Solasta: Crown of the Magister - Lost Valley launched in a rough shape but after a few weeks of patches it became a product I can wholeheartedly recommend.
Solasta: Crown of the Magister base game has numerous qualities but also some drawbacks. Tactical Adventures managed to successfully upgrade some of these systems with the Lost Valley DLC, which was troubled by game-breaking issues in the beginning. A few weeks of updates later, Lost Valley has become a properly enjoyable experience, even though it doesn't excel in all the area it touches upon. It's like a jack of all funs.
Solasta: Crown of the Magister has a linear storyline that the players found odd and were wanting for more freedom of choice. The developers heard them loud and clear when making Lost Valley and that's precisely what they delivered.
We are quickly introduced to a bunch of factions that are vying for control of the eponymous place, all for different reasons and their views on how it should change differ wildly.
This setting is highly reminiscent of Fallout New Vegas where the consequences for Mojave were significant, depending on which faction(s) you side with or if you don't side with any - you can always antagonise everyone and go for the unforeseen option. Despite Tactical Adventures being of a much smaller size and the game itself having less funding, Lost Valley managed to pull this off, more or less.
Depending on who you side with, the Valley could end up being ruled by racist slavers, the people themselves or you can murder everyone, offering a lot of potential for replayability. There are more options but for sake of not spoiling it, I'll refrain from further examples.
Now, whether the story gets you gripped or not is a different matter. In my experience, I wasn't wooed by the storytelling of Lost Valley at any given moment but it did provide me with clear objectives in my mind as I knew what I wanted to do. It also provided motivation to go forward instead of being a barren and pointless loot grind that many games became in recent years.
Character mannerisms and dialogue delivery are a bit bland, which threw me off from time to time. This is fairly understandable with my own party, where the characters can take on virtually endless combinations of looks and voices but the NPCs didn't perform much better either.
Overall, the story's setting provided enough intrigue to keep my interest piqued and even though the delivery wasn't worthy of an Academy Award, it also wasn't bad to ruin the experience. This is an RPG and the story delivered where it mattered - I was immersed in the world and depending on the characters, I cared about what happened to them. More or less.
Besides the aforementioned replayability due to the non-linear story, Lost Valley has a lot to offer in terms of gameplay. As you may know by now, it is based on the fifth edition D&D ruleset, commonly referred to as 5e, which is not the most popular one around. Compared to other editions, 5e is streamlined, meaning you get fewer options with character creation, the combat has fewer variables and flanking is basically non-existent.
Tactical Adventures, however, worked this ruleset into Solasta beautifully. Despite not having the wide array of tools a 3.5e game would have, like Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous, Solasta delivered a whole lot of variety in the character builds I experimented with. Granted, there is no dual-classing but the subclasses on offer were pretty awesome, giving the player proper tools to adapt to the team builds and provide even more replayability.
In Pathfinder: WotR, which I found absolutely amazing, the build variety suffers from the dominance of certain tools like Dexterity, and if I didn't build my Fighter around it, I would clearly see the massive drawbacks. Solasta's balance is worked in this specific instance as Strength was definitely a useful attribute to have and you can build a competent Fighter without investing in Dexterity at all.
On the topic of subclasses, the ones introduced with Lost Valley are a ton of fun. Fighters can now give themselves and allies around them an advantage on their attack rolls, which is absolutely massive. Without focusing on light, or lack thereof, this means you will hit enemies more often than not. Meanwhile, the new Sorcerer subclass lets you do the opposite for enemies while providing a healthy chunk of AoE damage, both of which provided that sense of satisfaction for progressing my characters.
Still, the first playthrough of Lost Valley I had was marred in game-breaking bugs. Creatures I allied with from the beginning would inexplicably attack me upon returning to their camp and actually returning there was a challenge because one of their buddies hopped into my party and prevented me from fast travelling for a long while, until I stumbled upon a workaround .
Persistent AoE abilities would prevent me from moving properly and some characters would see my hidden Rogue despite not actually being able to spot them. The vast majority of these issues were addressed in the patches before this review and waiting for them was definitely worth it. Solasta provided me with tens of hours of fun and frankly, I would have hated to rate it lower because of something that would get fixed in a matter of weeks. After all, this review will last longer than glaring bugs devs are actively working on.
Still, even with the fixes, the game is far from polished. One of my playthroughs ended up giving the throne to a completely different faction, one I was hostile to, despite clearly supporting another one, which ended up messing with the story experience of the entire thing.
Technically, multiplayer is a part of the free update, not tied to the DLC itself. On the other hand, I'm a firm believer of giving praise where it's due and Solasta's multiplayer deserves heaps of it.
This is not something the devs originally planned to do but after listening to fan feedback, they decided to implement it. Listening to fan feedback? Are we still in 2022? Yes, we are, and such an occurrence is beautiful to see, however rare it might appear.
Tactical Adventures did a great job on this front as joining a multiplayer session is extremely easy and straightforward. From there, you can choose your character and quickly dip into an adventure that is highly reminiscent of a tabletop one with D&D rules. Your DM here is in a small part the host of the session but it mostly ends up being the game itself as it presents all the wonder and fantasy you can dream of.
If you're looking for something to do with friends, I would highly recommend hopping into a Solasta multiplayer session, or 10. That might take a few months though, it's a really good bang for your buck.
Graphics and performance
Graphics in this game are much like the story itself - it does the job but it's nothing to write home about. You will notice from the screenshots that most characters look like they are made of playdough.
The environments are actually pretty nice, regardless of where you are. You might be looking at a swamp, thick vegetation or ancient architecture and you will see something to like in all of them.
However, the quality of environment design doesn't justify the load Solasta puts on one's PC. I've noticed FPS drops and high CPU usage in all of the larger maps, which is not something I get often, even with some of the most graphically impressive games today. This is a pretty obvious example of sub-par optimisation but the lower frames don't necessarily ruin the experience in these instances since the game is turn-based.
On the other hand, you might want to make sure your PC has a good cooling system or at least meshes on more than one side of the case, just to make sure nothing gets cooked.
The value of Solasta: Crown of the Magister is in the experience itself and even if it doesn't leave you breathless, the game offers tens, if not hundreds of hours of entertainment for a pretty low price.
Lost Valley took multiple weaker points from the base game, reinforced them and offered a much-improved adventure for anyone willing to dip their toes in it.
While it doesn't excel in any particular department, Lost Valley's greatest strength is in the saying "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts". The graphics are not the type of the eye candy that will captivate and bait you into buying a product that may not necessarily be as good and the story can't compete with the epics like Dragon Age: Origins.
However, when you combine Solasta: CotM - Lost Valley's qualities, it becomes an unforgettable experience I wish everyone would give the benefit of the doubt because it really has a lot to offer. Most of it, however, requires you to go further than skin-deep in order to feel it.
All things considered, I consider Lost Valley a must-buy if you already have the base game. Steam reviews for it are currently a bit iffy, owing to the aforementioned game-breaking bugs that have been fixed since but you will rarely find this much content being sold for $13 / €13 / £11.