This thread will be feedback on my experience with Early Access, which started before the lighting mechanics were changed. A TL;DR is that I've had a blast playing and I am looking forward to the full release. I would love to see additional content on top of the base game come out too. But there are areas where I feel the game has made some missteps and I would like to point those out too.
This thread will largely bring up the points where I think improvements can be made, so I want to make it abundantly clear that I do enjoy my time with the game despite all my complaining.
So without further ado, apart from a SPOILER warning, let's get into it by talking about where the game begins!
Character Creation and Party Personality
For the most part, the technical side of the character creator is fine as is. Some minor complaints would be that it resets your appearance if you go back and change something that isn't race/gender and that it isn't telegraphed too well that you can preview the various abilities a class and archetype gets and how to change starter equipment.
I would also point out that adding a bit more leeway with the default equipment would be welcome. A dexterity based Paladin, for example, is still forced to begin with chainmail, which is a bit off-putting.
The biggest issue I have with the character creation process, however, is that we're making the entire party. Having the game centered around a custom party with personalities generated from the background and alignment we choose is an ambitious idea, but I am not sure it has been entirely worth the investment. In all the patches I've played in, the PCs' characterization have been inconsistent at best and the janky nature of this becomes very apparent already in the tutorial of the game, when our characters are awkwardly shuffled around the table to fit whatever role the game needs them to have in the upcoming part of the conversation. This also leads to situations where a character can, as an example I ran into several times in Caer Lem and the magical library, be eager about learning about the ancient history in one scene and dismiss the value of that in the next dungeon.
Unfortunately, a more traditional companion system where they do not change parts of their personality from game to game would likely have been a better fit, because it would let the writers focus on stronger characterization for both them and the PC, only having to make 1 (as opposed to 4) character with a variable personality, and it would let them offer insight about the world at large through them. We could've still retained the option to customize their build, which is the strength of the current system.
As it stands right now, we have 4 largely inconsistent characters and no characters featured prominently enough to be our window into the world. The unfortunate result of this is that the party feels like they are just as much outsiders to the world as we are and that the artificiality of the personality tag system is readily apparent, both of which harms immersion.
A Song of SRD and Homebrew - Part 1: Races
For the most part, the races in Solasta are fine. Sure, some are better at some things than others and I would've recommended that the homebrewed races would have at least 1 of their stat bonuses to be freely allocated, but it is for the most part an alright selection. The Snow Dwarves is a good example of a nice spin, making dwarves more inclined to be Rangers than Fighters.
There is one big issue with the racial selection though and one that has been brought up many times on this board: Humans. The standard human from the SRD is reputed to be on the weak side and that is certainly still true in Solasta. The Variant Human from the D&D 5e PHB isn't available, but many players, including me, would appreciate a homebrewed alternative (this one is just my suggestion) that is mechanically stronger. Or at least that the standard human got a minor buff, by for example giving them +1 free skill proficiency on top of their current bonuses.
A Song of SRD and Homebrew - Part 2: Backgrounds
How do I even begin with this one? Generally the backgrounds make sense, but I do think that it would've been nice if there were options for alternate skill bonuses. As an example:
Higher Education: You get proficiency with History, Intimidation and one skill of your choice.
There are, however, two larger points to be made about the backgrounds; balance and redundancy.
Let's be honest, some backgrounds are just better than others in this game. Academic is very powerful, giving your character the skills necessary to engage with nearly every type of crafting on its own and boosting your reputation with one of the factions. Sellsword is useful for Rogues, but borderline broken on Wizards because of the no strings attached medium armor proficiency. Sellsword exaggerates the fundamental balance problem of D&D by giving Wizards better AC from the get-go, compensating for their general squishiness, without even requiring them to spend a feat on it.
The other problem we run into with the backgrounds is that there is too much redundancy between them and classes. Figthers, Paladins and Rangers in particular are not well suited to use Lawkeeper or Sellsword because they already have the proficiencies these backgrounds give and don't get to pick something else in place of it (like a skill of their choice). Rogues are poorly suited to Lowlife for the same reason. This feels very strange, because those combos feel very natural.
A Song of SRD and Homebrew - Part 3: Classes and Subclasses
There is much to be said about class balance, but when it comes to the base classes themselves, that is arguably more of an issue with 5e in general than Solasta in particular. Most of the time anyway. It wasn't introduced in Solasta that Rangers, for example, are in an awkward spot between Paladins and Rogues, having trouble competing with both. But it is a Solasta specific concern when we're talking about the design of the homebrewed subclasses and how they compare to the SRD options. And there is a lot to talk about here.
I don't even... Rangers are great fun and one of my favorite classes. I also find Hunter and the other subclasses that are mechanically similar (Swarmkeeper, Fey Wanderer) to be overall pretty solid characters. So what in the world is going on with Marksman and Shadow Tamer?
