The renaissance of the isometric western role-playing game for PC now knows no end. Driven by user funds via Kickstarter, we have seen projects come to life from houses with many years of activity behind them, such as Obsidian e Run. Others, like the Russians of Owlcat games they managed to be born and grow up in this world.
One of the founders of Amplitude Studios, the creators of the now famous and profitable series Endless, has opened his own development studio called Tactical Adventures and, after having gleaned € 243.855 on Kickstarter and having spent 7 months in Early Access, his creature is ready to play.
Solasta: Crown of the Magister looks like a isometric role-playing game based on the rules of Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition. And this is enough to put it in a direct comparison with the same concept carried out by the Larians in Baldur's Gate III. The two games are a totally different experience, evident not only by the different budget and work team behind, but also by goal.
Solasta goes to get the SRD 5.1 license of D&D 5th edition, thus having access to a limited set of basic rules, on which to build their own setting and custom rules. Solasta's world is original in its conception. A thousand years before the game began, a massive magical cataclysm opened a portal to another dimension, bringing enormous devastation to the world of Solasta. The epicenter area has become known as Badlands, a land full of secrets and mysteries from the ancient glories of the previous civilization. With all these mysteries and riches it is common for numerous adventurers to be drawn to the prospect of adventure and fame.
And in the creation of its party Solasta differs from all the most famous proposals on the market. Instead of creating a single character in the adventure, it is your job to build the whole party of four adventurers. You only have the classes of Warrior, Thief, Mage, Cleric, Ranger, Paladin and as a free DLC for everyone at launch, the Sorcerer. The most interesting classes, such as the Druid or the Warlock, are not there. For each class there is the possibility to select a subclass by advancing through the levels. The limit of having chosen the edition SRD 5.1 from D&D here it shows itself fully. The only official subclasses are perhaps the most "boring" and standard of the entire fifth edition rule set and the others created by Tactical Adventures for Solasta: Crown of the Magister are not particularly inventive.
Perhaps for ease of design and implementation, these are almost all classes with passive skills and often ineffective in altering the dynamics of the class. I can tell you that for my run I think I made every worst possible choice in building my characters but despite everything I managed to get to the end of the adventure with the Authentic difficulty setting, that is with the rules always applied to the letter. So from this point of view the balance, when wrong, seems to be good.
The party thus created, however, will not be silent. During the creation phase we could decide a sort of personality for the various characters. They can speak formally, be altruistic or cynical, or express themselves as a Venetian longshoreman. These characteristics form the lines of dialogue that are spoken by the various characters, who then interact with each other and with the NPCs in a personal way. You also have access to exclusive side quests for each individual background. This is probably the most intriguing aspect of the production and probably the most successful on the narrative side despite not being implemented in a complex way.
Lato fabula ed plot we are faced with one something simple but intriguing at the same time, with revelations and twists well positioned in the 25 hours of play necessary to complete the adventure. There is potential for many other interesting stories in this world. The limit is represented by the dialogues and interactions. Essential and straight to the point. NPCs aren't Bioware game talkers, so to speak. There will be few diplomacy tests, few crossroads in what is otherwise a 100% linear adventure. Sure, I managed to avoid a couple of battles thanks to the sharp tongue of my thief halfling Zoe, but we are talking about unique situations, not an organic mechanism distributed in a balanced way in the adventure.
The strong point, or at least the element where the game is all about itself, it's the fight. Strictly turn-based, with an initiative shot well shown at the beginning of the battle, with all the dynamics of the paper game. Solasta: Crown of the Magister only makes minor adjustments where it sees fit. Given the huge emphasis on lighting, attacking without a light source is disadvantageous, with harsher penalties than in the board game. Likewise, given the emphasis placed on verticality of the environments, combat distances are above the average for the genre. There is therefore the possibility of making a change of weapon set up per round without wasting time, as happens in the board game.
Combat brings with it all the strengths and weaknesses of the original paper. While all the classes are able to contribute to the fight in their own way, with a strategic use of the available resources, on the other hand there is a certain flatness in the execution, with some classes more exciting than others. The warrior of the group always has the task of advancing and giving blows, with very few variations on the theme. The magician, on the other hand, can extricate himself from strengthening the team, hitting groups of enemies or focusing on the most dangerous targets, all with an element of resource management between one rest and another. Some matches require all your expertise in knowing how to position yourself and use the rules to your advantage. I feel like doing a run with four wizards now.
Another strong point lies in the customization of the gaming experience. The options to change the difficulty are numerous and touch many elements of the game. The maximum level that can be reached in the adventure is 10, so as to avoid entering the territory where it becomes more difficult to balance everything. This way the experience is kept right from start to finish and anything you like less can be fine tuned. Note that there is an option for how bad AI is to use all of its tools in the most effective way. A notable change because instead of making it cheat like 99% of video games, here you have to really fight it with the brain.
An example where this possibility of customization is very welcome is in the exploration part of the game map. Each journey is a test of endurance for your food resources. You can speed up the pace, but this will make you easy prey for ambushes. If at the beginning of the adventure this mechanism is well calibrated and emphasizes the emotions arising from exploring unknown lands with reduced resources, in the long run it becomes more tedious than anything else. You can then turn off random encounters and minimize the annoyance.
The other contour elements are also not so well calibrated. Let's take the crafting and the system of reputation. During the various trips it is possible to recover objects of historical / archaeological importance to then sell to one of the different factions of the game to unlock their shops. If you abuse this mechanism well at the beginning of the game, it is possible to have access to endgame equipment practically immediately. Instead, if you make a mistake in using this system, you could find yourself at the end of the game with no faction able to offer the best of their shop, finding yourself crippled. Crafting fits into this system, as it is too dependent on random drops and what you have available in stores. It is something optional, but the most unique and interesting weapons are obtained with this system and I have managed to build just a couple of them, however not optimal for my party. In my opinion, systems need to be recalibrated.
Solasta: Crown of the Magister also includes a dungeon editor. Here you can try your hand at creating maps full of monsters, loots, challenges, puzzles and more. The editor is in beta and lacks several possibilities, but it is certainly a feature that fans might find useful in extending the life of the game.
As you could see from the screenshots, graphically the game is not bad, you can watch it. From a stylistic point of view it is not particularly imaginative and the number of animations is somewhat limited, but the experience is pleasant. Performance tends to drop dramatically when there are a lot of AI elements to manage, with framerates around 40 FPS on my Xeon 1650 processor. On a game of this nature it's not a problem to go down to such FPS at all, so I don't see it as a game. problematic, also because we have never gone to unplayable territories. Even on the audio side, the game defends itself well, with the main themes well orchestrated and with the right notes, excellent accompaniments of the most important moments of the adventure but nothing that you will carry in your memories.
What if we had to try to sum up Solasta: Crown of the Magister? I personally am a bit torn. Objectively, the game has limitations. If the combat part is successful, flexible and calibrated, all the other elements surrounding it are sufficient. But I couldn't stop playing it. I tried taste e experience in going from clash to clash, in planning how to equip my characters, which talents to take as you level up, which spells were most useful to have prepared and which are better in scroll form for occasional use. I wanted to see the next dungeon, see how the story would evolve even with the predicted plot twist after 5 minutes. Travel between locations to complete sidequest, to obtain new loot, and to visit specific merchants. I was dragged in with force and did not want to get out.
Therefore, I feel I can promote it globally. The charm of isometric role-playing games so inspired by paper ones is able to excite and make a game more enjoyable than the sum of its parts. And in case there is any doubt in giving € 40 on such a new project, the game is also available on Gamepass.