While my main interest will forever be video games, I also have a huge love for TTRPGs. There are plenty of worlds, systems, and imaginative ideas to take on, all providing their own flavours to long sessions of adventuring. As standard as it might sound though, Dungeons & Dragons 5E has become my main one to DM. For me, it fixed a lot of the problems power gaming can introduce and went with a setup that I believe is inviting for both newcomers and veterans alike. This is why I wanted to look at Solasta: Crown of the Magister, as is the first title to officially use the D&D 5.1 ruleset. If this first project by Tactical Adventures is anything to go by, I am already excited to have them as DMs again!
A good and inviting campaign
The story starts out with your four costum made players sitting around a table inside an old tavern, telling tales from their own small adventures while waiting for more info on a job they applied for. You see, The Legacy Council has called out for brave heroes to explore the regions known as the Badlands, areas in complete destruction after a rift opened that caused humans to venture onto this magical land. You answered this call and your first mission from them is to figure out why a militant group has not sent weekly responses back to the council. Best of luck and tread carefully!
Solasta is a great example of not reinventing the wheel, but still making its journey an exciting one. You will begin this campaign with a simple mission that transitions into something grander and takes you to different locations, each dealing with varied difficulties caused by the main threat. The plot is beautifully escalated step by step, and even works in worldbuilding and lore as a part of the adventure. With a haunted library, an orcish settlement with lava everywhere, and mysterious ruins to decipher, there are a lot of details and information to take in. It is all familiar, but wonderfully handled due to the setups being believable and the story never being halted by unnecessary detours.
This magical adventure is strengthened further by the diverse cultures you will come across, like a mining civilisation taking pride in their work, old elves believing in a hierarchy that is no longer supported, and so on. All of this adds a ton of clear and subtle lore through interactions and visual cues, with even the reading materials providing only light expositions. Every NPC you will meet is charming and feels like three dimensional characters that have clear emotions and ideals. This is thanks to how they come with strong dialogues that showcase their backgrounds and personality perfectly, making them easily relatable.
Which could be said about your costume made characters, just not in the same amount of quality. Despite that you can give them different backgrounds and alignments, they do not respond much to these personality traits and go with clearly established setups. It is fun to see them chatting with each other and the NPCs, but it can admittedly become awkward due to how they will either be too calm or too forward with their approaches. Different forms of overacting, if you will. They might also have short-term memory, as my fighter was surprised that my cleric could speak orcish, yet he had already done so 10 minutes prior to this conversation.
It is quite humorous how the players’ dialogues are those that can be off, but this also feels like a cute nod to the actual experience of traditional D&D. In fact, while there are moments of uncanny acting, they are never subpar or bad. They just feel over the top, adding to this setting that is legitimately interesting and deep, but can also be a simple form of entertainment. For example, you can be as immersed with the world around by taking on different persuasion methods for gaining more info or charge into battle right away. This helps at making this campaign your adventure, and even failing at skill checks is worth it in order to see what dialogues pop up.
It is a shame that the end portion of this journey is clearly rushed, with some landmarks seemingly being cut out and the finale being a mix of amazing and confusing. However, this does not change what a fantastic adventure Solasta provides, thanks to memorable characters, a story wonderfully told, and lore and worldbuilding that are always fascinating by using the media well to elaborate upon them. Even the side quests are intriguing, with some being related to your characters in neat ways. There might be a bit of extra cheese in the dialogues, but that simply adds to the beautiful atmosphere in my opinion.
Story Score: 8/10
Welcome to the world of D&D!
There were some liberties taken to make this adaptation of D&D 5E work, but the developers are still updating this game to add in more features and classes at the time of this review. Before taking on the main campaign, you must make a costum party of four where you choose their races, classes, backgrounds, alignments, allocate stat points, skills, feats, magic if possible, and visually design them through a decent selection of options. If you just want to start the adventure right away, you can take one of the premade characters for a quick start. You are even able to level them up from this menu, but the main campaign only allows characters who are at level 1.
This all might sound complicated, but Solasta does a great job at easing the players in with clear descriptions of every aspect you need to know about and even comes with a light tutorial. It will also not take a minimum of 30 minutes to just make one character, just like in D&D 5E. In this overhead RPG, you will control your party of four where you will be exploring various locations and use your abilities to take upon challenges you will come across. This is a diverse land and it is hard to predict what skills might come in handy.
For example, good acrobatic skills will let a character jump far distances, intimidation can be used to avoid dangerous fights, and perception helps you at finding traps. You will not be able to become a master in every skill, so take into consideration that some obstacles can also have multiple solutions, such as using magic to make a hole in a wall or climb around to find a better entrance. This title even lets only the character with the appropriate skills take on specific challenges automatically, making sure you are never lockpicking chests with a wrong unit. You can also control each of the characters individually, but remember that it is dangerous to go alone.
