You know when a business advertises itself as being the second-best at something, then says, 'We try harder?' That's the position Solasta: Crown of the Magister is in, as the other turn-based RPG based on D&D's rules currently in Early Access. Developer Tactical Adventures would dearly like its game to emerge from under the shadow of Baldur's Gate 3, which is why the indie alternative to Larian's sequel now comes with Dungeon Maker, an in-game editor for crafting dungeons using an interface familiar to longtime PC RPG fans.
The Dungeon Maker lets players easily create their own D&D-based dungeon crawling adventures with a level of detail not seen since the days of Neverwinter Nights.
"Early Access has given us lots of feedback," says Matthew Girard, Tactical Adventures founder and creative director. "We've implemented a difficulty system to make the game easier or more challenging, cleared up UI elements, and of course we're still working on completing the main campaign and integrating new features.
"We've received two requests from players more than anything else: multiplayer, and the ability for players to create their own content." Girard teases that they aren't ruling out multiplayer completely, but it isn't happening at release in favor of focusing on a singleplayer, party-based RPG. As for the second requested feature, enter the Dungeon Maker.
The Dungeon Maker is an in-game editor that lets players create custom dungeons from scratch by placing rooms, traps, monsters, and loot. It's focused on accessibility and intuitive controls, using a 2D map interface with drag-and-drop rooms that snap to doors and openings. It basically feels like Neverwinter Nights meets Super Mario Maker.
"Not everyone is a game developer—it's a full-time job," says Girard. "We wanted to have a tool that's even simpler than Neverwinter Nights' creator, something more like LittleBigPlanet. Like using Lego blocks and pieces to construct your dungeon."
During a private demo, I watch Emile Zhang, community manager for Tactical Adventures, throw together a quick series of rooms using the Necropolis tileset, which looks like a standard crypt. Rooms are available in several different sizes and shapes, and include pre-furnished blueprints, as well as empty rooms ready to be filled with decorative props, as well as monsters, traps, and treasure.
Each room features a number of openings that can instantly become doorways when another room is placed beside it. With the attractive and intuitive UI (which fans of Amplitude Studios' Endless series will quickly recognize), it's easy to label a door as locked, or secret, or trapped (or all three), and use a sliding bar to determine the skill levels it takes to detect any traps and pick locks.
Although the main campaign frequently features levels and locations with sharp elevation changes, including cliffs, towers, and bridges, the Dungeon Maker is keeping things old-school with a 2D top-down visualization that resembles classic pen-and-paper graph paper dungeons. "I went for a flat interface for the Dungeon Maker because when you go 3D, you lose 50% of the audience, and I wanted the editor to be open to as many people as possible," says Girard. "That being said, we're looking at adding more verticality, like pits and platforms, or staircases to elevate entire rooms."