Choose My Adventure: The why behind Shroud of the Avatar

Finding the fun, I’m sorry to say, was a bit on the fleeting side.

The problem isn’t that Shroud of the Avatar suddenly stopped having any of the redeeming features I noted last week; no, the stuff I found there is still there this week, and it’s not as if I can’t find any of that fun. The problem is the one that shows up reasonably often in situations like this. Having found the fun and gotten the shape of how the game’s mechanics are going to go for a while, the game ran into the related but also different problem wherein there’s nothing to advance for.

It’s not that I lost the fun, then. It’s that the fun was in some ways contingent upon having a reason to level up, and once that tenuous connection of goals was lost it wound up leaving me with the question of why, exactly, I was doing this. I never found much of a solution to that, either, so that’s not a good sign.

My usual curse of forgetting to take screenshots like a giant idiot was pretty bad this week, I'm sorry to say.Theoretically, of course, this ties into the game’s main story. But if you’re not following that (per votes), you don’t really get that as motivation. You have areas that are harder and have tougher enemies, but you never know how much harder, and you have no real reason to go there outside of “I can kill weaker enemies really quickly.” There’s plenty of space to wander and explore, but there isn’t much reason given to explore beyond it being out there.

For some people, that’s going to be plenty of motivation, which is where I did find the fun before. But it’s a sort of shallow engagement, where you just mash your way up the ladder because mashing things into a paste more effectively has a certain simple glee to it. That seemed less firm for me this week.

Of course, here’s where I wind up slipping back to the point I was at when I started this particular playthrough. It’s hard to say how much of this is a problem with the game and how much of it is the game being exactly what the designers want it to be. On the exchange, I’m increasingly thinking that the design, at best, shows off the flaws of those specific choices rather than the virtues.

For example, the point was made last week that in order to see a map you need to have the map in your inventory. Or you need to map out the place yourself, like in old-school games! It’s a great throwback to a system that people found so blindingly obnoxious that basically every game since the late 90s has decided against it, because my word is it ever pointlessly obnoxious.

It’s immersive! It means you never have the problem where your immersion is destroyed by just seeing the map, unless you use the Internet to look it up in about five seconds and then have to just deal with the open question of why you have to jump through these hoops for a video game released in the year two thousand seventeen of the common era, knowing where I am supposed to be going just to leave should not be an ordeal, who said this was all right?!

Sorry, my tongue just sprang into my cheek there.

I remember the days when this was the norm, but the advent of having maps and clear pointers was not something I rue as the day when video games started being worse; it was when designers stopped making me work halfway to make the game playable. These sorts of throwbacks do not endear me. We moved away from this for good reason.

I’ve also been informed that the interplay between skills and dependencies pretty much flattens out to nothing at the higher end, which is… disappointing, to say the least. Restrictions breed creativity; no restrictions breeds an environment wherein everyone is a teleporting fireball-throwing death machine, because if you have no reasons not to be why wouldn’t you be?

I suppose you could also be a lightning-chucking death machine, but now we’re just debating flavors rather than concepts.

After a bit more wandering, I decided to head back to Aerie and actually advance the Path of Whatever Path It Was I Was Told To Go Down. (Truth, I suspect; I could look it up but I don’t particularly care.) Unfortunately, I was told that the city was under siege and I would have to fight my way though the front lines. I would assume this was a player-run siege, which I assumed meant facing players who would kill my characters faster than you could say “design throwbacks.” It’s possible it would have been more like the various encounters with monsters on the field, but considering most of those experiences were with wolves that moved with the speed and ferocity of furry cruise missiles, that was not a heartening alternative.

Oh, you're busy. I'll come back later. Maybe.

It also left me a bit nonplussed, which is quickly becoming a theme. No, the game isn’t aggressively awful and non-functional, but there are so many niggling issues here and there, so many instances of things being designed to maximize immersion that rhymes with inconvenience that it brings down my desire to push forward with too much vigor. This is compounded by the amount of grinding necessary to advance most skills to a meaningful state, including the life-draining skills locked behind the (presently somewhat useless) life-tapping skill. As an introductory skill, that seems like a bad choice.

