Another month another game based around tactical RPG bones comes to the table. This time it is that of Solasta: Crown of the Magister, a new entry in the genre from the aptly named developer Tactical Adventures; that sums up what this game is pretty neatly. I believe the term is nominative determinism, where people end up doing a job that suits their name, and so it is here. Anyway, enough beating around the bush, let’s set off on our adventure and see what the world has in store for us.
The story is always where I like to start a review, mainly because I much prefer a game with a strong narrative, a story that grips and drags us in, almost unwillingly, through to the very end. Without getting into too much detail (or we’ll be here forever) the bones of Solasta: Crown of the Magister are these: we play as a group of four adventurers who have been summoned to become deputies of The Council. As deputies, we are tasked with various objectives, and as such have the power to go where we want, pretty much when we want. Given that the game world is huge and full of unexplored, forgotten dungeons, a simple wander around the landscape can soon lead us to adventure.
As we set off on our journey, we are asked to go to a fortress outpost to find out why the communication with the castle has ceased. Arriving, the place is in flames, goblins are running about, and it looks like we will have a fight on our hands. And it only gets more involved from there on out, but you’ll get no spoilers here.
It’s the presentation which is an interesting aspect of Crown of the Magister. As you would expect with a game of this type – it was released first on PC back in May 2021 – you can see the framework of the PC game underneath the nailed-on console conversion. For instance, the font used when things are being explained is tiny, and I had not a prayer of reading the text from the settee, instead having to sit cross legged in front of the TV like a naughty schoolboy.
The graphics are pretty tiny as well, and while you can zoom in to a degree, doing so doesn’t let you see what is going on. There is no worse feeling in a CRPG than the enemy making a series of moves, while you have no idea what they are up to. The actual landscape graphics are pretty good though, with a pleasing verticality to the landscapes that comes into play in the combat, and the enemies are also very well designed as well.
Sound design also works well, but the dialogue is pretty lame, being kind, with about as much inflection and passion put into the voiceovers as was shown in the original Resident Evil, way back in the day. The actual combat sounds are perfectly serviceable, and so this can be overlooked, but the comments from members of the team do get annoying after a while.
Introductions to the team form the tutorial to Solasta. You can pretty much tailor your party to play exactly the way that you want, but I went for the classic “Try to keep it balanced” play style, with magic users, healers and close range fighters in the mix. The character creator is very good, allowing you to design your guys to look exactly the way that you want them to, or you can just hit the randomise button and see what you end up with! Guess which path I went down? Suffice to say Dave, my enchanter looks like a refugee from Kiss in the 80’s; all weird face paint and a baldy head. The rest of the squad are no better to be fair, and when it was time to play the tutorial, it was taken from the point of view of each character in turn, taking the form of the story of how they came to be together. Stealth, combat, healing and resting are all introduced in this way, and there is certainly a lot to remember and attempt to take in.
Gameplay is taken directly from the Dungeons & Dragons playbook, the SRD version 5.1 Ruleset. I guess this will mean something to the very invested amongst us, but to me it just meant that there was a new mechanic to get my head around. You see, at the start of every combat encounter, or every time you make an attack, the dice come into play; depicted on the screen to show what is happening. This is novel, and I haven’t seen it before in an Xbox game, so it immediately sets Solasta apart from others in the genre. Having to roll for initiative when you encounter an enemy took me right back to my days spent playing tabletop RPGs; it’s a very nice touch indeed.
Other than the dice mechanic, the rest of the game is pretty much as you would expect: each one of your characters has a set number of action points that can be spent moving, attacking, or any combination of the two. For instance, you may want your magic user out of range of the enemies, so they can sprint and use up all their action points to get some separation, while the melee characters can use their points to close with the enemy and then batter them with a mace. If you have played any of the many games in this genre, you will be right at home here.
Solasta: Crown of the Magister is huge, there is a ton of stuff to do, and the challenge is relentless. A nice touch is the way that the map can be used to your advantage, with bridges able to be collapsed, walls pushed over onto enemies and so on. The 3D element with enemies above you (bad) and below you (good) adds to the action. In fact, apart from the dodgy voice work, I have really enjoyed this trip into D&D land.
Solasta: Crown of the Magister brings enough new touches to the table to make it a recommendation, especially as it comes with the promise of online co-op and a Dungeon Creation tool. There is more than enough here to keep you rolling your dice for the foreseeable future.
Solasta: Crown of the Magister is available from the Xbox Store