Solasta: Crown of the Magister – Review

Solasta: Crown of the Magister,by Tactical Adventures, is a tactical turn based CRPG based on the Dungeon & Dragons 5th Edition rule set. It has a unique setting, Solasta; where an ancient road into the ruins of an empire that was destroyed by an ancient cataclysm was discovered, and has forced the creation of a council seeking to learn from the ruins, called the Legacy Council. The players serve as newly appointed deputies of the Council, seeking to explore the Badlands and fight a sinister plot by an enemy thought to be long gone. 

Overview

Your choices are dwarves, half-elves, unpointy elves, elves, and short elves

Solasta is built on a limited license for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. For those not familiar with the D&D rules set, Solasta features a class and level system that is typical of all versions of the game. You are able to choose from one of five different races, of each of which has two possible variants each with their own specific capabilities. Six classes and eight backgrounds are used to further flesh out a character, and in combination these serve as a baseline for determining a lot of the character’s capabilities. This does not mean that all the choices you make for a character are determined on creation, but a lot of them are defined at this point. Spellcasting characters will have many choices to make regarding spell choices, both at the point where they learn them as well as when choosing which ones to have available after a long rest, and each class has the ability to choose a specialization and at least one special ability or ability score increase at a higher level. 

Why yes, I do believe I want higher ground

Combat is turn based, with character’s using an attribute-derived initiative stat to determine turn order. Each character gets one movement action and one standard action a round. The standard action can also be used for a “dash”, which is essentially just another move. Typically, the standard action is used to cast a spell or make an attack or two, but there are a number of other potential options based on a character’s particular gear or class abilities. 

90 degree fighting is the best fighting

Combat stages are frequently extremely three dimensional and take full advantage of the array of Dungeons & Dragons spells and abilities in a way that has never been done before. Characters will be frequently climbing and jumping around, with spider climbing, levitation, flight, and various forms of teleportation allowing for even further forms of tactical movement as your gear and spellcasting capabilities develop. Monsters are able to take advantage of alternative forms of movement almost immediately. These differing capability levels and your ability to eventually overcome them is a key part of early to mid game party development. In fact, this feels like the biggest innovation that Solasta offers in comparison to its turn based tactical RPG peers. Even games that traditionally have relied a lot on dimensionality (think FFT-family games or the Divinity: Original Sin series) lack the sheer three dimensional options that Solasta offers and it creates a dynamic that is fun to explore and engage with. 

This care and dynamism extends to other areas too. Lighting, stealth, and environmental interactions are deep and meaningful, and despite other issues the game has, they all elevate Solasta and help to distinguish it from its peers. 

Orlagh has interesting hobbies

Travel is handled with an overland map which gives you a distance, expected travel time, and number of long rests that are required to get there. Characters require rations in order to survive, but good hunters and eventually spells can help fill the gap making rations mostly an early to mid game encumbrance cost. Random encounters are possible, and overall speed of travel will determine how likely it is to stumble into them, with the chance of being surprised or surprising them instead. These encounters feel largely inconsequential however. The game features more than enough experience points to reach maximum level, and random encounters do not appear to drop rare or unique treasure,. Whether you get surprised or not mostly does not matter, though it is of course advantageous in the rare situations when the encounters are actually challenging rather than merely an inconvenience. 

Pick a Scroll, any Scroll

The game features a crafting system, with characters needing a recipe, a crafting device, and the materials identified by the recipe in order to craft something. Characters also need proficiency in crafting the item, and having someone able to craft magical weapons and armor is required in order to get some of the best items in the game. Poison crafting appears to be helpful as well, with some poisons providing particularly unique and powerful effects, but potion and scroll crafting feels less relevant except for as a money making measure. Recipes and recipe items for the higher level objects are pretty rare, which can encourage you to make sure you check every chest and secret in the game, but can also create a feel-bad experience if you are not extremely thorough and miss finding the singular objects used for magical weapon and armor creation. 

Failures and Limitations

Solasta is much better in the earlier parts of the game than it is in the later parts, with the weakest parts of the game almost entirely coinciding with those that were not included in Early Access. Weird difficulty spikes, an extremely buggy boss fight, and several uninspired battles combine into something that feels like a noticeable drop in quality compared to the parts of the game that had time to sit in Early Access prior to release. It almost feels like they were rushed out for some reason or another. Another month or two in development, even if pushed back the full release, would likely have benefited the game.

