At Gen Con 2019, I was given the opportunity to play a little indie title from a studio called Tactical Adventures. I sat down to play a bite sized early build of the game and was told that the goal was to create as close an approximation to Dungeons and Dragons in video game form as possible. A year later, Solasta: Crown of the Magister entered Early Access on Steam. Did they succeed? The short answer is yes, absolutely.
Solasta already showed great promise when I played a snippet of it at Gen Con, and Tactical Adventures took that promising start and built upon it. The game feels much more realized, with character creation, a full fledged campaign, and game systems and UI deep enough to get any tabletop nerd drooling. Hardly anything is streamlined or minimized, it’s as close to a true D&D experience as you can get.
Let’s Get Creative
When you boot the game, you’re greeted by a menu with the standard fare: load, continue, new game, settings, etc. Unlike other RPGs, however, the main menu is where you find character creation. Unlike your Elder Scrolls and your Fallouts, you don’t make a character at the start of the game. You create a bank of accessible characters that you use to assemble a party for adventure, allowing you to mix and match the characters you make in any number of combinations you want. The game comes preloaded with a handful of characters, but of course this being a D&D-style game, I chose to create my own. I decided to create a female fighter with a focus on sword and board, just your classic “the best offense is a good defense” type character. Right away, I was impressed with the lengths Tactical Adventures has gone to in order to explain what everything you see on screen means. You’re shown what can best be described as a D&D character sheet, and every page has a tutorial popup that tells you exactly what you’re looking at and what it does. It makes what could be seen as an overwhelming amount of information very accessible. Picking traits, feats, and other features of your character feels fulfilling as you watch your stats and abilities come to fruition. There’s even a window on the final screen where you can type in a brief backstory of your own design!
Where the character creation fell a bit flat for me, however, was on the actual physical appearance of your character. You’re given three face presets, with only about 5 different styles among each. There’s only a handful of hairstyles, so the only real “customization” comes from changing skin color and hair color. This isn’t something where you’ll log eight hours on Steam and haven’t even left the character creation. However, given that you’re intended to create multiple characters to fill out your party of four, it sort of makes sense, so I can forgive them for not allowing you to decide how thin your cheekbones are or how long your earlobes should be. Once you have your characters set, you start a new game, pick four of them, and you’re into the game.
You All Meet In A Tavern
The game starts you out in a bar with your four characters chatting by a fireplace, sipping ale and trading travel stories. It’s reasonably organic, though does leave you wondering why four strangers are so quick to be friends (but let’s be honest, how often does a D&D campaign ever start organically). What I liked most about this sequence is that the character stories actually serve as a tutorial for the game systems. The first one I played had my paladin navigating a dungeon, and it taught me basic traversal skills. The second was my fighter and it taught me basic combat. The thief was stealth, so on and so forth. It was really well done and I thoroughly enjoyed the creative approach to the tutorial, so well done on that front, Tactical Adventures.
Once the tutorials were complete, some hoighty toighty elf in fine robes came over to chat with us, told us we had been hired for a job and where to go, and then we got to start asking questions. As in the alpha build I played at Gen Con, rather than one character controlling all the dialogue, all four characters have responses and conversation trees that you can navigate, and each choice reflects the respective characters personality traits. My fighter was straight to the point, the thief had coy responses and put importance on gathering information, and my aristocratic mage tried to appeal to the fanciness of our guest. The dialogue in the game is really well done and I find myself enjoying the interplay of the different personalities.
Finally, there’s the actual gameplay. This is where it really becomes D&D. You point and click to move your characters along a grid, obviously reminiscent of the 5 foot square grids in D&D. You can control all four characters at once, or individually. Outside of combat, you’ll largely be moving them as a unit, but when combat starts, you’ll want to divide and conquer. Combat is absolutely where this game shines. During your turn, you get highlighted options of how far your character can move, and a full toolbar at the bottom with your character’s current status and actions they can take. It’s amazing how well Tactical Adventures captured the feel of D&D combat in a video game. The tutorials are straightforward and you playing efficiently almost immediately. With only a couple encounters, I was already deftly moving my characters around the battlefield, balancing attacks with skills, spells, and healing. Combat is extremely satisfying and feels fantastic.
There’s much more I could say about this game, but unfortunately I’m already exceeding my word count. Solasta is a wonderful foray into digital D&D and one that I highly recommend experiencing if you enjoy tabletop RPGs, or games such as Divinity: Original Sin. The one thing I have to knock them for is not having any form of multiplayer, because I would love, love, LOVE to play this game cooperatively with a small group of friends. However, I understand why Tactical Adventures doesn’t want to navigate into the mire that is online multiplayer. If you’re on the hunt for a singleplayer RPG to sink your teeth into during this time of quarantine and isolation, this might be the one for you. The character personalities are excellent, combat is fantastic, and the story so far is compelling. I definitely plan to continue playing to see where the narrative goes and how much larger it becomes.
You can currently pick up Solasta: Crown of the Magister on Steam, where it recently received a Winter Update adding a ton of new content!
Images via Tactical Adventures
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