It’s almost the end of the month, and you know what that means: Shroud of the Avatar’s monthly update. R46 is due out this Thursday, a day after the current free trial period ends. Portalarium has posted a top 10 list of priorities for updates, the current version of which highlights load times, client FPS, loot rewards, story polish, AI, UI, the newbie experience, locatlization, launch prep, and improved player direction, something our own Eliot Lefebvre isolated as a problem during his recent CMA series with the game. As the studio put it,
“Currently we rely on some very subtle and ‘immersive’ indicators for information in the world (ex. piles of skulls to indicate scene difficulty). We are going to provide much clearer indication of information. For example, on the overworld all towns will have clear indicators of their town type (POT, NPC, etc.). We will also indicate whether you have a quest in a scene, a clearer label of the scene’s difficulty, perhaps even an indicator of what services a scene might provide (bank, mail, blessings, etc.). We will also start providing more on screen indicators of this information, so that while you are in a scene you will better know what kind of scene it is, what difficulty it is, whether you have quests in the scene, etc. We will also work hard to polish the maps and compasses to better guide you to and from your quests, homes, services, points of interests, scene exits, etc.”
Just about 20 years ago, my boyfriend and I were wandering through Media Play (heh) when he picked up this box for some new online subscription video game with a cheesy Hildebrandt cover. I was skeptical. He bought it anyway. The next morning, after I’d played all night and totally bogarted his new game, we figured we should probably get a second account. And so we did, in spite of being clueless teenagers who could barely afford one sub, let alone two.
That game was Ultima Online, and it’s the game that birthed the term MMORPG and quite literally dragged me into the realm of virtual worlds. Without it, I wouldn’t be right here where I am talking to you today, having married that dude in the interim. And as of yesterday, that game is 20 years old.
Last autumn, when the game was turning 19, I did a fairly in-depth video on the coolest parts of UO, the parts you can still play today, as I do frequently dive back in and am playing this month too! It’s Massively OP’s best-performing video to date, proving that the game is very much not dead and done. Pretty much everything in the video is still accurate, except for the part on the business model (spoiler: UO is kinda going free-to-play), so I’m going to include it below, but then I’ll recap some of the important bits from the last year and answer a few questions anybody reading is sure to have.
Shroud of the Avatar’s Release 46 is right around the corner, and when it arrives, so do the dragons. For the patch, the team has rebuilt the Northwest Blackblade Mountains zone, giving it a taste of flame and fire. The area is now described as “a devastated arid landscape of dragon bones, mesas, sand, and possible dragon encounters.” So kind of like your younger brother’s room.
The team is keeping its eyes on Halloween as it approaches, as well. Themed decorations, a wicked scythe, and a new grim reaper statue is in the works, but the highlight of this year’s holiday will be the construction of a special “prison home” for players who… want to lock up their guests? We guess?
To mark the recent passing of Richard Garriott’s mother, the team created an in-game Exodus portrait that players can purchase for $15. Some of the proceeds will go to a children’s museum that she supported in her life.
People, steel yourself for an entire article about gold-themed housing decorations that won’t involve a single Trump joke. It’s going to be hard, but we can get through it. Together.
So anyway, Shroud of the Avatar shared its first “perk pack” of investor rewards from the Seed Invest platform. Players who have chipped in $499 or more to the development of this upcoming MMO may get some of these gilded costume options, pets, and housing layouts. And they won’t have to wait, either, as these rewards are coming as soon as Release 47.
Check them out in the gallery below!
All the time through playing Shroud of the Avatar, I found myself wanting to like the game a lot more than I did. And my brain kept turning back to Minecraft, which seems like a worthwhile comparison to make.
Much like SOTA, Minecraft is a game strongly based on the concept of making your own fun. You are definitely making your own adventure in the game. But at the same time, it seems very relevant to point out that the game starts by giving you a clear set of parameters to work within. Monsters will spawn at night, there are resources under ground, you break things to get better things, and then combine those things to make still better things. From there on out, much of the game is devoted to figuring out how these various elements play off of one another.
So they’re both sandbox-ish titles in which you make your own fun. Except that one of them starts by showing you the fun that you’re supposed to be having and giving you a goal, and it does so with absolutely no story to guide you along that route. It shows you exactly the sort of game it’s trying to be and lets you start working at meeting it halfway. But SOTA never quite got there, at least for me.
Lore! Huh! What is it good for? Understanding why you’re standing in the middle of a pack of angry people with fangs in MMOs, of course. It’s the thin line dividing your actions from being reckless, indiscriminate mayhem and discriminating, careful mayhem. Lore is how you know what the world is like beyond your front door, and it’s the difference between understanding that you face Ragnaros, lord of flame or just knowing that there’s a dude here made out of fire, so you should probably use water spells on him.