Presently, though, we’re approaching our terminus for this particular title. Which brings me to the suggestion from last week’s open call that I have yet to address, and another poll. So let’s start with the preamble, which is about why I don’t really join guilds in games for Choose My Adventure.

The reality is that when I start playing a game for Choose My Adventure, the odds of it slotting into my usual play pattern are relatively low. I only have so many hours in the day, after all. Joining a guild when I only expect to be around for a few weeks feels unfair to the guild leaders and a bit unfair to me in the process; there’s a lot of applying involved, after all.

Of course, there are always people in our comments who are playing the game, and I’d say half of the time they’ve either got a guild or have ins with guilds. All well and good, but then I’m getting into a guild by virtue of my name rather than anything else. It leads to a kind of skewed picture of the game, because people are happily flinging stuff at me in the hopes of me saying how awesome the game/community proved to be. So that’s not an accurate picture either.

But maybe I’m getting too hung up on the details here. So tell me, folks, what would you prefer I do in this particular case and in future instances? Are my current philosophies fair or a bit too restrictive in future games? Vote in the polls!

CMA: What should I do guild-wise?

  • Join a guild in Shroud of the Avatar, not elsewhere (11%, 14 Votes)
  • Join a guild in Shroud of the Avatar and in the future (16%, 20 Votes)
  • Join a reader-offered guild in Shroud of the Avatar, not elsewhere (3%, 4 Votes)
  • Join a reader-offered guild in Shroud of the Avatar and in the future (6%, 7 Votes)
  • Don't join a guild in Shroud of the Avatar, but possibly do so in the future (9%, 11 Votes)
  • Don't join guilds in the future (in CMA, you can do what you want the rest of the time) (56%, 70 Votes)

Total Voters: 126

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As usual, voting will be open until 6 p.m. EDT on Friday, so you’ll have plenty of time to get your answers in and have your metaphorical voice be heard. It’s welcome feedback. Whatever you leave down in the comments or send along to eliot@massivelyop.com is also welcome feedback, while we’re on the subject. I’ll be back for the final round next week, and we’ll wrap things up the week after; there’s only so much more time for exploration until then regardless. (Or, depending on your viewpoint, there’s endless time for exploration because the game is buy-to-play. Life is wild like that.)

Welcome to Choose My Adventure, the column in which you join Eliot each week as he journeys through mystical lands on fantastic adventures — and you get to decide his fate. This is proving to be a particularly difficult adventure to crack for various reasons.
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19 Comments on "Choose My Adventure: The why behind Shroud of the Avatar"

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temp starcitizen

The map thing, it’s still just a player created map that’s modded into the game I think. I think it’s great people are already modding the game, but I thought it was slow and clunky. It’s weird that it’s a paypal service too, if you check it out online you have to donate money to get an account so you can make edits.

Raleigh-St-Clair
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Raleigh-St-Clair

And there we have it. This is… what… the second of these articles (?) and you’ve totally hit a brick wall already, and can clearly see how un-fun the game is and how it’s a mind-numbing pointless grind with awful quest lines. Tens of thousands of people have voted with their feet (if stats are to be believed there’s 60,000-something accounts yet next to no one actually playing), yet the devs push on, apparently thinking they’ve made some incredible work of art and the day they say, “We’ve launched…” tens of thousands of players will magically re-appear. What a joke. SotA is, let’s not mince words here and confuse any casual passersby, dire. Try a free trial if you really, really must. But never pay for this trash. Never.

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Rob Crowther

Restrictions breed creativity; no restrictions breeds an environment wherein everyone is a teleporting fireball-throwing death machine, because if you have no reasons not to be why wouldn’t you be?

Even if you’re the sort of player who’s GMed all the things, there’s still only so many cards you can have in a single deck and still have it be effective. Having resistances tied to attunement does mean that most long time players have leveled up most of the active magic skills, but it doesn’t mean they all play in the same way.

