Gut Check: Solasta Crown of the Magister

Not so long ago I wrote a lengthy piece about my issues with the state of the early access release of Baldur’s Gate III. Without rehashing that entire article here, the main crux of it focused on the mechanical liberties Baldur’s Gate III took with the rules of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. My initial thought was that translating the rules of D&D into a video game would naturally require a ton of concessions, however another CPRG named Solasta Crown of the Magister recently entered early access and proved that theory wrong.

Solasta Crown of the Magister is a turn-based, isometrically viewed, party-focused RPG that might not have the best presentation, but impressively implements the rules of D&D in an easy to understand fashion. It’s actually been quite refreshing to be able to jump into a CRPG and know exactly what I’m doing for once, because usually it feels like I’m trying to learn a new language with these types of games. Solasta Crown of the Magister uses the SRD 5.1 rule set to great success, managing to appeal to veteran players of D&D without compromising accessibility to new players, and that’s something that deserves to be praised.

When you start Solasta Crown of the Magister, you can build an entire party from scratch or use some of the pre-generated offerings if you like. When building a character, you can choose from 8 playable races which include specific race variants (i.e. High Elf & Sylvan Elf), 8 backgrounds and 6 character classes. You are walked through character creation step by step, letting you know everything from what a particular god is all about, what benefits a certain background might grant and much more. I genuinely love the process of creating a character and think it’s fantastically well done, with the exception of how the character actually looks.

Therein lies my main hangup with Solasta Crown of the Magister. The actual appearance of your character is pretty rough. There’s only a handful of face and hair options to choose from which is particularly underwhelming for any role-playing game, but it highlights this hilarious imbalance between how mechanically sound the game actually is, versus the customization stuff. That point is only exacerbated by the facts that not only do the character models look very rough, but all of the NPC’s in the game are made from those same options. It led to a lot of moments where I’d see the same “dude with a beard” as both a quest giver, and a random bandit attacking me in the night. There isn’t any real variety for physical appearances, which desperately needs to be addressed.

But hey, it’s early access, and I honestly prefer having a mechanically sound game versus a pretty one. If I could mash up both Solasta Crown of the Magister and Baldur’s Gate III, we’d have ourselves one hell of a CRPG to contend with.

I also really appreciate that this game starts with your adventurers meeting in a tavern and sharing their stories (tutorial missions) about their journey here to each other. It’s a very funny jab at the fact that all good D&D campaigns start in a tavern, although it really tries to force some of your characters into specific tutorial boxes. For instance, my party is comprised of a paladin, a fighter, a cleric and wizard, all of whom shared their “tale of triumph” with one another.

The first tutorial taught me how to just move around the world via escaping a prison, the second taught me how to kill wolves and push them off cliffs, the third taught me how to utilize light, resting, and healing potions, and the final one was a stealth mission. Now, you may have noticed it too, but I don’t have a rogue in the party. However, Solasta Crown of the Magister made a decision and decided that my cleric was the perfect fit for the job. She handled it well enough, but I’m certain the rolls were weighted in my favor for the tutorial. It’s nothing game breaking by any means, but it certainly is immersion shattering when the game just decides on a character trait for the sake of a tutorial.

Once through the tutorial, you get your first chance at navigating dialogue situations. Each player was given a set of tags to choose from during character creation based on their alignment and background, which I believe (although I’m not certain) impacted who had a certain dialogue option to use. I didn’t see any dialogue choices in the traditional sense, but a tutorial tooltip made it sound like the game would automatically select the character with the highest stats to perform a particular dialogue skill check. But from what I saw in the first hour or so of playing was that each character just has one dialogue option to interject into the conversation. Hopefully this expands as I play more of Solasta Crown of the Magister, but as is, I do appreciate how every character is at least involved in the conversation.

Solasta Crown of the Magister really shines in a lot of different areas despite being pretty rough in the presentation department. The voice acting is hit or miss and the characters all look pretty bad, but it’s mechanically competent for a D&D video game. One of my favorite touches is how you’re placed into a visible grid when you enter combat, leaving no ambiguity about where you are or who you’re vulnerable too. Honestly, the user interface in general is much easier to follow than it is in Baldur’s Gate III.

Another really intriguing aspect about Solasta Crown of the Magister is how it’s structuring campaigns. From the looks of things, there isn’t going to be one overarching campaign that will occupy you for hours upon hours. Instead it looks like they’re going for a more anthology approach, with Crown of the Magister being the first playable campaign. It’s a really interesting approach that comes with its own set of pros and cons. For instance, I can see a really easy post launch support structure that just injects new campaigns into the game, but it also makes you wonder if you’ll get any of the inter-party drama that you would get from other games like romance options and new recruits.

Solasta Crown of the Magister is in early access, so my gripes with the game as it is are bound to change, but without a development roadmap to refer to, all I can do is speculate at this point. Most importantly, it should be noted that this comes from a very small studio that hasn’t shipped a game before and found their funding via Kickstarter, so their resources are a bit more limited. To expect Solasta Crown of the Magister to offer the same amount of features and intricacies that something like Baldur’s Gate III is implementing would be unfair, but in my opinion they’ve already tackled the hardest part by successfully translating the D&D rules into a video game. That alone might be a good enough reason to check it out.

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