All lore, however, is not created equal. There’s lore that creates a detailed, vibrant world full of people with their own hopes and dreams, and there’s lore that creates a game where you know what you’re supposed to be doing but have no idea what people do for fun afterwards aside from waiting to die. So today, we explore the tiers of lore, arranged in a numbered list because that’s the entire premise of the column. It’s not Perfect Vague Assortment of Concepts. That’s not even a column.
Shroud of the Avatar is full-speed ahead, looking on to R46 with R45 in the rear-view mirror. What’s in R46? Lots of stuff, starting with “building the mid-level and lower tier scenes near the cities along the paths of Truth and Courage.”
The game’s latest newsletter touches on the swampy South Longfall Wetland area, with its “a maze of poison gas, an abandoned village, a raft flotilla inhabited by pirates, and a secluded witch’s hut,” plus Crooked Shank, which honestly sounds much safer, and North Shattered Hills, which lie in ruin. Where is all that on the map? You should check out the massive community-created map on the official forums to find out (and also to just marvel at how detailed the game’s gotten).
Portalarium has further reiterated its ongoing free trial (live now and ending September 27th), recapped its attendance at DragonCon, and posted video of its most recent monthly mini-telethon, during which it raised $52,000.
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.
Curious about Shroud of the Avatar but not curious enough to drop money on the title first? Now you can try it out and save your cash, as the game is holding another free trial event through September 27th. For the developers, it provides a valuable opportunity to see what works and what doesn’t work in the current new player experience and how the servers handle stress. For you, it’s… well, it’s a chance to try out the game without buying it.
Naturally, your options are fairly limited in the free trial; you have no ability to own land, you can’t buy or sell items by player vendors, you can’t PvP, you can’t trade items, you can’t use the letter “j” in your name, and so forth. (All right, that last one isn’t true.) But if you’d like a taste for what the game is like, well, it’s still the most free option to find out that you’re likely to get. Jump on in before September 27th if you’re curious; just make an account, download the game, and get going.
Shroud of the Avatar rolled out another release on Thursday, imbuing the game’s 45th update with what it’s calling a huge amount of work on worldbuilding, including The Sword of Midras town Etceter. Testers should also expect an interface pass, improved performance, and updates to player housing. What you won’t see? Highvale Outskirts, the quest resert, and the single-player offline combat balance, all of which were delayed until next month. “While we were able to adjust the upper end of gameplay with higher end creatures (sub-bosses and bosses) we were unable to implement some of the other features we were hoping to like stronger companions,” explains the studio – that’s because a bug in the game’s source control software set everyone back a full week.
Portalarium is currently promoting its next mini-telethon for this coming Wednesday, when it will deliver a postmortem of the patch under the banner of Oktoberfest. Yes, there will be beer steins.
The newsletter also boasts a peek at the upcoming North Shattered Hills scene and the in-progress do-over for the Arches National Park-inspired The Crags map, although I’ve been to Arches and I can assure you that it has neither satyr looters nor an undead horde. Pics of both are in the gallery below!
Like clockwork, the end of the month heralds another patch release for Shroud of the Avatar. “Polish” is the keyword for this update, as the team works to bring the game up to spec for its official launch later this year.
“Release 45 is our first release after reaching the story complete milestone last release,” the team reported. “We are now able to focus on polishing the game experience. This release, we have rebuilt multiple scenes, added more quests, polished the user interface, and continued to balance combat.”
In addition to allowing players to separate chat into multiple windows, the team integrated Discord — at least a rudimentary form of it — into the game for the first time. Portalarium said that it was a close call to get this patch out this month, as the team lost a week of work when internal server software had a “meltdown.”
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.
Shroud of the Avatar is gearing up for one of its like-clockwork monthly releases: 45 on Thursday. In preparation, this week’s newsletter features a dev spotlight on Crooked Shank, one of release 46’s retooled regions. It’s worth taking a peek at some of the included interior shots in particular, since usually we get exteriors from the game! There’s even a look at some Viking-inspired armored clothing for northwestern Novia.
The studio’s also reminded everyone that the current free trial ends on Wednesday, that QA server is now open to everyone as previously announced, that luminaries from the team will be attending the Ultima Online 20th anniversary event next month, and that Portalarium will be running an Oktoberfest-themed postmortem and fundraiser for R45 on September 6th. Winners in the game’s trailer contest have also been announced; we’ve included the top trailer below.