Dungeons and Dragons 5Eh
It almost seems unfair to talk about Solasta: Crown of the Magister a mere two weeks after reviewing Baldur’s Gate 3. I know it’s not exactly fair to either game but it’s impossible to not draw direct comparisons between the them.
Both are top-down RPGs, are heavily based on Wizards of the Coast’s highly successful Dungeons and Dragons tabletop game, and are currently in early access. It’s rare that one has to review two games attempting to do nearly the exact same thing in such quick succession and while this review isn’t a direct comparison, it’s certainly interesting to see the two different approaches to adapting a beloved tabletop game pan out.
Having said that, what Solasta lacks in budget and presentation it makes up for with heart and mechanical accuracy to the source material, bar one or two significant changes, which I think delivered a far more authentic DnD experience.
Solasta: Crown of the Magistar’s story starts the way all good DnD games begin: In a tavern with everyone talking about how they ended up getting there but no one actually talks about who they are. You can create your own party of paladins, rogues, wizards, whatever takes your fancy, and to the game’s credit, all your party members have full voice-acting.
Sure they’re voiced poorly but with a development team this small, one has to hope that some kind of vocal overhaul can be expected in the future. I actually ended up going with the pre-made characters because sitting down to create my own characters was incredibly disappointing due to a painfully small range of options to choose from. Heck, even randomising names often threw out the exact same options multiple times. One has to remember that this a game in early access so I’m doing my best to not criticise it too heavily for aspects that can be improved on in time. It’s still difficult to really feel that personal connection with a character when they can be one of four faces and hairstyles with not much else.
In terms of narrative, it’s… fine. The writing and character work feels very much like a Dungeon Master running their first campaign so everything is quite stilted and jarring. Characters talk at one another instead of with one another and the range of voices is so minute that if I’d closed my eyes and listened to the game I would have no idea who was chatting.
There are some interesting ideas at play here: The structure of the party functioning as “Deputies of the Council” and heading out to investigate dark magic incidents is a great set up for a range of potential hijinks and I think that’s what the developers intended considering the empty spaces left for future campaigns (I’m speculating here but that’s what all that empty menu space seemed to indicate). Yet there’s nothing truly special about the story.
It’s a stock standard fantasy yarn with playable characters, even pre-made, that have zero personality and feel more like chess pieces clearing out a board of enemies. The approach many RPGs take to actually provide players with interesting characters to bounce off is to only make them playable in combat. Walking around the world and in conversation, they’re their own people with needs and wants, leading to some potentially interesting conflicts with the player.
Yet Solasta allows you to control all the characters in conversation, meaning they’re all essentially the same person acting as a mouthpiece for the player. One has to hope that future campaigns and updates actually give characters a little more to do rather than just stand awkwardly next to one another and listen to their mate’s asking questions.
Leaving the tavern to embark upon you quest, your party is informed that some rather bad stuff is happening in an area known as the Badlands, a place destroyed by dark magic and populated with all kinds of spooky monsters and villains. Running around the main city of the game, Caer Cyflen, one certainly begins to feel the Dungeons and Dragons angle of the game seep in.
Gathering your supplies before embarking on your journey, it becomes clear that Solasta wants to be the definitive DnD 5E adaptation, even going so far as to replicate aspects that many table-top players (myself included) detest. Aspects such as travel time, rations for long trips, and rolling for random encounters when out in the world. It’s authentic and accurate to the system it’s based on in a purely mechanical sense but whether or not you actually enjoy a ruleset that often involves a load of irritating time wastes is entirely subjective. Some kind of option to tweak what aspects of DnD you want in your Solasta experience would have gone a long way in actually replicating the game I adore so much.
The combat is another mixed bag. Visually, it looks stunning. Spells have distinct visual effects that pop when you use them, making just running up to an enemy and whacking them with a sharp lump of steel a little disappointing in comparison.
Which isn’t a criticism of the game but rather of anyone who chooses to play as a fighter. Because Solasta is based heavily on DnD, combat is very much determined by luck which, honestly, can become extremely frustrating after a while. Certain scenarios almost feel as if they’ve been designed without taking potential party builds into account.
Spending 30 minutes on a single enemy because it’s sitting on a high wall out of reach while all of my spellcasters are out of slots and the only person able to get a hit in has to do it incrementally with a crossbow kind of sucks. A lot. This isn’t even going into the utterly bizarre rule change from 5E that dim light effects the “to-hit” roll and puts players at disadvantage. Sure, you can make your own light but enemies then just run away and hit you from range. It’s a truly weird rule change that doesn’t make any sense and often makes combat more frustrating than it should be.
The thing about Solasta: Crown of the Magister is that it’s a decent Dungeons and Dragons adaption done on a limited scale and budget. That’s not something that one can fault the game for; if anything I applaud what the game is doing with its resources because the actual mechanical adaption is surprisingly accurate, if you look past some ridiculous rule changes. Yet I also battled to overlook the often disappointing presentation of the game’s story, characters and world.
That’s half the fun in DnD: The flavour behind all the rolls and skill checks. For me, Solasta just didn’t capture that magic no matter how well it did to authentically recreate the tabletop experience. I look forward to checking in on it in a few months after a few more updates and tweaks work to give the game just a little bit more personality.
Last Updated: November 4, 2020