While Solasta excels in its combat and environments, its story is unremarkable at best, confusing and nonsensical at worst. It is linear, which is not a problem in of itself, but usually linear stories result in deeper characterization of non player characters around the blank slate main character(s). In Solasta, even the NPCs are boring and relatively lifeless. I will not go into the specifics to avoid spoilers, but just be warned that if having a strong story is important for your overall enjoyment of a CRPG, then Solasta is likely to disappoint you. Some of this could be attributed to the overall weaknesses of the back part of the game, but really the story shows a general shallowness throughout. So this weak story and weak final section of the game combine into an overall experience that is less than stellar. 

The relative simplicity of the crafting system is good, but I find how they handled the recipe system to be a bit of a miss. Most weapons and armor have only a few different types of materials you can combine them with, and if you do not find the proper rare component armor or weapon you could end up out of luck. This is not enjoyable, and I feel like the game would have been better if it either allowed more flexibility with the recipes or made component weapons and armor more accessible. As it was in my first playthrough, I never found a primed long sword and found the lone primed chain shirt much too late for it to be useful, and my characters ended up worse off as a result of this. 

I found the game’s full utilization of three dimensional space to be a benefit and overall a big plus, but the game doesn’t take advantage of it as much as it could. With spider climbing, the easiest movement ability to acquire, it is not possible to stop on a non-horizontal surface unless you are moving to attack an enemy and the areas you can fly over are inconsistent to the point where I found it irritating. These issues are probably due to technical challenges, and I greatly enjoy what they do provide, but it feels like if they made it just a little tighter and more pervasive it would have made the most unique part of the game even more special. 

Achievements

I simply cannot get over how much the three dimensional nature of the battlefields elevates Solasta. It has actually made me go back and retroactively appreciate more “flat” games less because of how essential it feels after playing Solasta. Because of this, I truly hope that other games take Solasta’s accomplishments as a challenge and baseline because it would be good for the genre. It is just very impressive. 

The game’s quality of life and overall information level is great. Basically every bit of information I would want to have to be able to properly make my decisions is available, and it is easy to make the complicated decisions that are required in Solasta’s complex battlefields. This extends beyond just ease of use to general polish and leaning into making battles attractive and tense. For example, a lot of games with dice rolls put them in the background, or perhaps show them off to the side in an informational box. Solasta puts them front and center, giving you a bit of a visceral thrill as the dice head to their ultimate conclusion, and a moment of anticipation as you see individual damage rolls combine and wonder what that is going to do to the battlefield. This combination of the functional and the fun makes the experience of playing through battles in Solasta to be very satisfying. 

The character building choices are deep without being overwhelming. Only a few choices are needed for each character to get started, with other important choices made as characters level up. This feels more organic and lets you react to evolving situations without front loading too much before you even start the game. I do fear that this increased streamlining will reduce replayability, but perhaps the depth and engagement of battlefields and how deeply character’s abilities intertwine with the battlefield will keep things interesting enough to warrant replays. 

Summary
Until I reached the final parts of the game I was prepared to give Solasta a very high score. The change in quality is jarring and it makes me wonder what happened that resulted in that section to be left in such a rough state prior to release. Fortunately, I suspect that that will be fixed eventually, but it is enough of a problem that if you only expect to play the game once or want to have an optimal experience on your first play then it may be worthwhile to wait to try out Solasta. Otherwise, I feel that any true fan of tactical turn based RPGs or CRPGs should get Solasta. The stage design is exquisite and the way it innovatives on battlefield structure and interactions feels like a great leap forward for tactical games. That alone makes it worth checking out, and the smoothness and effectiveness of the interface only compounds things. If you are able to overlook its current weaknesses or to wait a bit for them to work out their kinks, Solasta is a great game to play, and is one that will hopefully be influential for years to come.
Good
  • Pushes the mechanical boundaries of the genre
  • Effectively translates D&D 5th Edition rules into deep and interesting character decisions
  • Extremely satisfying and effective interface
Bad
  • Story is a bit shallow with boring characters
  • Games final section does not match the quality of the earlier parts of the game
  • Crafting system is too constrained and leaves a lot to be desired
8
Great
Written by
doubt specialized in tactical turn based role playing games, with his particular interest starting with Final Fantasy Tactics and extending from there. He is very opinionated about the subject, and will talk to you endlessly about them on the turnbasedlover's discord.

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