Choose My Adventure: Many kinds of lost in Shroud of the Avatar

One of the first things I did in Shroud of the Avatar was get kind of lost. The last week’s activities were largely similar. Only now, it was a different kind of lost.

It wasn’t just that I didn’t have much of anywhere to go; that was how the vote went, after all, and while it might not have been my first choice that’s kind of the purpose behind voting instead of just letting me decide everything. It wasn’t just that the areas afforded me little to no guidance about points of interest. It was that I kept asking myself “why?” as I worked, fought things, explored, and so forth.

No answers were forthcoming. And perhaps that’s missing the point, but it also struck me that this is part of the reason why a guild may have made a major difference here. Albeit not necessarily for the best, but let me get into that as I go.

Are you guiding me or just celebrating my lack of clarity?One of the things I keep jutting up against is a lack of direction in the game, and as someone who usually has pretty elaborate plans from a fairly early level this might seem odd. “You provide your own guidance in the game!” goes the rallying cry. And while that’s great advice generally, here it seems to run into trouble for a couple of reasons.

The first problem is that providing your own guidance requires the game’s design to point you in a direction first. You can’t head somewhere without knowing that there’s actually a destination you can work toward, after all. The second problem (and the one I want to focus on this week) is that even having been pointed in that direction, there’s a problem if you don’t feel there’s much waiting down that route.

Some incredulity was expressed when I found combat to be a fun side of the game, since that’s a part of the game that frequently gets critiqued. And those critiques are definitely fair, and I could definitely see it was I suffered through some jankiness with animations and balance. But combat was, at the very least, engaging and comprehensible. I could go in and have a reasonable idea of what I was doing.

More to the point, I could see where this could be really fun. It just required a lot of grinding to get there, and lo and behold, that was indeed what I did. Except – and this struck me for the past couple of sessions – it was an open question of what I was grinding for.

A bunch of the stuff I encountered while slicing my way through the countryside seemed like quest items, which looked familiar to me as someone who spent years with another game that didn’t require you being on a quest in order to get the quest item. That’s a cool thing and I like it. What I liked less was that I never felt as if I had a reasonable chance of finding the person who was connected to this quest; it was just empty, a connection I picked up somewhere in the middle without any links.

No, I’m not saying that I’d prefer a World of Warcraft-style quest popping up immediately telling me to go bring this back to my good friend Duckwhistle McFart whom I never met before picking up this quest. But there has to be a midpoint between that and just suddenly getting an item from the middle without any guidance about what might be going on.

For the record, as a few people have asked me why I’m not using the built-in mod meant to connect with SotaMap, the answer is… I am. Or I’m trying, at least. The problem isn’t that I’m unaware it’s there, the problem is that all but twice, I’ve gotten an error message. It’s possible that there’s more to be done there, definitely, but the game doesn’t even mention “hey, this game has no in-game map, but we have something modded in to connect with a fan-run server.”

I mean, sure, there are problems with that, too, because if you know there’s enough of an issue with your game to make having a map something that is solved by fans you may want to actually have a map, but at least that would indicate that designers see an issue there. Here, nothing.

Also in the interests of fairness, I’d like to point out that the in-game maps which actually dropped for me over the course of gameplay (which were chiefly useless because of where they mapped) were nice to look at at least. The lack of any sort of tracking of player location was a bit of an issue, but the game could certainly have sold its maps on the idea of having no player or hotspot tracking. It’d still be a problem, but it’d seem more like a difference of preference than just… not realizing what the lack does to a game.

Like a bridge over pointless waters.

But this week, I was lost. I had no real momentum to try and sort all of this out. And here is where yes, a guild would have indeed helped. Not because it would have involved free stuff (which is a distinct possibility), but because guilds here can easily replace designer momentum with social momentum.

Sure, you might not have much pushing you forward in the game. But hey, Kyle and Sandra need some help decorating their house, and Sam needs more leather, and there’s a really cool spot you can probably reach that’s great for grinding, Olivia and I will show you where it is. Suddenly you have a reason to move forward, because it’s not just “what am I doing,” it’s “what are all of us doing.” It’s the sort of thing that can drive a lot of investment over time.

Heck, it’s part of what keeps me in several of my favorite games; I sent a message to one of my better friends in my main game just a couple days ago talking about how she’s helped keep me motivated. A guild would absolutely help do that.

Except, and this is something I didn’t mention prior to the polls for risk of skewing the results… a guild will do that in any game. Having a guild to push you forward isn’t a way to show that a given game is well-designed, it’s a sign that friends are important in this social game you’re playing. And frankly, that statement alone seems so obvious as to almost form a tautology. Turns out a social game is significantly enriched with social connections, who knew?

For that matter, this makes player-run towns a bit of genius on the part of Portalarium, because almost any design would keep people engaged if they see it as part of the requirement to keep their player-run town ticking over nicely. The game stops being about Avatars and the shrouds thereof and is instead a game about running your town. I appreciate that immensely and think it’s very cool, but at the same time I see it as not really being about the game itself at that point.

