It is a good time to be a gamer who likes tabletop RPGs. A mere two weeks after the launch of Baldur’s Gate 3 into early access, Tactical Adventures, a new, self-published game developer, released their attempt at adapting the tabletop experience into the gaming sphere with Solasta: Crown of the Magister. How does it hold up? Here are my thoughts.
Narrative is a big part of any RPG. More so when talking about tabletop RPGs. It’s always tricky to try and translate the tabletop experience into a video game, and a big part of it is restrictions in terms of narrative. In tabletop, a very big part of the experience is the players’ freedom to do whatever they want, and the Dungeon Master’s (DM) ability to improvise and adapt. These things don’t really exist in video games, for obvious reasons. However, Tactical Adventures did a very good job creating a faithful adaptation of something like an “off-the-shelf” tabletop adventure (an adventure published by an official publisher, rather than being created by a single DM).
The intro cutscene provides very little information in terms of narrative. However, it still manages to paint an interesting setting for the adventure. In short, the world was peaceful until humans came along and a cataclysmic event happened. Your adventure starts a thousand years after said cataclysm. From there it’s pretty standard RPG stuff. A group of adventurers gets together to perform a simple task. While performing the task they come across a McGuffin. They now need to find and collect several, smaller McGuffins in order to unlock the true potential of… you know how it is.
Time to go on an adventure I guess
There are good elements to the plot as it is. The exposition is alluring, and the sub-plots you experience during your adventure tie into the main plot in a good way. Still, I would consider the plot a weaker aspect of the game right now. This might change in the full release because of changes to the current plot or how it’s developed after the early access hours. For now, you probably shouldn’t buy the early access version for the story.
Another big part of the tabletop experience is the variety offered in terms of character creation. Here the experience is very much of creating a D&D character. You choose your character’s race, class, appearance, and even alignment.
Roll for stats and decide your character’s motives
In terms of appearance, there’s a decent amount to choose from. In terms of classes, all classes that will be in the full game are available in early access. These include Fighter, Cleric, Rogue, Wizard, Paladin, and Ranger. A selection of six classes might seem small, but each class branches out while leveling up in quite a significant way. The sub-classes vary the gameplay experience to the point where combat will feel different for two characters of the same class who chose a different sub-class.
The game is comprised of several contained areas you can explore. the areas aren’t connected directly. You travel between the areas through a map with the game’s traveling system. The travel system is another aspect plucked out of the tabletop experience. Your party will travel from area A to area B, and you will only be interrupted if something interesting happens (they come across an interesting waypoint or a combat encounter).
Solasta cuts the walking between locations part and focuses on exploration and combat within each dungeon
Once you reach an area, you can explore it as you see fit. The two types of areas in the game are cities and dungeons. In cities, you will find quests, buy equipment and items, befriend different factions and rest up before your next adventure. In dungeons, you will do what anyone does in a dungeon: slay monsters and loot treasures. The early access includes only a handful of dungeons. However, there is enough to do in each of them in terms of exploration and combat.
At this point I should point out that in my experience, Solasta is much more a dungeon crawler than an RPG. At least during early access, most dialog in dungeons ends with the NPC saying “Kill them!” rather than being convinced not to attack my party. In addition, most of the time you don’t really control what your characters say. They will talk to each other and to the NPC and only when there’s a decision to make you’ll decide between several options. On one hand, you create all four characters and decide what their personalities will be like. On the other hand, you don’t really control them for most of the dialog. That’s why in my opinion the combat surpasses the role-playing elements for now.
This is where Solasta really shines. The combat is fun and smart. You very much can’t just click on everything until it’s dead, you need to plan your moves and figure out the best course of action. In addition, this is the part that’s the most like the tabletop version of D&D. Everything is decided with dice rolls, whether it’s your attack’s likelihood to hit or the damage it will deal once it connects. Once you make an attack you will see the dice roll and the effect in real-time.
In terms of movement, everything is grid-based. Positioning is very important. It determines whether your character is hidden, protected by a wall, or will be attacked with an attack of opportunity if it moves. You will also need to consider the enemies’ position. An enemy is harder to hit if it’s unlit or if it’s behind cover. All of these things are of course handled in a similar way to the tabletop version with a disadvantage against unlit enemies and an AC (Armor Score) improvement to enemies behind cover.
Test your mettle against hoards of monsters and beasts
It might take you some time to get used to the combat system. At first, you might not be able to beat some combat encounters unless you surprise the enemy and carefully plan each move. But soon enough you will have your own strategy for dealing with different challenges. For instance, in boss fights, I’d get my ranger to high ground, mark the boss, and dunk arrows into it, all the while using the rest of the party to deal with the fodder and use their nukes on the boss. It felt very pleasing to figure out what worked for me, and I’m sure this will be different depending on the player and party composition.
There’s a plethora of 5E spells and abilities for you to utilize
In terms of character skills and abilities, they’re very pleasing. The animation on most spells is very good and feels powerful. In terms of variety, sure you have your standard create a huge flaming sphere which you can move and attack with each turn, but even the so-called “passive” abilities (such as getting a +2 to bow attacks and ignoring enemies’ cover) can feel very powerful. Overall the selection is very pleasing and definitely warrants a replay with the same classes in order to try different ways of playing.
The key phrase for the UI in this game is function over form. That’s not to say that the UI isn’t visually pleasing. It’s just to say that it’s not very art-y. It gets the job done, and it does it well. It’s always clear where your character can move, which button does what, which action is considered an action, and which is a bonus action, etc.
In terms of graphics, Solasta walks on the border between AA and AAA. They’re not bad, but they’re not amazing. Animations are sometimes clunky. It’s nothing that can’t be fixed, but as it is right now facial expressions, speech, and whenever someone walks in cutscenes looks a bit weird. Faces in general look funny as if they’re detached from the head. This is a minor gripe, however, seeing as it can be improved upon by the time the game releases and especially considering the fact that whoever plays this game probably doesn’t do it for the graphics.
Music is pretty standard. It’s epic, adventurous, and gets stuck in your head after you play the game. Nothing stood out as inappropriate or annoying. It blended in well with whatever situation the party was in at the moment.
Voice acting is quite impressive considering this is the first game by Tactical Adventures. It’s not exceptional, but it never took me out of the immersion or stuck out as poorly performed. Even simple dialog like when interacting with a shop keeper is fully voice acted. So other than written material you find in the game, there isn’t much text you need to read that’s not voice acted.
If you love tabletop RPGs, don’t think twice, this game is most likely for you. The roleplaying elements might not give you the same freedom you get from your DM, but the combat and exploration are worth it. Just think about it as something more akin to Dungeon of the Mad Mage in terms of the official adventures.
If you’re not really sure what D&D is and how it works, you might want to give it a think. This game is hardcore. That’s not to say that it’s extremely difficult. Just that it’s very much a translation of the tabletop experience into video game form. Still, it does explain its mechanics in a convenient way and is friendly towards new players. So if you’re looking for a way to introduce yourself to the world of D&D, this could be a good entry point.
Solasta: Crown of the Magister is out now on Steam Early Access.
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