I would assume this was a player-run siege, which I assumed meant facing players who would kill my characters faster than you could say “design throwbacks.”

No, it’s a game event, there will be no PvP in the scene unless you are flagged PvP. If you’re low level you’ll actually skip the siege altogether though I’m unsure of the exact mechanics of how this happens (because I’m not low level and wasn’t when they added sieges).

It leads to a kind of skewed picture of the game, because people are happily flinging stuff at me in the hopes of me saying how awesome the game/community proved to be. So that’s not an accurate picture either.

It’s my experience that guilds in Shroud will happily fling stuff at people even if they’re complete nobodies, but I can understand your concerns here. Even if joining a guild is impractical given the constraints of the column I still believe, as I said last time, you should attempt to participate socially. There will be a whole bunch of events this weekend due to it being R45 release today.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

I think it’s safe to say that SotA is a niche title. Every CMA doesn’t have to be a love fest. I remember when MMOs didn’t have radar maps or quest finders. I spent most of my game time lost and never enjoyed MMOs so much as when pointers and trackers game into the genre. For those who like to wander lost, there usually is an option to turn these things off. So, a win/win.

If the game isn’t fun, it isn’t fun. Fun is a subjective experience. My time with SotA convinced me that whatever its merits, they are deeply hidden and not easily found. And the fun factor was too low to bother with the search.

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Paul

“There’s nothing to advance for” – I have to say this matches my experience with the game. The system is nice and in-depth with lots of flexibility and figuring all that out was fun. Once you do though you realise that there really isn’t much there to actually do adventuring wise.

Maybe it’ll be better in a few years when they’ve actually got some content (assuming the game lasts that long).

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TotalCowage .

Part of this is because development of the game has struggled so long, and they’ve had to go from desperate fund raising to desperate fund raiser that there actually isn’t any deep content for all this grinding to be for… even the much vaunted sieges only turned up in the last few months, and those aren’t very special as the review stated.

But housing and add ons are incredibly polished because that’s where the money was coming in from. There’s a quote somewhere on the forums about how the Devs knew this and so prioritised time to this because of it, if I have the time I’ll rummage it out.

I also have the video clip in Part 3 of my video review from one of the Begathons, where they say they prioritised Player Owned Towns over the world map we all share for the same reason.

However even if you found something fun to keep you happy whilst you were grinding, this review series still hasn’t touched on just how badly it’s been set up to deliberately try and support real money trading. So…

Suggestion for Eliot Lefebrve: Actually try and get on the property ladder

Look at the market place in game, and on the official trading forums. Work out for yourself how long it’ll take to grind the gold at your pace, the normal, average player’s experience in trying to actually afford what the Real Money Traders want for the Lot Deeds. Heck, settle for just taking a default NPC house too, go for the quickest and easiest route.

Don’t forget, you need to keep grinding to pay the tax on the cheapest deeds too!

But let’s have some independent, educated third party experience eh?

Mukit
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Mukit

Actually try and get on the property ladder‘…’Don’t forget, you need to keep grinding to pay the tax‘. Isn’t this is what adults (i.e. many MMOers) do every day in the real-world? I, for one, definitely do not want to come home from a day of real-world grinding so I can sit down and pay my MMO-world taxes. That’s just plain icky…

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TotalCowage .

Precisely. And what is more, this particular form of escapism was one of the primary reasons the Ultima series was originally so popular.

They typically began with a world weary person looking for a better world, and crossing the moongate to a place where they’d become a better person themselves and inspire a different world along those lines. And Ultima V famously ended with (spoiler alert)

But in Shroud…? Here’s the quote I was referring too;

Outlanders are particularly obsessed with gold so of course they will show up anywhere it is offered. Makes perfect sense from a story viewpoint and Richard agrees BTW.

So why on Earth, or Britannia, or Novia do we have a “spiritual successor” to Ultima that’s driven by the very thing people who loved the earlier games want to escape from?

