Solasta: Crown of the Magister (PC) Review

It’s been a long time since we’ve had an RPG that also promises a fully-featured, dungeon-making toolset. Is Solasta: Crown of the Magister finally offering an experience akin to BioWare’s classic Aurora Toolset that came with 2002’s Neverwinter Nights?
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Solasta: Crown of the Magister, developed and published by Tactical Adventures, is a combination of classic, isometric, tabletop-style cRPG and accessible dungeon maker. Wizards of the Coast granted the developers the license to use the full Dungeons and Dragons SRD 5.1 Ruleset, so you’re getting as authentic a role-playing experience, in digital form, that you could hope for.

For many players simply after a lengthy and epic campaign, the Crown of the Magister module (with more promised in the future) should entertain, even if it relies too much on exposition dumps to bring the player up to speed with the new setting. The campaign is set in a world built on the ruins of an ancient Elven empire, destroyed when a cataclysm ripped apart the land and deposited hordes of human refugees from another realm.

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The world of Solasta is not quite as open as it first seems, but the map highlights the regional players, while the great distances force you to stock up on supplies before setting out.

Your party, lured to the city of Caer Cyflen by the promise of well-paid adventuring work, is inducted by the city council and sent into the “Badlands” – the twisted ruins of the old Elven capital – to uncover evidence of a plot against the surrounding kingdoms. This quest will take you from the rugged outskirts, deep into sunken towers, and to ancient elven palaces, as you attempt to discover the source of mythical shapeshifting creatures, uncover the power of the titular crown, and thwart another potential cataclysm.

It’s not the most novel tale, and there are plenty of events and inter-species dynamics you’ll have seen before, but it’s competently told (with several well-crafted cutscenes), and player choices that’ll have both minor and major story repercussions as you progress. The ultimate goal remains the same, but the combination of dialogue choices and the influence of character attributes make for a replayable experience.

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Although it can feel rushed in place and relies too much on exposition dumps, the narrative is told through several cutscenes that blend important plot events with personality-appropriate comments from your party.

The first step on any adventure is creating your party of four, and this process is as satisfying as ever. You could pick from several pre-made characters, but there is a range of classes to consider, and each can further subspecialise at higher levels. The dialogue and interaction systems are surprisingly complex, with characters able to possess one of four personality types. Party banter and their interactions with quest givers adjust accordingly as you play, ensuring it feels (mostly) coherent.

In addition to the offensive, defensive, and supporting roles each class offers in combat, character attributes and certain class skills affect how you navigate complex environments. Verticality is a huge part of the experience, affecting both combat tactics and the level design. You ascend large structures, descend into ancient tombs, and fight along narrow cliffs. It’s a far cry from the typically flat terrain of classic isometric RPGs. This allows for both visually stunning locations and plenty of tactical gameplay options.

Stealthily setting up ambushes, claiming high points for archers to provide overwatch, toppling environmental structures on unsuspecting foes, and all out charges – there’s a lot to consider in each combat scenario.

There are often far more tactical options than you realize at first, including stealthing your way to high points and ambushing enemies, rushing straight for tough enemies to shove them off ledges, or dislodging environmental objects that can cause massive damage if they land on your foes. However, these environments can work against you if you find yourself caught flat-footed. Many enemies are able to climb walls or fly, so you should assume nowhere is safe.

As Solasta: Crown of the Magister is using the latest Dungeons and Dragons SRD 5.1 Ruleset, everything is a dice roll: initiative for turn orders, combat chance-to-hit, dodging, resistances, saving throws, healing effectiveness, activating class-specific abilities (think lock-picking as rogues, athletic skills as fighters), dialogue checks, arcane checks when examining the environment! You can even customize the appearance of your dice to make it easier to spot the type of roll and outcome.

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Tactical Adventures engine does a great job of creating some impressive three-dimensional spaces that make both puzzle and combat far more involved than other games in the genre. The beautiful map screens also give a great sense of this vertical complexity. 

The combat follows the typical turn-based flow for those familiar with the genre – roll for initiative, position your active character, use an action, move to next in the initiative queue. That said, there are a few novel rules that make combat more involved and flexible than most games in the genre. For one, movement is represented by a number of tiles (based on class and attributes), usable in any order during your turn. This becomes essential for navigating the complex battlefields that include height variation and, consequently, line-of-sight considerations.

There are also several free actions (think weapon swapping, quick-slot potions, and basic cantrips) along with class-specific abilities that grant additional actions. If you want to hold a chokepoint, actions can also be stacked, providing a form of overwatch should an enemy approach. As you optimize your builds and party composition, each round feels increasingly impactful. You can take a lot of actions in any given round – though the same obviously applies to your foes – and fights can end swiftly. With each location broken down into several unique combat encounters rather than a gauntlet of lesser foes, it keeps the game moving along at a brisk pace and combat intensity high.

