A cataclysm has hit and political tension has been brewing between the Principality of Masgarth and its neighbouring regions. The neutral Legacy Council has decided to issue a call for hired help to be sent out to explore the Badlands - the core - the epicentre of the cataclysm. The hired adventurers are for you to command so roll for initiative and let's get going.
As we move closer to first-person photorealism in games, making it hard to differentiate real life from the life gamers live on-screen, a specific genre is moving in a different direction. The golden age of top-down RPGs is now with games such as Divinity: Original Sin II, Wasteland 3, Disco Elysium and Baldur's Gate III exciting an audience broader than many previously would have expected. A newcomer taking centre stage on this particular scene is indie studio Tactical Adventures and its game, Solasta: Crown of the Magister. While plenty of things set it apart from its competitors, the one that will surely get people the most excited is the fact that it has the license for the Dungeons & Dragons SRD 5.1 ruleset (a whopping 95% of the rules from the 5.1 have been implemented). This means that not only is the developer looking to wow the fans and potential players of top-down RPGs, it also has the chance to welcome the tabletop and pen & paper crowd with an experience that's faithful to the well-loved source material yet also brand-new.
Solasta: Crown of the Magister lets its players experience the depth, intrigue, tactics and deep storytelling elements of tabletop games without needing a set group to play with. You'll be controlling four characters, all of which you yourself get to build. Being a fantasy RPG, Solasta has plenty of options for you to pick from and we got to see five, three of which had subraces to choose from (hill dwarf/snow dwarf, high elf/sylvan elf, and marsh halfling/island halfling), with the two left being half-elf and human. Each race has special features as well so if you're dead-set on playing the game in a specific way, you need to pay attention to which features you end up with. The one we picked, high elf, had stat alterations based on being an elf first and foremost; this meant that she had a base dexterity of +1, an advantage against the 'Charm' debuff, immunity to 'Magical Sleep', had the stat 'Dark Vision' that let her see normally in dim light and see natural darkness as dim light. For the high elf subrace, she received a base intelligence of +1, proficiency with longswords, shortswords, short bows and longbow, had the ability to choose one wizard cantrip and intelligence as the spellcasting ability. We thought the race options were grand to start but more are set to arrive as development progresses.
There are six classes: cleric, fighter, paladin, ranger, rogue, and wizard. We chose to have our high elf be a wizard and here, we found even more specific features and the developer who played for us even showed us how players could then edit the equipment of each class (weapons and armour, etc) as well as toggle the character in high-level gear to see what one would end up looking like during the late-game.
Background and its sub-category 'alignment', which expands this feature further, adds 'personality flags' of which you can pick two. The background options are academic, acolyte, aristocrat, law keeper, lowlife, philosopher, sellsword, and spy; giving each character you create a unique backstory and overall aura about them that will come to light in cutscenes and influence how your character will behave. It will also determine questlines in the game that are specific to that character. You'll also have a set number of languages that your character can learn and knowing specific languages in-game can influence whether or not you'll be able to negotiate with other races.
Ability scores are the next step in creating a character and it's most definitely one of the most critical areas. Players start with some points already distributed, yet there are 27 points to freely distribute anywhere across the six classic categories (strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom and charisma), and this will, of course, create the core of your character. Those wanting to embrace that extra tabletop flair can actually use a random dice roll function to set their stat scores, which we thought was a fantastic feature. This then ties into proficiencies and it's in this category you'll get to pick from a vast array of skill combinations and skill sub-trees - all determined via initiative rolls and tied to your stats, of course.
Finally, it's time to create the visual aspect of your character, naming him or her, altering the shape of their face, skin, hair, hair colour, eye colour and muscular build. While plenty of features are already available, we were told that our options would expand further during development.
Once you have assembled your party of four, it's time to start the game up, at which point you will be greeted by a cutscene. This is where Solasta's stories will be told, through fully voiced dialogue, with each character determined by you just prior. A high elf scholar will, for example, speak formally, with grace and confidence.
As each of the four tells their separate stories between chugs of ale, each character will take you through a specific tutorial section. For example, we were shown how to sneak out of prison as the team cleric and while escaping, we also got to see how Solasta utilises verticality and, quite honestly, we were blown away. The game doesn't just let you climb ladders, you'll get to actually traverse as if you were playing an exploration-based platformer but with a classic isometric RPG control scheme. Manipulate your environments, jump across gaps, crawl through holes in the walls, climb foliage - you can essentially do anything, truly. When we tell you that you can manipulate your environments we don't just mean that you can press a button or move a rock. You can destroy entire bridges if you wish to.
The next tutorial we got to see showed off basic combat mechanics (with some cool twists added). In the tutorial scenario, our dwarven fighter was to cross a bridge over a beautiful flowing river (but oh lord, our hero was a bit too high up) but wolves were both on his heels and blocking his path on the other side. The scenario revealed some classic RPG mechanics such as attacks of opportunity (i.e. attacking automatically when an enemy gets too close) and being able to see the turns of each character in the battle at the top of the screen (this is, of course, a tactical advantage).
A cool mechanic that was perfect to show during this tutorial stage was 'shove', a simple move to push enemies back. In this case, however, that shove threw the targeted wolf all the way down into the abyss below. As with all other moves, you won't succeed in everything you do since it's an initiative-based game. As the fighter finally reached the other side of the bridge, the wolves were still following him, prompting our hero to interact with a large rock standing on an elevation and pushing it off and onto the stone foundation of the bridge, causing it to collapse (which was oh so satisfying). Later on during the demo, we learned that the combat also offers plenty of vertical manoeuvres, not just linked to climbing or standing on various elevations but also levitation and flying, which is then cause for deeper strategic thinking. A thing to note, however, is the fact that you won't be controlling a singular character; you created your dynamic quartet and they're your responsibility now, but don't worry, if you learn how to combine their strengths, the characters will synergise perfectly, which is precisely what you want. Keep track of status effects (i.e. buffs and debuffs) and approach your enemies with tactics in mind and you'll do just fine - we hope.
Apart from this, light is a huge focus in Solasta, both in and out of combat as the game features a dynamic day/night cycle. Lighting, no matter if it's natural or conjured, has an impact on what you and your enemies can see, changing gameplay depending on what time of day you reach an area. The lighting doesn't just seem like an interesting and surprisingly deep aspect, it also brings exceptional beauty to the stark and stunning environments, of which there are many (get ready as it looks like we're going to get to explore a massive world in Solasta). In relation to the dynamic day/night cycle, players also need to make sure to rest and eat every 24 hours to keep their team at their best.
For us, Solasta: Crown of the Magister came out of the leftfield and from knowing very little to having seen the game in action, we're truly excited to see where Tactical Adventures takes things. From the intricacy of the real-time dice roll and the in-depth character creation through to the beautiful and manipulatable environments and the consequential use of light, we were hooked straight away. If what's to come continues to build on what we've just seen, we're sure that this is going to be one to watch as it gets closer to a full release.
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