If social distancing has your D&D gatherings on hold, “Solasta” should be on your wishlist. The game recently launched in Early Access on Steam, under the title “Solasta: Crown of the Magister.” The RPG is an ongoing project from Tactical Adventures, with combat based on the 5e ruleset.

You don’t have to have prior knowledge of D&D to enjoy the game, and you can pick up the gameplay mechanics rather quickly. Many tactical games have borrowed from D&D in the past, so if you enjoy the genre, it shouldn’t take you long to get a basic understanding of how combat and actions in Solasta play out. You will undoubtedly have a few stumbling blocks right out of the gate, but the game offers a lot of help and explanation along the way. Players will find familiar UI elements like spell and weapon slots, armor ratings, enchantments, positive and negative charms, a combat grid, turn-based gameplay, and a bit of randomized chaos.

Wizards of the Coast granted Tactical Adventures a license to use the Dungeons & Dragons SRD 5.1 content and rules in “Solasta: Crown of the Magister,” so experienced players shouldn’t have any trouble diving into the more advanced mechanics.

The game’s official description reads, “Solasta is a team-based adventure game where each character plays a critical role in the campaign and can be a hero. The dynamic and mysterious world features elements of verticality, allowing players to use their surroundings as an element of strategy. Players can position ranged characters on high vantage points or send their thief down into shafts and caverns to scope out what lies ahead. In Solasta, light is a tool to explore the depths and hallows of dungeons or can be used as a weapon against the creatures of the dark, but if players aren’t careful, it will give away the party’s position to nasty creatures bent on their demise.”

You start by creating your party, and while there are pre-made characters to help you develop a well-balanced team, you might find it more enjoyable to develop your four heroes from scratch. You will be spending the entire game with these characters, and their personalities will playout through combat and cutscenes. Seasoned RPG players will find the standard roles, with thieves, clerics, fighters, and rangers, all living their best life before you force them into danger. There’s also a helpful “automate” button for character options that newer players may not be familiar with. This can be used to balance skills, or adjust stats, so everyone can start with a decent team.

Once you have your team together, you start exploring the world, which is set in the aftermath of a great cataclysm. The cosmic event has humans living amongst the elves, goblins, orcs, and halflings, and to the west, you have the badlands. The badlands are an interesting area that was home to a powerful group that seem to have been destroyed. Now this area is filled with monsters and treasure, and it’s your job to explore it.

The game currently struggles outside of combat. The voice acting is hit and miss, and the character models are as boxy as most of the city. The entire first act could be slimmed down, and you spend a lot of time running through a gigantic city that is empty and pointless. The scale of these cities remind me of areas within an online MMO, but instead of a few thousand online players running around, there are about a dozen NPCs, and my four heroes. The city could house several thousand residents, and I think I counted less than 20 characters. Running through the town made me remember the painted landscapes and settings within “Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire,” or “Divinity Original Sin 3,” which were smaller but more fun to explore and always gorgeous to see.

The game’s combat, on the other hand, is well crafted and exciting. You won’t have to bring your d20 dice as the game has them ready to roll. Just like the traditional tabletop games, the dice are the deciding factors for all of your actions, whether it’s an attack, a heal, thieving, or simply jumping across a chasm. The rolling dice quickly appear during each role, which gives new players a chance to see how certain modifiers help or hurt their performance. Players will quickly discover that the ever-present darkness significantly affects their ability to hit a target. There are even themed dice to choose from, but they are buried deep within the settings, and the dev team doesn’t have a lot to choose from yet at this point.

Inside enemy inhabited locations, where all combat takes place, the developers spent more time crafting the surrounding area and levels. Walking through dungeons, castles, keeps, or lairs is much more exciting, and it seems that the development team leaned heavily on light-rays and particle effects to enhance the environments. Still, some areas are also mostly empty, and they suffer the same unfinished feeling that plagued the towns and city.

Once you win the battle and rest up, you traveling from place to place using a simple overhead map. Your team starts off across a predetermined route while eating rations each night during camp. During the travels, a scrolling text display tells you how your characters are getting along, if they found any food or items, and if you are attacked. When you’re ambushed, you’ll go into a randomized fight sequence, then you return to your journey.

The best thing anyone can say about a game in early access is that it has a strong foundation, with a lot of room for improvement, and that’s the case for “Solasta.” Combat is already finely-tuned, with a few bugs, but it’s rewarding to seasoned players and walks a delicate balance between holding your hand and letting you explore the mechanics. Outside of combat, the game needs a lot of work.

This may seem like I’m coming down hard on the game, but I applaud the developers for focussing on the gameplay mechanics and not the graphics and side quests. The game is still in early access, and combat and stability have to come first if the game is ever going to officially launch. Towns and environments can be resized, and it’s much easier to add in background content than it is to redesign an RPG’s gameplay.

If you’re a fan of either turn-based tactical gameplay, or a D&D expert looking to get a fix, the game already has a lot to offer. It’s incomplete, and is basically in its first playable stage, but I would recommend trying it out and supporting the dev team if you’re a fan of the genre. You can find more info and media from the game right here on Steam.

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