The 7th lvl ability for the Marksman looks like it will be real awesome to play with, but the 3rd lvl reaction shot thing seems very specific. I believe it could be salvaged if it also triggered on ranged spell attacks (I've only had it work on ranged weapon attacks), but as is it feels very underwhelming for a 3rd lvl Ranger subclass ability. Rangers, having a relatively weak base kit, have some of the most insane low lvl subclass abilities to compensate for it (Colossus Slayer is a free 1d8 extra damage nearly every turn, because it is super easy to set up). My experience so far is that even if you want to be a dedicated archery Ranger, Hunter will perform better because 1 additional attack on occasion is hardly a substitute for Colossus Slayer, which is likely to trigger several times per fight.
I will fully admit that I expect Shadow Tamer to possibly be the single strongest weapon DPS character going into the game's final areas, seeing as they are specifically geared towards the enemy types set up to be the antagonists (Soraks & Defilers). That being said, this is the sort of design Rangers have been criticized for since before I was born; the need to fight a very specific enemy to get their bonuses. Shadow Tamers will be good in Solasta because it looks like it was made to be good in this one campaign. Outside of it, the Shadow Tamer will be left with underwhelming abilities that largely won't be able to compete with Hunter or maybe not even Marksman. Shadow Tamer might've worked as the subclass for a class with a more solid base kit, but that is not the Ranger.
Since the beginning of 5e, this has arguably been held up as the benchmark of what a martial character should be capable of. They are strong and versatile in combat and good in social situations because they have Charisma as a primary stat. Pick the right background or race and they can do well as Ranger types too.
Each of the Oaths get bonus spells and powerful abilities, so nothing to complain about there. Oath of Tirmar and Oath of the Motherland are both excellent additions as setting specific subclasses without becoming so specific as to only be strong within the setting, in large part due to the strong base kit it is working from. These subclasses should’ve been the standard the homebrewed Ranger subclasses were held up to.
Are Paladins “overpowered”? Yes, but actually no. Paladins are usually going to be the best performing martial class, but this is an indictment of other martial classes for arguably being undertuned, not the Paladin.
These guys just can’t catch a break, can they? I’ll say it straight; why would you even bother with this class in Solasta? The SRD and homebrewed subclass options are underwhelming at best and don’t even have very interesting flavor. Champion is a meme, Spellblades have an awful spell selection and Mountaineer is… okay, I guess?
When the most functional of the subclasses is the one that requires a specific set of equipment, it is a pretty rough situation. Action Surge and Second Wind are good abilities, but this class can’t compete with Hunter Rangers or Paladins as it stands right now.
Shadowcasters are pretty good. And that’s about it. Thief always struck me as more inclined to roleplay heavy campaigns and Darkweaver is a slightly more combat oriented Thief. Neither of which have abilities I would want above spellcasting and especially not when said spellcasting includes the always fantastic Abjuration school of magic. A Sellsword Rogue Shadowcaster can basically outdo a Spellblade at their own game.
My suggestion? Rogues really need a homebrewed alternative to Swashbuckler. Solasta is a combat heavy campaign, so we should have subclasses fit to engage with that.
Man, I love Greenmages. It is such a cool idea and it is executed pretty well, though it does step on the toes of the Ranger class a bit too much for comfort. I am a sucker for archetypes that mix in elements from other classes and that tell you something neat about the world. The Greenmage does both.
Shock Arcanist is functional and very powerful, but kinda boring. Loremaster is… a meme, I guess? I’d think that’s about as polite as it can be said. What is it with the subclasses that would’ve been great in a roleplay heavy campaign being included in this combat heavy one? I get that not everything is going to be a hit, but there are literally only 3 Wizard subclasses. Why did you make it so one of them has no combat bonuses at all?
It’s a great class with powerful and varied subclasses. They too have a meme version akin to Loremaster, but they also have so many different subclasses that they can ‘waste’ one of them on one that isn’t geared towards combat mechanics without drastically reducing player options.
The Missing Classes
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; the need for homebrewed archetypes is a perfect opportunity to include the flavor of the missing classes. Berserker Fighters, Bardic Rangers etc. could all be as awesome as Greenmages and I encourage adding options like that.
In Medias Res - Worldbuilding
The world of Solasta has potential to be a very interesting setting, but I’d be hard pressed to tell you all that much about it, despite the many hours I’ve spent there. I know there was a Cataclysm, I know there is a Legacy Council and I know there are a bunch of different kingdoms and cultures. I just haven’t seen much that will tell us about these things.
Solasta is not the first world that lets us wander aimlessly without an encyclopedia and it won’t be the last, but game series like the Elder Scrolls and Dragon Age tend to have extensive in-world works to fill us in on some of the stuff we’re missing, if we want to look for it.
