I’m Enjoying This More Than Baldur’s Gate 3!
Solasta came out of nowhere for me, I had not heard of it and when I was offered the chance of previewing the early access code, I basically took it because I wasn’t that busy. Lucky for me, a really good game fell into my lap and one that any fan of western CRPGs especially the BG series should put on their wishlists.
D&D By Any Other Name
When I first booted into the game I immediately wondered how the heck this dev team managed to create a D&D 5E game without seemingly securing a license. Doing my due diligence as a diligent games journo I quickly Googled the game and saw that it uses the SRD 5.1 document which is Wizards of the Coast open source publishing license for people to use a slightly pared down version of the 5E rules to create and publish their own material. Basically, its D&D 5E without some items, spells, classes and other bits and pieces and obviously not set in an official setting, but D&D nonetheless.
What it does mean is that the game is faithful to the venerable TTRPG many of grew up playing and still play to this day. So, when you see the D20 on screen rolling to hit that pesky goblin you know exactly what is going on and what you are doing. This familiarity makes it easier for experienced players to hop in, but the implementation of the rules will not confuse and leave players new to the genre and ruleset behind.
The implementation is also subtle in some respects. I did not read the loading screen tooltips until about 3 hours in the game and struggled in encounters in a cave system. I kept missing simple to hit chances and could not figure out why when rolling to hit I was rolling with disadvantage. For those not familiar when you roll with disadvantage you roll the D20 twice and take the lowest roll. Finally, I saw in the tooltips sections that the game implements light effects on characters, so while the shadows can hide you allowing you to sneak and spring a surprise attack, in battle darkness leaves you at a disadvantage unless your characters have night vision or carry a light source.
Another pleasing rule, for fans of more realistic rules, levelling up can only take place when you take a long rest so no grinding encounters to auto level, you have to camp and that takes planning. Talking of camping you better make sure you start any journey with rations as if you don’t have enough you cannot rest and that is a death sentence!
A Story That’s Not An Immediate Classic, But A Good One
Any RPG is judged on its story. The combat and other mechanics may be near perfect, but if the story does not carry the load, the game will most likely be abandoned well before the end. This game starts of like most rote western fantasy stories – a group of adventurers meet at an inn waiting for a government official who wishes to hire them. Hired as a type of official adventurer/law enforcement official you are tasked with exploring an area of the world that was the site of an ancient elven kingdom, one destroyed centuries before by a breach in dimensions called the Cataclysm. Yes, Dragonlance fans that is a same name for a world defining event.
And that is not where the similarities end. On your first mission you encounter these creatures called Soraks a race of reptilian bipeds that were thought extinct and are determined to destroy all they encounter. You will explore all manner of dungeons as you seek to understand these creatures as well as complete the central quest that holds the fate of the world and one of your party in its thrall.
Along the way you will encounter spiders, goblins, wolves, orcs, ghouls and other traditional D&D monsters as well as the Soraks and each encounter will test your tactical skills and how well you use your party members to complement each other to protect the party and kill the enemies.
Pen & Paper Tactics Brought to the PC
In addition to long rests at camp and light playing an important role in the game, the implementation of a grid-based battle system is near perfect. Depending on the character staying a few blocks away or getting right next to an enemy is important. However, unlike the games of old, verticality plays an important role. Sneaking around above enemies allows you to sneak attack and surprise them. However, enemies can do the same so best to keep an eye out. Oh, and if you encounter Soraks or spiders they will attack from below and crawl over obstacles and around walls.
Using your thief to backstab while having your mage throw magic missiles at the enemies and then rushing in with a buffed fighter while your cleric heals and assists the tank is satisfying as all heck. The levels all have walls, boulders and other bits of cover lying around and that gives the game a bit of an XCom feel as the cover can save your bacon.
Of course, just levelling up would not be as interesting given that D&D introduced prestige classes all the way back in AD&D ruleset. Solasta has similar chances at customisation, at level 3 or 4 I was able to choose a magic speciality for my rogue, allowing him to teleport behind enemies in battle to enable him to backstab and my Paladin was able to choose a class that would allow him to choose Soraks as his natural enemy giving him an advantage in battle against them.
Solasta gives you all the intricacy of D&D and the best Larian and Bioware before them had to offer and adds more to the game.
Unity is a Workhorse, but it Doesn’t Make for a Pretty Game
The game was built in Unity and that is a rock-solid engine. Be that as it may it is an ageing and simple engine in some ways. While from the isometric perspective the game characters look good and the backgrounds are beautiful and varied. But in cut scenes the character models look dated and the lip sync is just not up to standard. This detracts from the overall quality of the experience as the decent if unimpressive cutscenes takes you out of the game.
Solasta is the Game for BG and even Goldbox Fans
Solasta is in Early Access but the game is almost feature complete and runs like a dream, see the Unity comments above. The story may be a bit clichéd in parts of the execution, but there is enough there to keep you interested and the implementation of SRD5.1 makes this the best non D&D set game I’ve played this year.
The game engine looks like it is being built with longevity in mind, with the plan to add new modules over time similar to Neverwinter Nights. I’m not sure if these plans include user created modules, but if they can make good on this plan, this game will become a platform for hours of intrigue and fun for years to come.
If you are interested in the game head here and purchase the game which is in early access on PC through Steam for £27.99.
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