(SOlASTA is out now on Steam. Distributor provided review copy.)
Once upon a time
I’ve played Dungeons and Dragons with the same group on and off for roughly twenty years now. Get your jokes out of the way; I’m sure I’ve heard them all.
There, all better? Good.
In short, SOLASTA: CROWN OF THE MAGISTER is the closest thing on the PC I’ve ever come to emulating the thrills, tactics, and magic that come with tabletop roleplaying. It is a lovingly crafted adventure that does so much right that all the minor stumbles feel insignificant in comparison.
It’s an indie-gem that everyone should play, regardless if they’re familiar with the genre or not.
The party assembles
SOLASTA begins, like most Dungeons and Dragons campaigns, in a tavern. A party of adventurers finds themselves waiting for a mysterious employer, who has invited them for a perilous, but noble job. To pass the time, our heroes entertain each other with stories from the road. Serving as a tutorial and introduction to character classes, this opening segment sets the tone brilliantly for what’s to come.
The classes are quintessential D&D archetypes to the core. Sadly, whether due to licensing or development constraints, SOLASTA limits your choices to either a Rogue, Wizard, Fighter, or Cleric.
Like other games in its genre, SOLASTA is an isometric tactical RPG, emphasizing the tactical part. But that’s not to say there aren’t other things to write home about. After a little bit of a slow start, there is a story that is a fantastic romp through an elaborately detailed underworld. It runs into a fair amount of cliches, but like with its visuals, SOLASTA has style and panache to spare. That means even the familiar elements feel refreshing.
Even better, no matter the kind of D&D player, SOLASTA is bound to provide ample entertainment. There’s intrigue, clever character interactions, and so, so much dungeon crawling.
Roll of the dice
As with real D&D, the dice are both your best friend and worst enemy. Everything from the character creation to even minor checks is at the mercy of the die, but that’s part of the fun. Sure, it lacks the feedback and joy of actually rolling them yourself, but other than that, SOLASTA is as accurate a representation of the experience as you could hope.
Luckily, developer Tactical Adventures understands the importance of keeping the game going, so even when you do roll poorly, SOLASTA never punishes you unfairly for it. Sometimes that critical failure can actually lead to something hilarious. It also makes the times you do hit the fabled natural 20 that much sweeter.
Brilliantly designed world
The level design of SOLASTA is terrific, especially considering the size of its development team. Lovingly capturing the mood and details of tabletop gaming, SOLASTA might lean heavily on the “ancient citadel” tropes because they’re quite easy to build. Still, the big picture never feels dull or repetitive. In fact, certain areas of the game are so rich with detail you’d swear they’re from a much bigger-budgeted project altogether.
Tactical Adventures also understands the core elements that make dungeon crawling fun, meaning there’s plenty of loot, and not all of it is your friend. I only wish there was the option to co-op this adventure with a friend, but at that point, it makes about as much sense to crack open a real player’s handbook.
There’s also a great sense of scope and height. Levels are surprisingly vertical, and there’s a neat emphasis on physics puzzles and traps that make the world feel alive.
Add to that an incoming Dungeon Maker mode, and SOLASTA turns into a hugely involving game that will keep you engaged well after the initial story ends.
Character and style
SOLASTA is built on a small budget, and the seams do show once in a while. Character animations aren’t the most polished, and voice-acting ranges from decent to very early morning cartoon territory. But this is also an extremely earnest game, built with love and care where there isn’t enough money to finalize certain aspects.
The limited range in characters and locations also works in SOLASTA’s favor. The areas that are available all feel like they’ve received every care in the world. The writing is fast-paced, witty, and just on the right side of cheesy. I felt like I was playing with a group of people equally as nerdy as I am.
Worth every penny
SOLASTA isn’t going to light the world on fire and has an uphill struggle ahead to stand out in a vast field of AAA RPG titles. But at a time where BALDUR’S GATE is still very much a work-in-project, SOLASTA hits every single bullseye for fans of old-school fun.
It’s the kind of game that dedicated roleplayers will cherish for its devotion to the genre, and newcomers will love for its solid mechanics and welcoming tutorial.
Essentially, it’s exactly the game we need right now.