Solasta: Crown of the Magister is one part isometric, tabletop-style, turn-based RPG and one part dungeon making toolset. Developed and published by Tactical Adventures, the ruleset used in the campaign and custom dungeons is based on the latest Dungeons and Dragons SRD 5.1 Ruleset, making for an authentic tabletop role-playing experience on your PC.
The first component is the lengthy, titular “Crown of the Magister” campaign module. There are times it feels more like a custom module than a full-blown game, relying too much on exposition dumps to keep you up to speed, but it quickly settles into a groove. The world of Solasta is built upon the ruins of an ancient Elven empire. This civilisation was destroyed by a cataclysm that also brought with it the humans. It’s an interesting setup, albeit one full of dynamics long-time RPG players will have seen before.
You create and play as a group of adventurers that have arrived in the neutral city of Caer Cyflen, which is offering well-paid work to those willing to brave the “Badlands”. The city council believes a plot is brewing against the adjacent kingdoms and seek adventurers to discover the cause of recent attacks and disappearances.
This quest will take you from forts on the outskirts, into buried magical libraries, lava-filled caverns, and elven palaces. There are shape-shifting lizards from another dimension, a subservient human cult, mysterious artefacts, and the threat of another cataclysm. Long time RPG fans will roll their eyes, having seen similar narrative hooks before, but it provides some much-needed narrative context for the series of tactical battles. It’s not the longest RPG campaign, but dialogue choices and character attributes – which impact both how you navigate the environment and approach combat – add a degree of replayability.
Creating your party of four can take ages if you spend your time researching the impact of every stat and high-level subspecialties, but it’s something that tabletop p[layers will relish (and you can pick from several pre-made characters if you want). One of the character choices is “personality”, which ties into a dynamic dialogue system that is surprisingly robust. The nature of party banter and how your characters interact with quest givers can change, yet the dialogue feels fluid (outside of a few curt and distinctly generic responses).
Many attributes and abilities tie directly into combat, but they can also affect your parties ability to move around the surprisingly vertical environments (for the genre at any rate). Level design and how you approach combat can drastically change how each fight plays out. Charging in can often leave enemies in control of high points and limit your cover. It also allows for more epic moments as your party battles up cliffside paths or fights on narrow ledges above magical chasms. There are very few conventional (think flat) combat arenas, while your foes are nimble enough to ensure nowhere is safe.
Solasta: Crown of the Magister places a strong emphasis on its tabletop inspiration and, as such, every action and outcome is based on the role of the dice. Turn order, hit chance, saving throws, spells, class abilities, dialogue checks – it’s all down to luck and modifiers. That said, the basic flow of turn-based, round-by-round combat doesn’t stray far from genre basics, and you’ll find your groove quickly. Movement, a major action, and maybe a free action, make up each turn at first.
Movement and character placement is particularly important, as verticality means opportunities to push enemies off ledges (and the same can happen to you). Thankfully, basic cantrips (think low-level spells) are often free actions, while there are several class-specific abilities to prolong your turn. As a result, constant levelling and advanced character builds allow you to take more and more actions each round. With each location only consisting of a few critical fights, this ensures the stakes high and ensure the game moves along briskly. It’s a far cry from the often repetitive and drawn out encounters in most turn-based games.
One of the most advertised features for Solasta: Crown of the Magister was the “Dungeon Maker” feature, which is both impressive for quickly crafting dungeon raids but currently lacks many narrative options. Tactical Adventures plans to expand this future going forward but, even in its current state, it feels almost as accessible and intuitive and Bioware’s excellent Aurora Toolset from 2002’s Neverwinter Nights.
After choosing from several tilesets, the ambience, and the background track, there is a myriad of props and light sources to decorate your location. You can bar the way with locked and trapped doors, sending players on the hunt for key items. Encounters can be tweaked to cater for any level party – offering several types of triggers if you want to catch players off guard – while loot chests can be filled with loot. Every creature and item available in the Crown of the Magister module is available to the DM. It’s a fun and interesting way to get to grips with the complexity of the level design but doesn’t feel fully featured just yet.
When it comes to presentation, Solasta: Crown of the Magister can look good, with sprawling and atmospheric locations, backed up by a great soundtrack. The biggest weakness is the character models for some secondary NPCs. Your party, most enemies, and key NPCs can look good, but others look plasticky and distinctly dated. Thankfully, you’ll barely notice these when you’re caught up in the tactical combat while the music swells, but dialogue sequences make it obvious. That said, even the somewhat janky cutscenes are still entertaining thanks to surprisingly good voice work and cohesive dialogue that comes together despite having to deal with several personality types. On the downside, performance could be inconsistent – I think lighting effects had the biggest impact – and loading times are long for larger outdoor larger locations (even using an SSD).
If you can look past a few flaws and the currently limited Dungeon Maker feature, Solasta: Crown of the Magister is still a solid pick for fans of classic CRPGs and any amateur DMs looking for an intuitive way to craft dungeon gauntlets to challenge your friends. The campaign feels a little light on detail at times but is still fun to play thanks to the vertical combat complexities. The Dungeon Maker feature – if it continues to expand – could be the true highlight, granting the game a ton of longevity if full campaigns can one day be developed using it.
Published and Developed by Tactical Adventures
Reviewed on PC and can be purchased here for £30.99
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