurers are all summoned by the council at Caer Cyflen, the Capital of the region, for a job. After swapping stories of your previous adventures you're led to meet the council. After being immediately inducted into the council you're told of an outpost on the edge of the Badlands that hasn't been reporting in. The outpost had been attacked by Soraks, a race of creatures that up until now were the work of fiction and nightmares to the people of Solasta. The story hook is immediate and does a good job introducing your characters to one another, the authority of the land, and the enemy that you'll be facing throughout the campaign. It's very heavy on the front loading of the plot, so make sure you're paying attention, you might miss something important that then isn't clear later.
For the sake of the story, the level that your party gets immediately invested in the politics of Caer Cyflen. Some other game choices also seem to railroad you to progress the plot, investing your characters further in the story of the world. Through the second mission of the game, you'll find a crown that the Soraks have been guarding with a note next to it warning of its danger. All your party allows you to do is have one of them pick it up. There's no issue with picking up an interesting item, or being cautious handling what could potentially be cursed, but the next time you see the character they're wearing it. This decision in itself was a bit of a shock, who in their right mind would wear the crown, and it feels cheap for such a large story plotpoint to be your character being so unbelievably stupid.
Needless to say, there was no surprise when that character started feeling ill and acting like Gollum about the One Ring whenever anyone tries to take it off them. Now aware that the crown is cursed and that special gems have a place to slot into the crown your parties new goal is to attempt to complete the crown and discover its secrets.
Your party of adventurers in Solasta can be comprised of balanced pre-generated characters or you can easily roll up your own characters. At Early Access there are five playable races, with some sub-races, and six classes. The Races are Human, Elf, Half-Elf, Halfling, and Dwarf. The Classes are Cleric, Paladin, Ranger, Fighter, Rogue, and Wizard. While this doesn't encompass the whole range of 5E Races and Classes it's enough to get you started with a diverse enough team. The Character Creation process is very easy to understand and at all times as you further refine and tweak each character their stats and any other important features will be updated immediately around the screen. On the left side of the screen will be your characters stats, the step that you're up to will be displayed in the center, and any additional information related to your step in creation will be displayed on the right.
The biggest development to the character creation process that Tactical Adventures has added is that each of the backgrounds comes with a set of personality modifications that you need to select. Someone with the Spy background might be egotistical and only look out for themselves, whereas an Acolyte could show Altruism. These selected character traits, then further modified with your alignment will decide how your character acts with the party and others in conversation. These personality traits are a clear and concise way of understanding your character. While any CRPG isn't going to have that same freedom as a TTRPG the variety of characters you could make based on personality alone is impressive. Backgrounds will even affect the tone of voice your character will use whether they speak coarsly from their days on the street, or with an air of superiority.
Moving through the world, whether it be the city or a dungeon is all based on grid based movement. You can direct your party as a group, or one by one to navigate the environment. On first visit to any location it will be clouded by a fog of war making it impossible to know whats ahead, whether it be friend or foe. To make sure that you're not detected you can walk cautiously, this will create a ring of awareness around you not only telling you what's in that range, but also that you should keep at least that far away from any potential enemies if you want to stay hidden. There are still some ambushes that sneaking through won't help much with at all, but for the few surprise attacks that you're able to get off it's more than worth it.
Combat proper works exactly like you'd expect if you're familiar with Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition. As combat begins each character will roll for their turn order and the battle will begin from there. Each character in their turn can make an inventory change, take an action, and move. If they have any bonus actions or reactions that are relevant then they'll be able to take them in turn too. For so much happening Tactical Adventures has done a fantastic job with the UI. Everything is clearly displayed on a single screen allowing you to focus on the combat. A nice touch for those who enjoy watching the dice rolls every attack or saving throw you make is represented by a dice appearing and rolling on the screen, you'll always be able to know why you did or didn't hit that skeleton. The addition of three loadouts for each character also makes swapping between short-ranged weapons, long-ranged weapons, and your torch an easy process.
Two aspects of combat that are very important in Solasta: Crown of the Magister is lighting and vertical terrain. These aspects are normally hard to explain in traditional TTRPGs unless you have ways to dim the region and set pieces with multiple layers. This is one of the aspects of the game that can really shine in the video game format. Lighting is a crucial thing to be thinking of, and with so little that you can actually do to light up a cave also a serious nerf to any ranged classes. Expect to be making a lot of rolls at disadvantage. A lot of the travel combat, and dungeon combat will be in these low light settings. It's especially frustrating when being ambushed at night as all you can do is take potshots in the dark waiting for the enemy to approach. While there are some chances to light a brazier in a dungeon, being able to light a tree on fire would be very helpful.
Balance in Solasta is also quite interesting. Even as a party of level 2-3 adventurers there's a lot of enemies that get thrown at you so be prepared for an uphill struggle. As soon as your first quest you'll be facing 5-6+ enemies at once with a variety of ranged and martial weapons. You'd better be on your feet as things can go pretty one-sided against you very fast. The flip side is that access to gold pieces is much more common. Each trip to Caer Cylum had to be accompanied by a purchase of a number of Healing Potions.
The copy of Solasta: Crown of the Magister played for this preview did contain a large number of bugs and glitches. These included. but was not limited to, enemies phasing through walls, downed characters being unable to stand up again, incorrect lighting effects on enemies, infinite loading screens, and purchased items disappearing on me. Having spoken with the team at Tactical Adventures, they have assured me that all the bugs that I've encountered so far will be resolved with the proper Early Access release when this preview is out. These bugs ranged from small graphical issues, to needing to load previous saves after reloading the game, while I'm sure that a lot of the glaring issues will be resolved expect all kinds of strange bugs to appear during the Early Access window.
So far Solasta: Crown of the Magister has set up an interesting world filled with history, and while the main cast get railroaded into the need to learn about the Cursed Crown it's still an interesting story hook to a multipart adventure. The gameplay issues were extremely frustrating, but when they worked it was just as expected from playing the true TTRPG. The use of vertical set pieces to create grandure in dungeons was a neat inclusion, and one that's quite different from the usual experience. At the moment this 10+ hour experience does a great job showing what is in store for Solasta and with more polish and shine should be a worthwhile adventure to go on.
TechRaptor previewed Solasta: Crown of the Magister using a copy provided by the publisher. The game is set for release sometime in 2021.