Because although those of us with hope were blind to the warning signs, the Kickstarter originally promised property would be rare and desirable. For myself, I just assumed it would be rare like in Ultima Online circa 2003 say, limited locations, but you could get in via player churn at the lowest levels, then work your way up to your dream home later…

Real Money Traders noticed this however, and leapt on it early assuming it would be a way to make real money profit. They’ve done the same with Star Citizen unique spaceships, and you’ll find there’s usually a huge cross over between the RMTs in one game to the other. They were buying pledges to hold them as real world assets.

And Portalarium today is not the Origin Systems of yesterday. They appear to have drifted from Ren Faire themed idealism, into Silicon Valley Objectivists. Every time the RMTs suggested a way to make their assets more valuable, Portalarium agreed with them and implemented these ideas without thinking about what it did to the design of the game.

That’s why earlier Pledge Lot Deeds, or far more expensive Add On Store Lot Deeds are Tax Free. It raises more money for Portalarium after all, as RMTs buy those up. The RMTs love them because they think they can sell them on for even more profit.

But it drives away the mass of the audience who’ll be lucky to get even the Taxed homes, let alone the literal tens of thousands of real dollar locations; they don’t want to do it even if these homes are technically available to them. They don’t want to be paying rent to avaricious slumlords. They don’t want to be paying taxes in their free time…

Yet the thinking of Portalarium and the RMTs seems to be if they can just control the media narrative long enough, by a promised Advertising blitz, or manipulating forums to get critics banned, they’ll somehow persuade enough players back into the game, and get them to stay long enough they’ll desperately invest in this ridiculously expensive property.

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Victor Didra

Are you playing on Linux? Because if not, why don’t you just open SotAMap? It’s not in every single scene yet but it is in the vast majority. I haven’t carried an in inventory map in months, and use the in game minimap all the time.

Edit to be very clear so my words don’t get twisted:

Put your mouse in the top right corner of the screen. Click on the Stained Glass Window (Window Selector). Go down to SotA Map, and click.

(There’s a hotkey also, but that can be wiped out if you customized, as I’ve already done, Default M?.)

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Paragon Lost

Personally I really liked the concept of having to actually have gone there to map it out or to carry a map. I really found those three or so paragraphs pointlessly obnoxious. Immersion is a good thing and that so many appear to make a joke of it or wax caustically in my opinion hurts the mmorpg genre.

Again I have no interest in other genres of mmo, do what you will in those, my passion is mmorpgs and comments like this or Lethality’s remarks (in a CS article) not getting that role-play is one and the same with immersion just boggle my mind repeatedly.

Eliot’s snark aside, it is too bad that SoA appears to have so many shortcomings and failures. I had some amount of hope for a truly in depth, expansive, immersive, mmorpg. Everything I read about it though just comes across that SoA is a miss. :/

p.s: I voted for don’t join a guild, because in my opinion you’re doing the guild a dis-service. Leave them out of this since you really have no plans to continue playing after the CMA wraps up. I also recommend that you don’t do so for any CMA. I think that it’s good that you actually appreciate that. :)

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TotalCowage .

This kind of game design was never really popular, and it isn’t obnoxious for people to both point that out, and state they don’t enjoy that kind of gameplay themselves today.

By way of example, Kieran Gillian (the creator of Rock, Paper, Shotgun and now writing for Marvel) when reviewing Dungeon Master 2 for Amiga Power in 1995 had this to say about mapping, and frustration claimed as gameplay;

The magic maps which show you your surroundings at the price of a steady drain of magical vitality are quite clever. And I’ve found no mazes so far, which shows some grasp of game design. (The only point of a maze is to map it. Mapping is stiflingly tedious. Automapping solves this. With automapping there is no point in having mazes, therefore, have no mazes. Good work, kids.)

And now for the bit in the review where you could simply swap out DM2 for Shroud and it’s few remaining players.

