Updated: Jan 6
Developer: Tactical Adventures
Dungeons & Dragons holds a very specific place in my mind. But maybe not in the way you'd think... Mostly, it's of tried and failed attempts to get a consistent group going to even finish a campaign (trust me, not for lack of trying) but it's also just one of those things that... D&D has always been there. While Lord of the Rings was the introduction to these high fantasy concepts, it was D&D that helped solidify what I love in the genre and unlike other fantasy series that have a running bet as to when/if the next book in the series will release, Dungeons always looms eternal. Like a guiding hand if you will, beckoning me further and further down the lore filled rabbit hole.
But while my checkered past is mired with failed campaigns and half hearted Baldurs Gate attempts, I've never lost fascination or indeed admiration for it. So, during the Summer Game Fest held by Steam a few weeks back, Solasta: Crown of the Magister appeared with a downloadable demo and with some lockdown time to spare I jumped right in. Solasta, from what I've played, is a loving callback to the western RPG's of yore. While I'm not the most well versed in them, there are some very clear inspirations from the likes of the aforementioned Baldur's Gate along with stalwarts like Icewind Dale and Diablo, alongside newer entries like Pillars of Eternity and Divinity: Original Sin.
That classic, isometric action RPG gameplay with some modern wrinkles thrown in to offset the obtuseness that often plagues these older titles. The hook here, is in the implementation of the current 5th edition rule set for D&D that is baked directly into the gameplay. What Tactical Adventures is trying to achieve - is a faithful recreation of the legendary pen and paper RPG from soup to nuts and translating that experience into a video game. To learn more about it, I reached out to Myzzrym, the Community Lead at Tactical Adventures, who was more than willing to have a virtual sit down with us here at CGC.
An ol' Gameplay trailer doesn't hurt either though...
So, tell us a bit about yourself and what you do here at Tactical Adventures?
Hey! I’m Myzzrym, Community Lead at Tactical Adventures. In a larger company my job would mainly to be the liaison between our community and the dev team, but considering that we’re a small studio I end up doing a bit of everything – such as preparing and running the Kickstarter Campaign, overseeing the production of the Solasta Campaign Rulebook and much more. Long story short, I’m around everything and anything that has to do with the community.
As for myself, errrmmm… I’ve been in the video game industry for around 5 or 6 years now? I’ve done quite a few different things – Customer Service, Monetization Manager, Project Manager, Live Manager – all very interesting jobs, but at the end of the day I really enjoyed talking to players the most. And now I’m paid to do it, isn’t that great! On the personal side I’ve been playing D&D since 3.5 edition, and video games since I was old enough to ask my nanny to borrow her Gamegear (thanks Sylvie for introducing me to video games)!
Editor's Note: I couldn't not include a Game Gear shout out, C'MON!
One google trip to Tactical Adventures website and you will see that Solasta is in fact this studios very first game. While they are made up of industry veterans, headed by Mathieu Gerard (co-founder of Amplitude Studios) what fascinated me about this group is their mission statement:
To recreate the feel of a tabletop RPG onscreen, through the faithful adaptation of rules and universes.
With the resurgence in popularity for these titles, brought along by the likes of Pillars of Eternity (can't be understated), Disco Elysium and Divinity: Original Sin, it's refreshing to see such a personal and passionate statement being made. Especially when you consider this is just a group of 17 individuals working to make their mark on a 46 year old franchise all the while out to prove they can make a fun and engaging first game.
Being able to add to such a revered and well-known franchise must be equal parts horrifying and humbling. What are some of the challenges that come with game balance? Appealing to both the diehard community looking to be engrossed in another adventure and indeed newcomers who are first dipping their toes into this world?
Considering that Solasta is a video game, there is just so much you can implement in a single project with a studio of our size. One of the challenges is notably to try and add as much as we can from the ruleset – sometimes we have to skip a few spells because we simply don’t have the time to implement the systems that would make it work, such as casting “Friend” or “Suggestion” on an NPC in town.
The “Veteran vs New Player” is very much an issue indeed! It’s sometimes hard to remember that not everyone knows how the ruleset works, so we have to be extra careful explaining the basics… and we have to do that without boring the veteran players either hahaha. Thankfully the 5e ruleset is already much simpler to pick up than the previous editions.
For those who didn't grown up with pen and paper RPG's and board games, or simply don't have the time but have had the inclination to try them, something as simple as learning the ruleset can be daunting. Especially for the granddaddy of RPG's on it's 5th edition no less, translating that into a video game alone is no easy task.
Sure the imagination is taken care of on a graphical level, but crafting a satisfying gameplay loop and honoring the source material is no easy task. So, when Tactical Adventures rose to the challenge and went the crowd funding route, I wanted to know how it felt to have the backing of almost 6000 people.
On the back of that, the Kickstarter campaign that helped make this dream become a reality was met with great response from the community, how did that feel? To know people out there trusted in your vision?
It was great! We were already set to make Solasta, but the fact that many people were eager to support us made it possible for us to add more content to the game. Did you know that the Half-Elf, Paladin and Ranger were all added thanks to the Kickstarter Campaign? The studio was ecstatic when we managed to reach those stretch goals.
The Kickstarter in question, helped raise €243,855 in funds which was more than enough to reach the stretch goals the team had added as part of their campaign. Now the team could actively work on delivering the experience they were dreaming of.
You’ve mentioned that Solasta is a new continent, adding to the already extensive lore and world of DnD. What drove the decision to create a new world over say using existing locations within Faerûn, where 5e takes place, and where the game takes its core ruleset from?
