Joining Baldur’s Gate 3 in the RPG Early Access D&D ecosystem is Solasta: Crown of the Magister. Solasta is nowhere near as flashy as BG3, but it is an incredible simulation of the Dungeons & Dragons 5.1 ruleset and far more satisfying to play despite some flaws.
Set in an original High Fantasy world, Solasta started it’s life as a Kickstarter project back in September 2019. It launched the campaign with a well received demo and surpassed its target by almost double achieving many stretch goals.
Fast forward to PAX Online this year and Solasta is well into it’s development with an updated demo I checked out as part of that coverage. I was immediately interested in the faithful recreation of the D&D 5.1 ruleset but wanted to see more of the total game.
Now that Solasta: Crown of the Magister has been released on Early Access via Steam, I had that chance and I was incredibly impressed. Staring from the most important part of any RPG, the Character Creator, I was thrilled with the options and depth available.
While the actual options to select your perfect characters are all there in exquisite detail, the actual cosmetic options are quite lacking at this point. I was beyond happy to choose a Snow Dwarf Fighter with a focus on the Battle Master subclass but she just looked awful.
Very few face, hair, and voice options are there right now and are actually at the level of the old Black Isle games like Icewind Dale and Baldur’s Gate. Not such a big deal if the game was entirely isometric, but the camera zooms in during dialogue and cutscenes and the limited cosmetic options come across in not the best light.
Despite this small and frankly not overly critical issue aside, I was so happy with my party of adventurers. Party in place I started the game and was pleasantly surprised to see it begin in a tavern where the 4 characters are reunited.
In a neat take on a tutorial each of them describe how they struggled to reach the reunion. This short playable sequences were a great introduction and fun to boot. One character had to escape a prison, another hunt down wolves. This was an incredibly smart way to start the game and brought a true smile to my face.
The game proper starts with a mission from a city official, which any D&D pen and paper player has encountered. Of course, the story spirals into a larger conspiracy, centering around the titular Crown of the Magister, and follows pretty similar tropes.
The story is serviceable, but the true star of this game is the incredibly implemented D&D 5.1 ruleset. Once the game starts and the party is exploring or in battle, the rules pervade everything.
In exploration characters are hindered by darkvision and light sources are needed to navigate. In Caution mode (think sneak) traps and tracks become visible. Locks can be picked, obstacles moved and if athletics are high enough gaps can be jumped. It is all very satisfying.
Even meeting enemies and other NPCs leverages dice rolls with Insight and various skill checks modifying conversations. I managed to avoid a number of battles by talking my way out of the conflict. I even gained experience points for that avenue which is something Baldur’s Gate 3 does not do currently.
In exploration everything is real time, but once an encounter is started it shifts to a turn based structure. Prior to starting combat if the characters are sneaking positioning themselves in key spots is very useful. Mages and archers on high ground and warriors close to enemies is always helpful.
Combat is exactly what I hoped from a faithful D&D 5.1 experience. Spells and Cantrips are represented excellently. Actions and bonus actions are handled in an elegant fashion as are the various power like skills.
Enemies react intelligently to the varied situations and leverage high ground, use spells and range attacks making battles challenging. I have to say using my mage to cast sleep on a pile of goblins, sniping the ones unaffected with my rogue and plowing into their ranks with my fighter is a great experience.
Other systems like crafting, short/long rests, and using ritual for detecting and identifying magic items is also handled great. Frankly, all the systems are well represented especially treasure.
IT is always satisfying to get new gear, especially magical items, and Solasta handles this really well. Items are introduced exactly as a Dungeon Master would in a campaign…slowly and in finite quantities. It may sound odd in our loot shooter timelines but for D&D it is perfect.
New items, weapons, and armor once identified can be equipped and make a real difference in the encounters. The inventory system could use some auto sorting and a bit of quality of life changes but all in all finding, buying or selling equipment and items is a great part of this game.
Solasta is in Early Access so the campaign ends at the end of a pivotal moment in the campaign but the experience so far has been great. The story is not hitting any groundbreaking levels of originality, but it is fun and servicable to deliver the great gameplay.
My main complaint with this Early Access is the customization options and up close models for the characters. The game at large looks great but, once the camera goes close the characters, it leaves a lot to be desired. I really hope the team tweaks that aspect as the game progresses.
Small issues like environment transparency and odd situations where characters are knocked off ledges caused some grief, but overall the game is very solid. I did not encounter any major crashes and played the games Early Access content start to finish in about 20 or so hours.
I can say without reservation that Solasta: Crown of the Magister is a terrific game that benefits greatly from the D&D 5.1 ruleset but does not have to fit in it’s story universe. This allows the developer to make a deep tactical RPG with their own story and universe hooks.
The result is an excellent RPG experience that I am looking forward to seeing evolve in the Early Access ecosystem. Solasta is available right now on Steam.