There are even puzzles to tackle, and while they are easy, they will require a keen eye and logical thinking to solve. The same goes for hidden doors and pathways, since despite that you can highlight interactable objects, the fog of war makes it so you still need to explore around and get insights to the areas you are visiting. These aspects help at making the adventure exciting and intriguing, with fast travel points in each location helping at cutting down backtracking. You can even go stealthy or use magical potions for varied and practical effects. Although, there are some powers I never understood. Detect Evil And Good always felt like an odd ability, and while you can cast Fly and do so over certain areas, it does not work over bottomless pits.
These parts will make the limitations confusing at times, but they are rather minor issues since such inconveniences are few and far between. Whenever an attempt requires a skill check, you automatically roll a d20 and add the appropriate modifiers related to it, quickly seeing if you succeeded or failed. You are never lost on what to do throughout any quest, but are free to take them on in different manners, as long as you are actually capable of doing them. Failing at any checks is never a big issue either, as they will provide fair consequences that can even be entertaining. Of course, you could always reload a save file if you need your run to be perfect.
Equipping your members with different armours, trinkets, and weapons will certainly be important for getting through this campaign, but there are also a ton of details to take into consideration here. Spellcasters need something to focus on, fighters should be ready for both close and ranged combat, and being over encumbered will slow a player down. Yes, inventory management is an important aspect of this adventure, but never overbearing. Crafting is also easily done, as it only requires the right tools and time. With this in mind, you are expected to not hoard every single useless item you come across, as you cannot carry them all with you just to sell them.
This is helped by how Solasta uses mercenaries to acquire and sell what you did not take with you and give you a cut of the deal, which is a much better setup than going back and forth between areas. Furthermore, like in normal D&D, replenishing health and spells need to be done through long rests at inns or by camping, which will also require rations. Short rests can only heal you a little and maybe grant back one ability, so be careful to not overdo yourself. I love this, as Solasta always makes sure you know what is required of you without being convoluted, yet still expects you to stay sharp.
Areas are broken up by an overworld map that is used for travelling between them. This part is rather automated, as your characters will do different things on their journeys, like hunting for rations or play cards for no real effect. The only part you have any saying in is how fast or slow your party should travel, which will also affect their rations and health. However, these journeys can also lead to encounters, either by surprise or you noticing them first. This leads us to finally covering the game’s combat! The setup is both turn-based and grid-based, where everybody rolls initiative to see who goes first in what order.
Every single battle is engaging. You will have to use diverse sets of weapons, supportive and damaging spells, as well as feats and abilities in order to get through, thanks to the beautiful enemy variety. Spiders climbing around every corner, elemental creatures being immune to certain attacks, dragons with terrifying breaths, ghosts that can fly, and tons more make sure that you always have to be on your toes. There is even the opportunity to take the fiends off guard or they you, depending on how careful you are. However, what makes Solasta fantastic as an adaptation of the real TTRPG setup, is how much it focuses on the environmental designs to make the combat exhilarating and creative.
Fights can occur outside huge castles, inside dark caves, and within cramped arenas to name a few, all having designs to make them intriguing. To give an example; one castle will have archers that can be a huge danger for the party. You can choose to push them down if you are able to climb up the walls, use magic to light up an area for hitting the fiends better with ranged attacks or take cover behind objects for minimising damage, adding tons of possible strategies to this one battle alone. The game always warn about advantages and disadvantages before every move, and spells will show area of effect before you cast them, making sure you are never left in the dark. Be warned though; every encounter is deadly and challenging, forcing you to keep a cool head!
This holds especially true for the boss fights, since they will demand you to take every dangerous detail into consideration. They can take extra turns, heal on attacks, have plenty of units under their command or worse, making all of these battles different and exciting. This healthy difficulty also comes from how this title plays like a traditional D&D and not an exaggerated RPG. In this setup, being able to attack twice with one weapon, finding a greatsword +1 or cast one more spell per day, are huge highlights. Grinding is also not something you ever need to do in this adventure, since strategies and exploration will get you far on their own. You even gain XP from discoveries or doing quests, which is a wonderful touch.
I love this, as it makes every single upgrade significant and you will still need to make good strategic plans throughout the adventure, especially since the level cap is at 10. You cannot be overpowered, playable characters can die, there is only a specific amount of spells you can cast per day, and the dice rolls make everything tense. This holds true all the way until the end, where you will be facing tons of enemies and probably wonder if you are even going to make it. The entire journey is structurally solid, with great side quests and even factions being a neat idea, as you can sell each of them important artefacts for letting you use their services. They do not come cheap, but for a good reason.