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The bland but clear UI makes a lot of sense once you start using the Dungeon Maker feature. It’s quick and easy to pick your basic environment and atmosphere, before moving on to the layout and visual props.

One element that stood out was the utilitarian UI design – clean and informative, but unimaginative. However, this made more sense when I spent time with the Dungeon Maker. It’s a work-in-progress feature that will expand over time, and not since Bioware released the Aurora Toolset with 2002’s Neverwinter Nights has there been such an accessible option for amateur DMs to quickly create challenging dungeon raids. That said, no matter the ease of use, ambitious newcomers will quickly discover smaller, denser spaces are the way to go as you swiftly develop a keen appreciation for the efforts of level designers.

After choosing from several tilesets – deciding on a layout and atmosphere, and using tons of decorative props and light sources – you’ll discover you can tweak all the encounters, involving combat or loot, to your heart’s content. Unfortunately, there are currently limited story-telling options aside from text pop-ups (either floor triggers or associated with props). This means it’s all about creating challenging gauntlets at present, and complex campaigns with NPCs are off the cards for now.

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Every combat encounter and loot chest can be carefully tailored to provide the right balance of challenge vs. reward. Every foe and item currently in the Crown of the Magister campaign is available for use in your custom dungeon.

The final aspect to touch on is the presentation and performance. The visuals are good, not great, but when you couple them with decent ambient audio and orchestral soundtrack, more than enough to create a fantastic atmosphere. Character models – at least for your party, the foes you encounter, and a few key NPCs – are also detailed, but there are secondary characters that wouldn’t look out of place in a mid-2000s BioWare RPG. The fantastic soundtrack is a highlight and the menu theme that channels some classic Baldur’s Gate energy. The voice work is also surprisingly good and conversations blend well enough, especially given the several personality types it needs to work around. Loading times can get long for larger locations, but my biggest gripe was moments of weirdly inconsistent performance. I would have a smooth framerate during a large outdoor battle – sneaking into position, engaging multiple enemies, flinging spells – only to have it dip while I explored an enclosed structure or conversed with an NPC. It was rare but noticeable.

Overall, Solasta: Crown of the Magister is a great pick for classic cRPG fans looking to experience an adventure that is based on the latest Dungeons and Dragons SRD ruleset. The Crown of the Magister campaign, although perhaps not quite as fleshed out or cohesive as in a dedicated cRPG, is great fun and forces you to reconsider how you approach combat in vertical dungeons. The icing on the cake, for those willing to spend some time mastering their designs, is the accessible and intuitive Dungeon Maker. If Tactical Adventures expands this feature to allow for narrative campaigns, it’ll give players a reason to come back, again and again, to see what the community has created and shared.

On a final note, Solasta: Crown of the Magister is currently available on Xbox Game Pass for PC for those even slightly curious (the version we reviewed). We’ve seen a resurgence in fantastic cRPGs in the last few years and Solasta: Crown of the Magister is up there with the best.

Solasta: Crown of the Magister (PC) Review

Solasta: Crown of the Magister (PC) Review
8 10 0 1
Although Solasta: Crown of the Magister may not offer the most fleshed out or well-paced RPG narrative, the deep, tactical combat, in complex vertical environments, makes for a thrilling journey. As a bonus, the accessible and intuitive Dungeon Maker feature is a great tool for amateur DMs and - if it continues to expand - offers the potential for incredible player-made campaigns in the future.
Although Solasta: Crown of the Magister may not offer the most fleshed out or well-paced RPG narrative, the deep, tactical combat, in complex vertical environments, makes for a thrilling journey. As a bonus, the accessible and intuitive Dungeon Maker feature is a great tool for amateur DMs and - if it continues to expand - offers the potential for incredible player-made campaigns in the future.
8/10
Total Score
  • Story
    7/10 Good
    The story may rely on too many exposition dumps but it feels suitably epic as events unfold.
  • Gameplay
    9/10 Amazing
    With deep character creation, tactical combat that forces you to think in three dimensions, and an intuitive dungeon maker, there's plenty on offer and all of it is good.
  • Visuals
    7/10 Good
    Not the best in the genre, with some dated-looking character models, but that doesn't stop the complex, vertical environments from looking incredible.
  • Audio
    8/10 Very Good
    Surprisingly good, adaptive, voice work and a great soundtrack go a long way to keeping you immersed in the experience.

The Good

  • Deep party creation with a myriad of attributes, skills, and subspecialties to consider
  • The Crown of the Magister is a suitably lengthy and involved adventure with a good amount of replayability
  • Tactical combat that forces you to observe the environment and think in three dimensions
  • Solid visuals, voice work, and a great soundtrack

The Bad

  • Events in the Crown of the Magister campaign feels artificially condensed at times
  • Limited story-telling methods currently available with the Dungeon Maker
Total
11
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