Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues (Early Access, 2017)


Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues (Early Access, 2017), created by Richard Garriott, developed and published by Portalarium

There might be a decent game, not great or even good but decent, hidden somewhere in what is the Early Access release of Shroud of the Avatar.

If you don't already know, Shroud of the Avatar is a new game that Lord British himself (or Richard Garriott as he's known outside Ultima games) asked the community to help him within a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2013. After a while of development, SotA was brought forward in Steam Early Access, most likely so that the studio could make some more money to develop the ambitious MMORPG/singleplayer RPG hybrid that was originally promised. I didn't back the game personally, nor have I bought it. My experience of it comes from a free trial campaign Portalarium has going on until 13th of December

I did see the campaign when it was run and I was teetering on the edge of backing it, as Ultima VI was the first proper RPG I ever played on a computer, which leads me to play other games in the series as well. In the end, I ended up doing so, as I wasn't quite sold on the concept of marrying an MMO and singleplayer game. Something has to give when doing that, as the design for each game type is quite different.

So now, after a while in development, how is it?


Obviously, Shroud of the Avatar still is in the Early Access alpha state, so a lot can and will change. Maybe for the worse, maybe for the better. But this is my take on how the game is now. And as it is now, I'd say it's obvious there's still a long way to go.

Like many other Richard Garriott titles, Shroud of the Avatar begins in the real world, where you, the player, have been looking for something, knowing that there's more to the world than the mundane existence of everyday life. And that place is the island of Novia, a fantasy world like the famed Sosaria and later on Britannia were in the Ultima-series, where you are transported to.

Upon arrival, you get to create your Avatar, in a fashion that feels very much like Ultima. You are asked the question, which determines your profession and starting skills. You choose your appearance and gender and then you are off to the races, in my case to a village overrun by the most boring of all RPG monsters, if you don't count rats and spiders or insects, zombies.

Right-o.


After some slaying of the undead, I ended up in a campsite where the people of the overrun village had escaped. There the game teaches me other oh so familiar MMO tropes, like gathering crafting materials, killing re-spawning enemies, doing meaningless tasks like helping a farmer gather cotton or kill a group of wolves terrorising him. Really, these mundane tasks and uninspired settings are what the game tries to pass as something more interesting than the mundane everyday existence. This is what you end up doing in every single MMORPG and it's not really something I find fun.

How do these tasks affect the planned singleplayer mode, I hear you ask. I can't really say anything to that, as the free trial doesn't allow you to play in a singleplayer offline mode. So as far I know, the offline mode is the same as the single player online, with constantly re-spawning (often right in the front of you) enemies and meaningless tasks.

There's also a load of technical difficulties as well. Most prominent one was that during a couple of fist days I wasn't really able to play the game, as it kept kicking me out thanks to network issues. Even when I chose the game mode to be online singleplayer, I was kicked out. And then, when  I finally did get to play the game, there were some quest lines I was unable to complete, as from some reason I couldn't give gathered quest items to the NPC's that wanted them, as the UI didn't seem to work. But this is an alpha version, so again, hopefully, things like these are ironed out for a release at least, if not sooner.


At this moment, the way the missions and the things like monster spawning work, I'm having a hard time seeing how Portalarium is going to turn SotA into a singleplayer game, as I don't really see this kind of a design as something I'd enjoy as a singleplayer game. Furthermore, a thing that jumps out to me at least in the world design is the player owned towns and cities, where buildings are owned by the actual players of the game, some purchases with real money, some grinded with in-game currency. That is something that doesn't, in my opinion, translate well to a singleplayer experience, as there's no designed content on those cities other what the players end up doing in them. So, is the offline game just going to have lesser cities or are those player owned towns filled with other game content? Or will they just be places with nothing to do in them expect to try to steal all that is not nailed down?

It's not all bad though, as there are aspects in SotA I like. One thing that seems to work nicely is the combat, as it differs somewhat from the standard MMORPG fare. As I was playing with an archer, I noticed that dodging zombies while firing felt almost like a light action RPG fare. Usually, MMORPG combat is a relatively boring thing of setting a standard attack and then just spamming special attacks, here it feels more involving. The combat feels just right even when surrounded by multiple enemies.

The second thing is the world map and the playable areas, as moving between locations is done via a larger game map, which makes the game world seem bigger than it is, as the locations you can visit are pretty large and somewhat nicely detailed. Some MMORPG's feel like they are set in the world that has been designed to be bigger so that the locations have been scaled up a bit in order to make them feel bigger and then suddenly the location starts to transform into another place with drastically different flora and fauna. In SotA the changes between locations feel more natural when you see a world map you use to travel before seeing the location with a different look from the previous you were in.


Like I said though, SotA feels very much like a game that is still a work in progress, which I guess is appropriate for an Early Access title that states is still in alpha stage. Some mechanics work nicely, but at the same time, it feels like something is lacking from it, especially what comes to actual story and narrative.

This time I spent with the free trial wasn't enough to convince me buying it, but it was enough to make me more intrigued by it. If there ever will be another free trial, I'll be giving it a new spin, just to see how much it has changed, especially if the next trial happens when the game is in beta stage.

If you are interested in seeing Shroud of the Avatar yourself, keep an eye on their official site or Steam page.


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