While I do question some minor design choices and miss classes like bard, it does not change that Solasta provides a great adventure from start till finish. It is a faithful adaptation of D&D 5E that I believe anyone can enjoy, despite some minor shortcomings. Exploration is filled with clever details, skill checks are fun to attempt at, and the combat always offer fantastic challenges. For a game taking anywhere between 30-50 hours to finish depending on what side quests you take on, I am surprised by how engaging it stayed all the way through.
Gameplay Score: 8/10
A magical land with uncanny characters
This world is brimming with diverse locations and colours, making it truly a magical landscape to uncover. Each area is distinct with interesting set pieces that all tell a story, such as the ruins by a waterfall, a fallen city almost covered in sand or a dark forest with fiery magma nearby. Everything adds to make each part of any location memorable and recognisable, with every object being used to make the areas believable and diverse. Even the maps are gorgeously made by clear pencil lines that gives them a 3D look, which is an impressive feat on its own.
It is quite strange how the lighting and atmosphere in every location is simply mesmerising, yet the menus are drab and colourless. Sure, these are only one part of the visuals, but with how much time will be spent managing items and menus being always present in the general gameplay, it would have been nice if they were shaped like character sheets or anything creative to make them look more visually intriguing than iron backgrounds. I will also say that, while there are some visual cues to what the characters are equipped with, this part is also lacking due to a lot of the outfits being underwhelming and similar.
Which leads us to the characters, who have stiff movements in dialogue sequences, awkward mouth animations, and facial hairs that can look like strange wigs. Because of this and the off textures on their skins, character models can sadly be unintentionally ugly. Luckily, whenever in action, be it jumping around, casting spells or attacking, all move with grace and impressive motions, with the magic being a highlight through the diverse effects. Bless provides light chimes, fireballs spark when being shot, and magic missiles have never looked better, just to name a few examples.
All the fiendish creatures, such as skeletons, orcs, and wolves, look great and it is neat how the camera will go for a closeup for specific attacks. I even enjoy the small addition of dice rolling whenever it is called for, and despite not many cutscenes being included, the intro with moving images and the magnificent artwork used for loading screens are all lovely pieces worth admiring. Everything is beautiful, except for the humanoid characters that honestly could have used more customisation options in the character creation as well.
Thankfully, the audio is just incredible. All of the effects, such as stone towers falling down, spells being cast or claws from enemies swiping at you, sound unique and deadly, providing weight to every motion. This is further enhanced by the excellent cast of voice actors, all giving performances that show each character’s personality with great tones and directions. With such a fantastic cast, it is a bit of a shame that the minor problems of subtitles not matching the voices and poor pacing between the lines, will be getting in the way. These are nitpicks, but become more apparent due to the quality actors being included, such as Margeaux Lampley and Tom Morton.
Then we have the outstanding score by Maxime Hervé who created a bombastic soundtrack focusing on tons of strong orchestral instruments. Be it the theme of the game hitting hard with trumpets and drums, the adventure melody building up with mysterious violins or Caer Cyflen’s track with flutes and even a singer creating a calm environment, everything here is majestic. All of the melodies are memorable with diverse use of notes and rhythms, making for a gorgeous OST that rivals those of Jeremy Soul and Phoenix Glendinning.
Presentation Score: 7/10
Wanna go dungeon crawling?
After playing through the main campaign, I started replaying it right away with a new set of party members, which offered a different experience that was just as engaging. However, Solasta also introduces dungeonmaker for creating nice dungeon crawler scenarios. This is a neat extra, but it feels restricted from making an actual campaign. A better support for mods or elements for crafting new adventures, could give this game a long lasting appeal. Seeing as this mode is still in development at the time of this review and that you have to choose a campaign in order to start one, there is hope for more to come. For what it is, this is a fun extra that can be seen as a way to run one shot sessions or long adventures of dungeon crawling for the creative DMs.
Extra Score: 7/10
While rough around the edges, Solasta: Crown of the Magister provides a beautiful RPG experience that simply could use some polish. The character models and menus look unfinished, the extra content could have had more to it, and there are minor oddities in the game’s design. However, despite some issues, this title uses one of the best TTRPG systems in a fascinating world that is easy to get lost and charmed by, with a magnificent adventure being filled with magic. Combat is always engaging, exploration is never dull, the audio is amazing, and every NPC and location is intriguing. For me, this is one of the best takes on a TTRPG setup I have seen in years.