I mentioned last week that my one purchase from the Steam Summer Sale was a copy of Solasta: Crown of the Magister. It was very much a last minute purchase too. While it was on my wishlist already and was available for half off during the sale, it wasn’t until Potshot mentioned he was interested that we both went in there and purchased it. That was the day before the sale ended.
Even then I had some doubts as to whether or not it would be a good purchase. It has very favorable reviews, but they are often couched in apologies for some of the shortcomings of the game. If every other review you read goes on how you have to get past the character models, the voice acting, the stilted dialog, and the stiff and linear story… well, it can raise doubts.
And the goal of the game to bring a 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons experience into a video game wasn’t a huge selling point either. I don’t know 5th edition from anything as I fear my tabletop RPG experience tapered off when TSR was still a thing. D20 rules and Wizards of the Coast still represent the “new stuff” to me almost 25 years down the road. It took me a long time to get used to 2nd edition and things like THAC0.
Then there is the camera, always a sensitive subject with me. It doesn’t have a follow mode or anything, so you have to keep wheeling it around and scrolling along to see things.
Anyway, as it turns out, for me at least, these issues ended up being largely irrelevant. Yes, the character models look odd and the voice actors all seem to be trying to imitate one UK actor or another… also, why are UK accents the default for fantasy still? You also don’t need to know anything about 5th edition, the game holds your hand and lays out options for you.
Potshot and I both grabbed a copy, as noted, and tried it on our own, running through the tutorial, creating characters, and fiddling around with the game. I will say, even up to that point the game wasn’t an obvious sell to me.
But on Saturday we got together to try and run a multiplayer campaign, and that is where the game began to shine for me.
Getting ourselves into a multiplayer game wasn’t too hard. It isn’t a persistent world game like Minecraft or Valheim. Somebody has to host the game and you join them, putting your characters into the campaign that is created.
You have to have four characters in the campaign. When you play solo you control all four. With two of us, we had two characters each. We both brought one we had created (Skronk the cleric and Blain the ranger… it is a character flaw of mine that I always make rangers in D&D) and then grabbed one of the pre-made characters each (Anton the rogue for him and Nialla the wizard for me) in order to round out the party.
From there it was into the campaign, which starts off with some more introductions to the world as you run around town and learn about what is going on. You have to listen to some dialog as the town council bends your ear about this or that and makes you deputies to go out and do some work for them.
Then there is the trip to the inn and the shops and the scavengers guild and blah blah blah, all the groundwork goes on for a bit as you visit various points on the map.
It takes long enough that even your characters get sick of it eventually.
Soon enough though we were off on a first adventure into the badlands and were waylaid by bandits at night, which introduced the pace of the game. Everything else is kind of window dressing around the combat element.
When combat commences, everybody rolls for initiative automatically.
That stacks everybody up into a turn order for actions, which is displayed at the top of the screen.
And then you go down the order… the bandits did get a free turn to start due to surprise… and play each character in turn. When it is your character, you can see the options as to where you can move and what actions you can take, and when it is not your turn you get a somewhat annoyingly large banner telling you who is up.
But playing with somebody else is where a key bit of the magic of the game is for me. If you play solo and are controlling all the characters, then they tend to act in a unison that would be unnatural in the real world. They focus on the same targets, split tasks, heal, and otherwise follow the directions of a single mind.
When playing with another person you don’t get that and there is some randomness injected into the game if you don’t communicate effectively… and Potshot and I failed on that front hilariously. I mean, occasionally we would go after an obvious target together. But at other times we would run in odd directions, get in each other’s way, attack random and changing targets, and generally fumble our way through encounters… all of which gave it an organic feel that would be difficult to replicate solo.
Not that the solo game is bad. I think 12 to 25 year old me would have gone nuts with this game solo. But late 50s me finds that a bit stale and predictable. I need a bit more chaos than simple RNG gets you.
We carried on to our destination, the Caer Lem outpost, where we found all was not well.
There we made contact with the locals and teamed up with them to get away to safety as things went bad. We each got one of the locals to control, giving us three characters each to manage, as we headed into the caves and ended up in a series of fights where we were tested.
We learned about short rests and long rests and a lot about healing and potions and how maybe having more than 20 arrows might be a good idea… though honestly I had a couple left at the end.
The end came for us long before the story was done. We got in over our heads in the caves in a fight where we split targets, got in each other’s way, and opened ourselves up to repeated attacks of opportunity until we were all down. Game over.
I think one important thing to describe about the game is the pacing. We spent about three hours getting to the point where we all died and it was game over.
If this had been in World of Warcraft, three hours would have seen us through something like the Deadmines at level with time to spare to go do something else. I think, even as a group of four, running it in WoW Classic, we didn’t need three hours.
If I count the fights we were in and the number of mobs we killed in our first Solasta run, that was maybe the first half dozen groups of trash mobs in the Deadmines. I think it was a total of six fights for our run, plus all the dialog in between, and we wiped on the sixth.
In some ways Potshot and I might have been an ideal pairing. We were both new to the game, were willing to press on and learn as we went, didn’t get too invested in things, and took every setback in stride. Ending as we did in failure was kind of funny, though not as funny as when my wizard missed with a spell for the fifth time running and Anton shouted “You suck!” in the middle of a fight.
The dialog isn’t original, and the voice acting is just okay, but the interjections in fights do liven things up a bit. There appears to be a wide range of responses and retorts queued up for everybody. As for the character models… well, you don’t spend that much time up close where they look awkward. In combat nobody cares if your beard looks like it was formed out of Play-Doh.
So my initial response to the game, at least as a multi player venture, is pretty positive. It does recreate, in its way, some aspects of real table top RPGs, including the player coordination and slower pacing. We shall see if we can wrestle the rest of the group into joining in and how four of us will interact. The one bonus of just two people is that you aren’t left waiting nearly as much as you would be with four.