So that may have helped me feel less lost. But I don’t think it ultimately would have resulted in a fairer picture.

At this point, though, it’s time to cap out my experience, so feel free to leave your opinions and insights down in the comments or mail them along to eliot@massivelyop.com. Next week, I’ll have my concluding thoughts on the game as a whole as well as chatter about our next destination, so don’t touch that dial if you use some kind of dial-based system to navigate the internet. I probably made that dial joke before.

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. Just not, like… his reaction to that fate. That would require a knowledge of mind control which currently eludes our best researchers.
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24 Comments on "Choose My Adventure: Many kinds of lost in Shroud of the Avatar"

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datruthiness

What is left within the shroud of the avatar fan club is just that, fanatics. These people are unhinged RMT pushers. They do not understand what a choose my adventure is as displayed by the fact that they are slamming Eliot here for writing anything but priase, how dare he. Have a look at the link that TotalCowage posted where one special member of the shroud fan club is seriously asking if they can place a cease and desist order against this site. You have got to be kidding me. Further you can go on any website with shroud information on it and find evidence of the shroud fan boys actually doxxing people.

You have to ask yourself, what is the point of playing a game that isn’t a game while the community attacks you?

borghive
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borghive

I feel like this game is nothing more than a money grab at this point. All this is a bunch of washed of game developers peddling these grand promises, all in a effort to basically provide them with jobs the last 4ish years. I don’t think they ever intended to bring about a fun and polished game experience.

I’m glad this game is getting negative press, because quite frankly it deserves it. This is probably one of the worst games I’ve ever played.

shibby523
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shibby523

Just before SotA was announced, Portalarium was in danger of closing as they didn’t have much money left. So in 45 days (yeah a month and a half) they brainstormed a way to make enough money via Kickstarter to stay in business. Star Citizens recent success on KS gave them the idea that they could quickly make enough money off Richard Garriot’s fan base.

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TotalCowage .

Insights?

The lack of any sort of tracking of player location was a bit of an issue, but the game could certainly have sold its maps on the idea of having no player or hotspot tracking. It’d still be a problem, but it’d seem more like a difference of preference than just… not realizing what the lack does to a game.

I was sure at one point they actually did have player location. Someone else on the Shroud Reddit mentioned they’d not seen it either, so I went back through my screenshots of older testing and… yup, this is a feature they’ve either broken or taken out since.

I mentioned this in my mega-post; the problems with Shroud come from the fact there’s only a tiny user base left, and those who are left either want hardcore grinding because it increases the value of their RMT services, or because they accuse even Lord British himself of “Betrayal!” if he suggests any quality of life improvements.

So it looks to me very much like that they’ve deliberately taken out the map markers. It’s not an oversight. Once more, the incredibly short sighted and selfish have pulled the game off into being deliberately user unfriendly

pid
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pid

I bought into this when I was a naive KS infant. Luckily, it was just on the minimum backer tier, so damage mitigation was quite easy: concentrate, breath, and let it go… in the wind… there goes the anger and the shame. Yes, I admit it. I was a KS backer, but I’m 24+ months clean now. Back to SotA. I loved Ultima Pagan and Underworld II and UO and TR and several other games by RG, which enticed me to back SotA, but maaaan… this game is really bad on so many levels I can’t even start. So just take this nugget: The “cultists” are exactly those spending several hundreds/thousands of USD on this garbage who can’t let it go anymore and don’t want to admit to themselves what this game really is. Too big to fail. Too much money pumped into auto-failure. Whales drowning. And stuff :)

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TotalCowage .

Insights?

The game stops being about Avatars and the shrouds thereof and is instead a game about running your town.

And Player Owned Towns are…? Come on Eliot, you’ll have to talk about it sooner or later…! ;)

They’re real money purchases only, going from $900 to $6,000. You may possibly buy one off the Marketplace from someone cashing out before Shroud implodes, but at those prices they’ll absolutely expect real money, and virtually no one has been alive long enough to have ever ground out the gold that you’d need at the current exchange rate.

That’s why you never got to experience some Shroud related content, that’s why the game has no depth for you; it’s been a permanent fund raising campaign to keep the game alive just one more month … with not very much else really around it.

As an aside, they sold somewhere north of 230 of the PoTs. Count how many have no one living in them.

Raleigh-St-Clair
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Raleigh-St-Clair

$900 to $6,000… let that sink in, people. Then let it sink in some more. People have been scalped that much for these towns that are so numerous all over the map, and actual players so few, that most of them are utterly pointless, empty wastelands. The people who bought them must feel so incredibly ripped off, but presumably that pain will only grow if the game shutters, and they spent all that money for, literally, nothing.

shibby523
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shibby523

These PoTs are ghost towns because housing is a cash shop exclusive (except the raffle) unless you buy from another player after grinding for hours and hours. Ultimately the plot deed came from the cash shop (or raffle). Portalarium essentially killed the PoTs. A very small fraction actually have traffic.