To avoid any misunderstandings: WotC (Wizards of the Coast) has granted us the SRD license, not the full D&D license. The difference is that we can use the ruleset and much of the gameplay content (such as spells and monsters), but not the existing lore – so Faerun is a no go.
Solasta is not just a new continent – it’s a whole new world, with quite an original setting. It’s still High Fantasy as one would expect, but it’s post-apocalyptic high fantasy. I won’t spoil more though!
The demo in question, was a small section of the main game set in the ruins of Telema, me and my merry band are tasked with scouting out the caves and finding any survivors that may still be trapped within. One of the first things that hits you when you enter the caves is the sense of scale. Verticality is a key component of the gameplay as enemies such as spiders can attack from all angles, dropping from walls to jump you as you round a corner.
The environments can also work in your favor however, as I discovered later on when I ambushed some orcs that had set up shop around some precarious looking scaffolding. Using my knight to goad them up the only ladder to my parties position, I placed my rogue just out of sight and then, using his shove ability, sent the first hapless orc careening over the side below, just at the apex of his climb.
These kinds of tactical additions to combat encounters help elevate the sense of tension as your environment can, if you're clever enough, work to your advantage. Or as I experienced not too long afterward, be used against you as the rest of the orcs overwhelmed my knight, crippled my paladin and sent my cleric over the edge as well. Despite the misfortune, the thrill of being able to think outside the box like this and not just straight up rely on stats, furious mouse clicks and lucky throws really showcased the emergent gameplay that Tactical Adventures are promising.
When I think of DnD, I think about the endless possibilities and decisions that can be made at a given moment, all dependent on that perception check or roll for initiative. How difficult is it to try and stay true to the nature of that pen and paper freedom and translating that into dynamic encounters within the game?
Surprisingly, the way you can shape the battle encounters already allows for a lot of freedom – turns out adding the vertical dimension really brings out a lot of creativity (spiderclimb, fly, levitate…), and having a Ready Action button also helps in keeping the fight dynamic.
Unfortunately it’s not possible to keep that same freedom everywhere, especially when it comes to dialog and story we must impose limits – as making a sentient DM AI is still out of everyone’s reach for now (and that’s how we end up in the Terminator timeline).
One element that wasn't present in the demo, is the importance that will be set on your parties reputation. As the demo was a mere vertical slice of the full game, it was hard to get a feel for how story based decisions, like interacting with NPC's and quest givers using dialog options, will overall affect your playthrough.
Since party reputation affects all and not just one particular character, how will this dynamically affect the story?
Reminder that you play as the party, and not as a single character in the party (there is no hero / companions here) – reputation will mostly affect gameplay. Some NPCs will be going to go the extra mile, reward you with access to limited stocks, lowering prices – and on the other hand some others may deny you service or become much more expensive.
We’re a little ways yet from launch and as of now, the feedback from the community is helping to shape the development, what more can we expect to see / be revealed in the coming months until Solasta is ready to launch?
We’ve always aimed to be very transparent in our development process. We know how many Kickstarter projects just up and vanish, and we don’t want to go silent on our community for extended periods of time. Those who follow us closely will know that we follow a very regular schedule of one Dev Update every two weeks, where we show all the latest additions to Solasta.
Of course there are exceptions to the rules – we’re keeping the story under a tight wrap to avoid spoiling too much of it, and some systems might be revealed in time 😊 But otherwise, you can expect to be very much aware of what we’re doing!
Lastly, I’d like to thank you guys for taking the time out to speak with us here at CGC. Any juicy tidbits you want to share? Don’t be shy!!
And many thanks to you too! About a random tidbit… We’re currently playing Descent into Avernus in the studio after office hours. Mathieu (CEO) is DM’ing, me (Community Lead), Keran (Lead Programmer), Zaz (Gameplay Director) and Thomas (Graphic Programmer) are playing. It’s been quite a challenge so far.
Myzzrym also shared some fun facts regarding the campaign they're currently running when they have the time to spare (personally, I feel for Zaz, a good roll is hard to come by):
I already lost one character, which was an attempt at making a STR Grapple Rogue (RIP Griff, you were never meant to be), and had to reroll as a Celestial Warlock to help the rest party get a bit of healing power.
Thomas’ (wizard) familiars always get focused and killed. He’s lost like 6 or 7 so far.
Zaz (rogue) has the worst rolls ever, and it’s consistent. I think I never saw him deal more than 6 damage with a sneak attack (3d6) – and that’s when he does manage to land a blow.
Keran is a Paladin of Torm, yet he manages to fail every single Religion roll related to Torm.
When Mathieu (DM) is on a roll, he’s on a roll. Last session he landed 3 critical hits in a row and downed our full health paladin in a single round.
Solasta: Crown of the Magister is shaping up rather nicely, especially from what I've played. While some of the voice acting is ham fisted at best there's an earnestness to the dialog that I quite liked. The gameplay is solid and there are enough wrinkles to keep you engaged and on your toes. Personality, is the word I'd use - for all the stilted banter between party members it's still personable and I like that they are really just going for it. It's high fantasy and damn it all they let you know it.
Their mission statement is not just empty words on an html page, they believe in what they're doing and it shows. We've got a ways to go before the full release of the game but with someone like Myzzrym at the wheel, diligently engaging with the community and a promise to keeping backers in the loop by the devs in general - it's exciting to see the development of this game flourish and for this dear casual, D&D looks to be in good hands. Check out their socials below, don't be afraid to Wishlist on Steam and sure why not sound off in the comments below!
Socials and Stuff
Gameplay images taken from the Solasta press kit found here
GameGear image taken from Retro Game Supply page here
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