Solasta: Crown of the Magister bills itself as a “turn-based tactical RPG”, a broad term that could probably describe hundreds of different games. But Solasta’s pedigree helps place it above many of its peers. The title is current being crafted by Tactical Adventures, a Paris-based developer launched two years ago by Amplitude Studios co-founder Mathieu Girard. As the director of commended titles like Endless Space and Endless Legend (as well as a hand in Watch Dogs 2 and Assassin’s Creed: Origins), Girard understands how to make engaging games.
During a private walk-through of Solasta, it’s also clear the director also understands the balance between tradition and distinction. Crown of the Magister utilizes the Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition ruleset, a 403-page document that provides detailed guidelines for character creation, exploration, combat, and magic. Essentially, it’s the DNA of D&D. These are the foundations that almost every role-playing game rests upon. The document defines elements like basic ability stats, hit points, and initiative; the fundamentals expected from most cRPGs.
But don’t expect Crown of the Magister to be just another retreat into of archetypal high fantasy lore. Sure, the standard goblins and orcs are here test strength and spellcasting. But wisely, Tactical Adventures didn’t squander the entirety of their $263K USD crowdfunding on licensing, constructing their own lore that offers a few notable divergences.
The game’s backstory starts over a thousand years after a cataclysm opened a rift. The event devastated a shining High Elf realm named Manacalon. Now, the once-noble empire is overrun with wild beasts but retains many of its abandoned riches deep within its alcoves. A multitude of different factions are determined to venture into what’s now referred to as “Badlands”, concealing a multitude of motivations. While some seek preservation of Manacalon history, others are more driven by monetary gain.
While it’s still a bit early to tell how well Tactical Adventures’ weaves its tale, it is evident that the team has spent a wealth of time making fallen Manacalon look unique. Hopefully, that quality will carry over to the quality of the exposition. As a party entered into the depths of a murky dungeon, there was some elaborate visual work, showing deteriorated limestone tiling and frail scaffolding undoubtedly left by previous explorers. Beyond evocative lighting emitted by campfires and hanging lanterns, both interior and exterior locales exhibited an abundance of verticality. Pleasingly, illumination isn’t just for mood. Purportedly,
The multitude of staircases and ladders weren’t just there for visual variety. Early on, Girard pitted a party against a bridge full of marauders. While some died from melee or ranged attacks during the snappy, turn-based battle, one unlucky foe was pushed off the bridge and tumbled helplessly to the ground below. This seemed to be a recurring theme during encounters. Staying true to their name, Tactical Adventures offered a multitude of ways to dispatch foes, and it was hinted at the campaign would shun being a liner affair.
Likewise, the game’s character creation suite lent a bit of freedom. Players can build their adventuring party from different races and classes. When asked if there were any requirements on team composition, Girard explained that the development team was opposed to rigid rules, allowing players to part their own path through the estimated 25-35 hour campaign. “If someone wants to make a team of tanky fighters”, we might offer them a warning. But we won’t limit player choices.” Hopefully, this sense of autonomy is prevalent through Crown of the Magister.
When you see a few brief slices of a role-playing game, it can be gauge to gauge if a battle system will remain appealing over the long haul. While off-screen dice rolls determine outcomes, Solasta strives to keep encounters swift and eye-catching. Magic users cast spells that offer nicely animation actions, chosen from pop-up menus that aren’t just efficiently organized, but are quite eye-grabbing. Currently, they’re working on a camera system that may occasionally cut to cinematic camera angles. After witnessed a few XCOM-style actions, I’m quite hopeful for what’s to come.
Often, when I speak to game directors, questions about design philosophies might reveal an inkling of indecision. There’s a muted confidence that solutions will arrive through alpha-testing. But Girard didn’t seem especially enamored with this kind of focus testing, letting his decades of experience playing table-top games and CRPGs guide Solasta’s production. While things have a chance to go wayward in the final build, I have a strong suspicion that Crown of the Magister will deliver a rewarding trek for role-playing fans when it releases.