Raleigh-St-Clair
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Raleigh-St-Clair

While I completely agree that Port’s extreme cash grabbing ways haven’t helped, it’s really the simple lack of people playing that’s really stuffed the system. Over 60,000 accounts and Steam charts showing less than 1000 players. There’s just not the volume of players to even pad out 1/4 of the POTs, let alone all of them.

shibby523
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shibby523

Even if all those accounts were playing the game, not many are willing to fork out additional cash (beyond the $40 price tag of the base game) for a house in a town where they can be booted out at the whim of the owner.

People look at the cash shop and move onto the next game to play. People mention SotA and the laughing ensues. If not for the ridiculous cash shop more people would try the game.

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TotalCowage .

Not just booted out, but if you’re renting a private room, the ownership of everything belongs to the Landlord, there are no sub-ownership rules, so if it happens, he gets all your things too.


Here’s Victor Didra here / MrAdventure there trying to deceptively describe property in game, claiming it’s perfectly safe to rent; and then letting slip he’s got a bank full of people’s stuff because someone who owned the PoT he was in closed his home, which gave him the full possession of the third persons things.

This is because renting isn’t something Portalarium are earning Add On Sales from, so they’ve applied only the absolute minimum to coding around it, enough to tick off the box to say it’s there, but nothing which would compete with you purchasing the land deed from the Add On Store and getting your own home.

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Kickstarter Donor
Phubarrh

Well, I’m glad it isn’t just me.

Raleigh-St-Clair
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Raleigh-St-Clair

Another column and, as fair as you’re trying to be (I even get the feeling that you’re going out of your way to make excuses for SotA), you’re really not enjoying this, are you?

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Maggie May

Hey don’t blame me … I voted for you to join a guild. So blame THEM!!! 😁

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A Dad Supreme

“I mean, sure, there are problems with that, too, because if you know there’s enough of an issue with your game to make having a map something that is solved by fans you may want to actually have a map, but at least that would indicate that designers see an issue there. Here, nothing.”
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Why I stopped playing games like Elder Scrolls Online and WildStar. They simply didn’t provide enough things and fans were like “oh, just go download the apps from Minion”. No thanks.

The devs know they should have that stuff in games but it’s easier to farm it out and ‘recommend’ add-ons so players can use the vendors properly, have a proper UI or craft without frustration.

It’s sheer laziness and maybe a lot of cost-cutting, just like when they don’t run official forums anymore and just let Reddit or Bud’s Adventure Zone be the one to talk to the community.

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TotalCowage .

It’s sheer laziness and maybe a lot of cost-cutting, just like when they don’t run official forums anymore and just let Reddit or Bud’s Adventure Zone be the one to talk to the community.

It’s worse than that. In Shroud’s case it’s down to sheer incompetence and internal issues within Portalarium. Remember, the game is 3 years late and now approximately $18m over the stated Kickstarter budget … In comments here, someone breaks their NDA to reveal what trying to help Portalarium design the Heraldry is really like behind the scenes;

Writing the code to properly assemble a coat of arms on different shaped objects (flag, shield, tabard) is more challenging than Portalarium have time for. There is no automated way to ensure each player’s coat of arms is unique, so it has to be done manually. Portalarium doesn’t have the manpower to sort arms manually, so would have to rely upon volunteers. Many players balk at having other players being granted approval authority. Many players balk at following any kind of rules of heraldry. What many players really want isn’t heraldry. They want to import an image they think is cool, and many of the submitted images are intellectual property they don’t have the rights to use. There is no legally safe way to let players upload any image they want. So…Portalarium isn’t giving it support because it’s less important than building the world and getting combat finished. The community needs to provide code, or this particular reward may be a long time coming.

I provided the simple Cow heraldry for this, by the way. If you’ve a cow on your shield, it’s probably artwork I submitted. When the dwindling cultist backers try to disparage criticism, they often claim we always wanted the game to fail. Not true.

But Portalarium have been struggling for so long even getting the basic game to this poor standard, most of what was offered at Kickstarter won’t turn up at all unless they can buy it, Asset Flip it into their Add On Store, and make more money to keep the game alive just a little bit longer…

When a previous CMA said the game “wasn’t aggressively bad”, damning with faint praise was an understatement.

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A Dad Supreme

“You provide your own guidance in the game!” goes the rallying cry. And while that’s great advice generally, here it seems to run into trouble for a couple of reasons.”
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Haha!

This reminds me of when someone starts new in an MMO and asks on a forum or in chat “Hey, what’s the best class/build to heal/tank/dps with?” and then you always get THAT guy that answers, “Whatever one you like is the best”.

To me that’s always been generally a cowardly way to avoid the question or to not admit that a game has OP classes by saying they are all good or even, when everyone in every MMO knows that isn’t true.

Even if there are small degrees there is always the best class to play either to get groups for parties or raiding, be more dominant in PvP or to make more money (crafts).

If someone is telling you to “make your own fun” and “you are the guidance”, that is because there probably isn’t anything to do really in that game.