This is something our custom party doesn’t help with. Having more traditional companions would allow the writers to share information about, for example, the Snow Alliance or the New Empire to the player and how being tied to such a place can color one’s view of the world. It could’ve been used to both establish characters we want to know more about as well as the world itself.
As it stands right now, it feels like most characters, both NPCs and our own, already know a lot of the stuff about the world, but aren’t sharing it with the player and it makes it a bit awkward to try to make up an opinion about what is going on. I arguably know more of what the ancient Manacalon Empire, a bygone civilization, was like than how the Principality or Snow Alliance work in modern times. I don’t even know how humans have integrated into the various kingdoms and that’s a pretty big deal, considering what we do know about the setting. Is there a somewhat independent human nation, or are they citizens in other kingdoms?
That is not to say I dislike the world. There are elements that are really cool, like the Scavengers and the Antiquarians we can learn a little bit about. The character background quests have (mostly) been neat little world building moments.
In absentia lucis, tenebrae vincunt - Story
The past is inescapable and our four unlikely heroes stumble upon a plot by creatures of darkness as it is unfolding. So far, so generic. I have no real complaints about what we’ve been shown about the main storyline so far, though I do have my reservation for one of the key abilities of the Sarr-Akkath; shapeshifting.
Shapeshifting (and mind control, for that matter) are plot devices that tend to undo any sort of coherence and believability. I find that these abilities themselves push plotlines towards being “idiot plots”, but I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt for now.
That being said, I have 2 main suspects for who are Soraks on the council: The uppity elf who doesn’t believe anything and the princess. There is ditzy and then there is her.
I do hope we get to learn why the Soraks are so intent on hunting humanity. And I hope it is a good reason beyond “their god said so”.
Alea iacta est - Combat, one dice roll at a time
Solasta is a very faithful adaptation of the 5e ruleset, almost to a fault, and that is certainly admirable in its way. There has been criticism of just how homebrewed Baldur’s Gate 3 is shaping up to be and not all of it is for the better.
Combat in Solasta can be very brutal and that is fine. I would say most of the things that can be frustrating about the combat is either core to the d20 system or has to do more with class balance. But there are some mechanics that are an awkward fit, especially around stealth. The enemy doesn’t seem to do much to either investigate or hide when they are under attack from a hidden enemy, which is very silly. A lot of encounters also feel like they are designed around the player reliably securing a surprise round though, which can be problematic for newer players.
I will point out that the Soraks we fight in Caer Lem the first time might be a bit overtuned for people learning the ropes of their characters. They do insane damage and come in pretty big packs, which might turn newer people off of the system since the RNG is more prevalent the lower lvl you are.
I will give props for putting us to lvl 2 after the tutorial and lvl 3 after Caer Lem. Getting to lvl 3 should be a relatively quick affair, because that is when quite a lot of characters get their subclass and start coming into their own. Lvl 3 is also when your HP numbers get high enough to compensate for the d20 system by making crits less likely to knock you down outright.
Contrarily, random encounters when travelling tend to be much too easy. Given the nature of long distance travel in Solasta, you’re usually free to go all out during these fights, which makes certain classes (Wizard, Cleric) capable of shutting down the enemy rather quickly. These encounters should arguably not use the “surprise round” mechanics if it can be avoided and instead be more fairly calculated challenges, taking into account that there is little to no reason for the player to fight conservatively since we’re about to have a long rest anyway.
This game is also dying for a "quick bar" for our abilities.
Side note: Please give us a “scream to wake up all party members” option if we’re caught asleep. Spending 1 action per ally is just annoying. Make the encounters harder overall, but please spare us this tediousness.
“He's one of them rangers. Dangerous folk they are — wandering the wilds. What his right name is I've never heard, but around here, he's known as Strider.”
Travelling in Solasta is, to be frank, either a bit of a chore or barely relevant at all. Goodberry reduces it to a non-issue, while not using those spells leaves it at being just some RNG thing that goes on in the background.
I suppose it is neat to see the small messages of “Aenar sings an old song” or “Freckled Mia starts a discussion about politics” that makes it marginally better than just moving across the map without it, but alas the travelling mechanics themselves are rather boring. The game rolls dice in the background for food and for holding an eye out for enemies. So it’ll be a bit annoying or you won’t think about it at all.
I think the most obvious indictment of the travelling system is that getting to skip it is considered a benefit worth being spells or class features (Goodberry, Create Food and Oblivion Clerics).
At this point, they might as well have the ‘opt out’ function as baseline or they need to attach mechanics beyond random encounters that are worth interacting with. Otherwise it’ll remain kinda lame.
My suggestion? Give us an option to engage with wild creatures or enemies to hunt or scavenge instead of rolling dice. For example, sneaking into an orcish camp to steal their supplies (or just kill them for it).
Typos happen. More so on the phone.