The problem, if there is one, is that though these incredible, iconic, masterful fantasy video games exist, translating the experience of Dungeons & Dragons into a video game is apparently pretty damn hard. I mean it makes sense, right? How do you cram a game system that lets you do literally anything you can imagine, within an incredibly complex ruleset no less, into a video game? You can’t really design for that. But that’s why I’m so excited by what I played of Solasta: Crown of the Magister. Without dipping too deeply into hyperbole, Solasta – at least from the little I’ve played thus far – seems like one of the best attempts at turning the intangibles of the tabletop experience into video game ones and zeros.
Designed by developer Tactical Adventures and headed up by studio founder and creative director Mathieu Girard, Solasta: Crown of the Magister is the honest-to-goodness attempt at making an unofficial Dungeons & Dragons game. To be clear, Solasta is not a licensed game, so the stories and lore of the Forgotten Realms or the iconic landmarks of Faerun aren’t on the table here. But the game is being developed and based entirely on the Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition SRD (System Reference Document) – the free resource Wizards of the Coast put online so folks can develop D&D-adjacent projects using those rules.
When my colleague and I stopped by to visit the Tactical Adventures team and see a Solasta: Crown of the Magister demo at Gamescom, it was immediately clear to both of us how much care, attention, and reverence the development team has for the source material – even if it’s not an official D&D product. During our gloriously hyper-nerdy talks about the intersection of tabletop gaming and Solasta, Mathieu Girard pulled out a 3-ring binder of the Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition SRD printed out, obsessively notated with a million kaleidoscopic post-it notes. It’s obvious this team cares about bringing the tabletop experience to a video game.
“I have played tabletop games for more than 30 years and Solasta: Crown of the Magister is something that I have always wanted to create. I believe that there are many people like me who feel that the experience hasn’t been captured quite right in the video game space, and we are striving to do just that,” said Girard. “With the playable demo, I want to show players that, with their help, it is possible to deliver a genuine dice and decision based tactical RPG and hope they share in our excitement.”
The reason for that excitement is due to the fact Solasta: Crown of the Magister is going into Kickstarter on September 3. And while there’s a very earned level of skepticism around Kickstarted projects these days – so much so that we generally don’t cover them because, honestly, who knows what’ll happen between now and then – Girard and his team have another motivation for opening up the development to the community. Because, like Dungeons & Dragons itself, the experience is a community-driven one, and only gets better with more input.
But you don’t have to take my word for it, Tactical Adventures is putting its money where its mouth is by offering a free, pre-alpha one-hour demo of Solasta for everyone to play, regardless of whether they back the Kickstarter project or not. During our meeting at Gamescom in Cologne, Germany, I asked Girard why they would offer a free demo to everyone, rather than just Kickstarter backers. He said his hope was that those who played the demo would see what they were trying to do, and want to get involved. That’s refreshing. In this day and age, I get a childlike twinge of merriment to see someone who passionately wants to make the best thing they can make, regardless of whether you’re going to financially support them. But, I’m biased, clearly. I love Dungeon & Dragons. And so does Mathieu Girard.
Normally when I preview a video game I intend to publish, I try to convey my experience since I’m fortunate to be in the position where I often get to play games early before they’re available. But that’s not really the situation with Solasta: Crown of the Magister. I don’t need to describe the complex rules of Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition, and how they’re so faithfully recreated in a party-based tactical fantasy game, and why that’s so grin-inducingly unique because you can play the free Solasta PC demo for yourself when it goes live alongside the Kickstarter campaign. And if you don’t have a PC on which to play the demo but you’re still interested, you can watch my entire hour-long playthrough of the demo in the video at the top of this article.
Naturally, Solasta: Crown of the Magister is in a very early pre-alpha stage of development, so the build I played – the same one you’ll be able to play – is a work in progress. There are some bugs (and not just the large, and extra-large spiders that skitter across the walls with creepy near-realism), the character models aren’t totally final, and you’re limited to the tutorial-esque nature of the demo, but it’s good. It’s really, really good. If you play tabletop roleplaying games in general, and Dungeon & Dragons fifth edition in specific, you’re going to immediately find familiar ground in which to plant your flag.
Solasta: Crow of the Magister isn’t anywhere close to release just yet. The team will continue to develop the ambitious RPG over the next year or two with feedback from the community before it finally comes to PC at some point down the road. But, if like me, you like what you see so far, Solasta: Crown of the Magister is definitely a game to keep on your radar.Brandin Tyrrel is a Senior Editor at IGN. You can find him on Unlocked, or chat over on Twitter at @BrandinTyrrel.