Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Having released this past October, I had the pleasure of taking Tactical Adventures’ Solasta: Crown of the Magister for a solid playthrough over our holiday break. Based in Dungeons & Dragons’ Fifth Edition rule set, and currently in Early Access, you’ll have your choice of Humans, Elves, Dwarves and Halflings in order to explore this new world that suffered it’s own cataclysm forever changing the landscape like Faerûn.
So starting off like any good old fashioned D&D player, I made a couple of characters of my own for my party while also trying out some of the premade ones. Human Rogue, Dwarven Paladin, and then picked the premade Elven Wizard and Human Cleric to more or less cover my bases for the party of four that I found myself with. The character creation feels just like it should though I fully expect to see more options for both races and subraces down the line as Human, Elf, Half-Elf, Dwarf and Halflings may not cater to everyone. They work to be sure as they are often at the core of the most adventures and populace makeups but there’s something about having an Orc Paladin or an Orc Rogue that just breaks the mold a bit.
After choosing your race and backgrounds, you get to either roll 6d20 for your stats or use a point-by system. There’s no penalty for using one over the other so it was nice to have both to see how lucky you could actually be with dice rolls, or, just more mathematically go at it with a preset number of points. I totally rolled my stats and finally scored gold with my Paladin landing , 18-13-18(16+2)-12-10(9+1)-17 which after Dwarven racial boosts worked out to no negatives.
So once you’ve gotten your party of four set up, custom or premade, it’s time to hit start on the first campaign that’s currently available. Like any good old fashioned tale, it starts off in a pub with cheap ale tasting of, and I quote, donkey piss. Apologizing for being late, my premade Cleric Tanya goes into what held her up which launches into the first of Solasta’s tutorials.
Being captured at crossbow point, Tanya was stripped of her gear and thrown into a cell to rot. Being an adventurer and not willing to wait around, she busted down a broken part of a wall and got to finding the exit. This wall and subsequent path forward had finally made things like “Athletics” viable character skill to worry about when creating your character. When playing on a table top, something like Athletics comes in handy when needing to make a long run and jump, climb a high wall or not drown while swimming but inside of a computerized version? Often overlooked, until now.
Being a Strength based attribute, the higher your Strength, the more additional points you’ll receive when making a roll in order to perform an action. Starting with a base of 10, you’ll get nothing extra when making a roll. Adding a +1 for every two points and 18 strength will net a +4 on your rolls. Thankfully this didn’t take my Wizard into account as it could have been a bit more disastrous, this is Dungeons & Dragons and tutorials will kill you just as easy with bad rolls, and my Cleric made her jumps and her climb checks all the way to the exit and breaking down a wall onto the heads of her had been captors.
Not to be outdone, my Paladin Jackson said that he instead faced his challenges head on which introduced combat. I grew up playing Baldur’s Gate, IceWind Dale, Planescape Torment, Temple of Elemental Evil, etc. but there’s one thing that they all had in common. Things were real time with a pause button even even if dice rolls were being made. Pillars of Eternity follows this path while Divinity Original Sin and Original Sin 2 went more the action point based approach that the original Fallouts used. Solasta, meets them somewhere in the middle bringing that tabletop approach of rolling dice and being able to move and attack on your character specific turns to life.
Introduction to combat, stealth, lockpicking and sleight of hands, each of these showcase that anxious feeling one can get when rolling the dice and just hoping that they don’t mess up. Is the dice roll high enough? Did you ace through your challenge or fumble at a trap even with a set of thieves’ tools and lose half of your health for that failure? It’s all there and done in a fast enough time that feels natural to the adventure and not like an added extra level of flair like one would expect when seeing dice rolls and score additions being added on screen. Once these four introductions have been made, the journey starts off in earnest.
Keeping a bit inline with the tabletop aspect, while you can move your party across the map in any which way either crawling through holes, jumping over ledges or climbing up windows, once you’re engaged in battle, the square based grid comes up showing you how far you can move, and what you can do within it. Attacks of opportunity are clearly a thing and if you wish to move out of the range of your current opponent you’ll have to disengage first. Move too far, and you won’t be able to attack. Unlike a standard tabletop experience, you can move each character the total amount of squares that they are allowed on their turn, it’s not just “I move two squares of my six” and that’s it. You can move those two squares and then move again.
More than that though, it was the most refreshing of experiences in that you had to not only consider where you had your party and potential temporary allies standing, but where they were standing in the environment. Solasta doesn’t take place on a 2D plane once battle gets started. There are ledges that can be fallen off of is either you or an enemy tries to push you off. Fall from high enough and you’ll do damage. Hide from high enough and they may just never know where those arrows and magic missiles are originating from.
This changes the playing field drastically as one of your main enemy encounters in what’s currently available can climb up or down walls easily moving in and out of an actual melee range. Frustrating when they move away, but amazing to see as the world is finally “alive” in a sense and you have to worry about everywhere when exploring areas that have ceilings. Speaking of moving in and out of range, while Attacks of Opportunity have always been there, now you can also prepare an action whether melee, ranged or cantrips for the spellcasters. It really brings that tabletop feeling alive.
Prepared actions were neat as you could line up the ledge and fight enemies before they even get up there so potentially toss you off. Along with the prepared actions though, there’s one more thing that pleasantly surprised me, your reactions such as Attacks of Opportunity. You don’t actually have to attack if you don’t want to. I’m not quite sure why you wouldn’t, but you can pass on it if you want. Other types of these reactions were my Paladin stepping in to block an attack or my Wizard being able to cast Feather Fall as my Paladin failed his saving throw and was shoved off a very high ledge. So instead of crashing down and getting fairly hurt, he was able to float softly down and then use up both movement actions to get back up and into the fight.