The programmers of DM2 appear to have spent the last seven years held in stasis and a big vat. While for the rest of us time strolled on, they slumbered. They failed to experience the populist charm of Sonic, the brash genocide of Doom, the 3d dungeon delving of Ultima Underworlds, Legends of Valour’s immersive world or the futurist charm of Liberation. Consequently, when they were revived last year they proceeded to make a straight sequel to the game which they believed they had only that moment finished. They succeeded. It’s just that world in which Dungeon Master 2 should have existed doesn’t exist anymore. And neither should Dungeon Master 2.

Both Ultima Underworld and Doom had automapping in 1995. The makers of Shroud haven’t even learned from their own history, or how RPG fans had in the main moved on from these tropes more than 2 decades ago. Tedium is not immersion. Our fond memories of that time are because we were younger then, and everything seemed more meaningful… not because trying to map down on graph paper all the doubling back and pointless meandering companies shoved into games to string their tiny memory sizes out was actually fun.

Ultima V (1988) even used a clever mechanism where by you could read the Journal of a missing expedition on a paper sheet that came in the box which told you the path through the maze. Even older Ultimas had magic gems which showed you the surrounding terrain, and cloth maps in the box.

Shroud has gone one step back even on those standards. Simply because the few remaining backers are either in it to exploit Real Money Trading and don’t really care about gaming, or because they have some desperate need to buy their way to being Lords and Ladies of an old fashioned and dead land.

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Paragon Lost

Didn’t agree with him then and I don’t agree with him now…

Signed, some old Amiga user.

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TotalCowage .

Didn’t agree with you in 2015, still don’t agree with you now…

Signed, 5 out of 6 prior Shroud backers, and anyone else who looks at the game today.

Which wouldn’t matter if it was the peer to peer, mostly Selective Multiplayer along the lines of Diablo promised in 2013. You could have your locally hosted, minority interest grind game to keep! And people would just write off the money they regretted spending and walk away.

But as it’s now a centralised server MMO that has to get the audience in or the server shuts off and the game dies… well, better hope you can keep that Begathon level investing going every single month on the tiny numbers of you who still haven’t caught up with 1995.

Vaeris
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Vaeris

I don’t think that most mmorpg gamers today really care too much about immersion. Some may say they do but then if a game implements features like this map one or the boat rides from region to region of past games they extol about how it inconveniences them and/or takes away from their time having fun.

They don’t really want a mmorpg or virtual world. They want a badge that they can instagram/twitch/twitter about to fish for likes. Wizards is catering to this as well. Take a look at the Dungeons & Dragons website. It’s not about showcasing campaign worlds and adventure modules. Its about 5 or 6 different twitch groups “playing” D&D. Sure, some of it may be altruistic but I can’t help but think that most of it are people trying to get their 15 minutes of fame.

Most average gamers, in this day of accessible tech, don’t put their playtime online. It’s super easy to do these days and yet they don’t. “Watch me play this game” ultimately boils down to “watch me”.

Building real immersion into a game, especially a fantasy mmorpg, that fits its theme is antithetical to that 15 minutes of fame desire both from a creator and consumer (the folks who watch it) standpoint.

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Veldan

I’d argue that those people aren’t really MMORPGs gamers. There are many gamers today in MMOs in general that seem to really dislike their own genre and want everything to be as non-MMO-like as possible. At some point it’s up to the devs to say “screw mass market, we’ll make a niche game for real MMORPGers, with a smaller but loyal playerbase”. Which is what some crowdfunded titles are currently doing.

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Paragon Lost

Great points and really good example in regards to WotC. I’ve been thinking along similar lines of thought on them in the last few months.

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Veldan

I agree. After reading those paragraphs I thought about the map thing for a minute, and came to the conclusion that I’d like it. It’s immersion boosting and fun, and features like that can bring an MMORPG closer to what it should be: not just a game with objectives, but a virtual world.

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Victor Didra

Yes, that was the original thought I believe, but now we have a map (for quite a few months now.) You can get to it by clicking SotA Map in the Window Selector (top right corner of buttons.)

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Paragon Lost

Exactly. It’s one of the many reasons why I play an mmorpg and not a moba for example or a fps. More depth and options is a good thing when it comes to playing an mmorpg.

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