Growing up, I never played Dungeons & Dragons. It’s probably the combination of seemingly overwhelming gameplay with plenty of races, classes and rules to learn, but also because it seems to be too silly for a kid who spent most of his time playing video games – fun games, though. However, and as my later career path will prove, I deceived myself. I found the appeal of Dungeons & Dragons growing stronger as I discovered fun shows like Nerd Poker and more recently Dimension 20. I started to learn the basics of Dungeons & rules Dragons though only watch to laugh, but all the people I know who play the game have been very experienced. Who wants to play with someone who is still learning how to deal with modifiers and proactive? Video games seem like a good alternative, but choosing one isn’t so easy.
There have been countless official Dungeons & Dragons games released over the years, though not all of them follow the rules or playstyle of the tablet version, and most of them— Baldur’s Gate 3 is the biggest exception—using older D&D rule sets. Because they use old rule sets and often different game mechanics, these other games are much less useful for actually learning how to play D&D.
Enter Xbox Game Pass and Solasta: Crown of the Magister, a game you might not have heard of, especially if you haven’t been up to date with everything about D&D.
Admittedly it’s a name that doesn’t sound revolutionary. I discovered it by accident while browsing the Xbox Game Pass lineup and elevator pitch in the description sell me now. It’s caught my attention ever since, and I find myself wanting to go back to my party story whenever I’m really doing anything else.
Using a licensed 5th Edition D&D rule set that is not an official D&D game, nearly every feature in Solasta resembles Dungeons & Dragons. The majority of races, classes, weapons, spell types, and combat moves can be obtained directly from the board game. This allows you to seamlessly transition from Solasta to playing D&D, as the game is training you without you even realizing it. Learning how to set up opportunistic attacks, surprise enemies, and get the best out of each class has become second nature, as well as knowing when it’s best to avoid combat and get a little more creative. I’ve gotten the basics of this from those comedy-focused D&D shows, especially Dimension 20’s Fantasy High, but I can’t see all that basics is working thanks to Solasta.
The aesthetic also fits into classic board games in a very literal way. When performing any form of attack, throwing a save or checking an ability in Solasta, dice will appear on the screen. You can even hear them clack before the numbers are revealed, and you can customize the look of the dice if you don’t like the standard option. It’s something that, in terms of how the game works, literally doesn’t change anything, but it just reinforces the idea that you’re effectively playing a D&D game on a tablet in a different form.
It’s not just the combat or the window skins that really show how authentic the Solasta experience is. Before starting a campaign, I have to choose my four adventurers. Solasta offers a large selection of pre-made characters, but it’s a lot more fun if you create your own and you can customize practically everything. Choosing character traits affects your team alignment, and I noticed that reflected almost immediately. My kind-lawful knight Aldritch wants to de-stress in most situations, while tempered warrior Mason prefers a “anyway, I’m already starting to explode” strategy. They feel like mine characters, and their flaws – as well as their strengths – shaped what I could do. Sometimes that even means simply avoiding a side quest since my party isn’t equipped to deal with a certain type of enemy, but surviving is smart as well as powerful.
Solasta’s story isn’t anything to write home about, but it’s not a deal breaker for those who still get their bearings. An important user creation tool called Dungeon Maker allows you to efficiently manage your own game, creating zones, encounters, and stories through existing assets. Sure, you wouldn’t be crafting a John Hughes coming-of-age story through this tool, but it allows those interested in running their own game to understand what’s needed–and likely to fail without wasting anyone else’s time. You won’t be able to pull from your repository silly voice like Brennan Lee Mulliganbut you can keep those in your back pocket when you’re ready to run a nice honest D&D campaign.
Through playing Solasta and enjoying those different shows, I came to understand what Dungeons & Dragons are and what they are not. There are plenty of carefully crafted official worlds like The Forgotten Kingdom, but those exact characters and locations aren’t what define D&D. Instead, its game mechanics and system do just that, and in its most basic form, Dungeons & Dragons is a malleable framework that you can apply almost anything you want onto it. I got around the idea of a modern spy scene, renaming weapons and spells as needed without actually breaking any rules. Playing Solasta makes me confident that I can actually achieve this. Everyone will do cheat test and hide while an evil mastermind attempts to execute an apocalyptic master plan. May or may not shark with a laser beam on its head.
Finally, when early access runs out, will Baldur’s Gate 3 scratch the itch like the current Solasta? It will most likely suit a lot of people, but being able to play it to my liking via Xbox Game Pass allowed me to fully grasp the D&D rulebook and start thinking seriously about starting my campaign. only me. The developer of Tactical Adventures has a lot to be proud of and it will be interesting to see if a larger development team or budget can lead to a more authentic D&D gameplay or storytelling system. My Insight Check says it’s likely.
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