Choose My Adventure: In which my Shroud of the Avatar plans are foiled


Hello friends, and welcome to the next installment of the Shroud of the Avatar edition of Choose My Adventure. Last week, as I’m sure you remember, I had but one choice for you to make: Should my Shroud of the Avatar character choose to follow the path of Truth (i.e., Mage), the path of Courage (i.e., Fighter), or the path of Love (i.e., Ranger)? Well, the votes are in — they have been for some time now, really — and the path of Mage-Truth came out on top, but it was a close competition; Mage-Truth edged out Ranger-Love by only 13 votes.

This, all things considered, makes the current situation rather convenient. See, there was ah, uh… a bit of a hitch, you might say. But don’t worry, everything’s fine! I mean, I’m sure everything is fine, like, on the cosmic scale or something. But to those of you who came out in droves to force me down the path of Mage-Truth, I’m sad to say that your efforts were for naught. Whoops.

So here’s the deal: After I got the results of last week’s poll, I hopped straight back in to the world of New Britannia to have one last chit-chat with Arabella so I could finally be on my merry way, this time sans extended Q&A sessions. So I told her that she could take her path of Ranger-Love and stow it because I’m all about that Mage-Truth. And Arabella, that sly dog, didn’t even blink, just told me to sod off and go jump through some astral rift that would take me to New Britannia proper, and presumably, to my destiny on the path of Mage-Truth.

I am here to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that Arabella is a liar. But we’ll get to that in a minute; first, an interlude: After hopping heedlessly through what I assume was probably a horribly dangerous rift in space-time, I came out in the middle of what I figured used to be a village. At the moment, though, it was just a bunch of burning buildings strewn throughout with the corpses of countless humans and elves. Among the ruins, I found only two other people who were still breathing: a shady scavenger whose name I cannot recall and forgot to write down — I think it was “Fingers” or something similarly weird and grabby — and a severely out-of-place wandering bard by the name of Edvard.

Against my better judgment, I struck up a conversation with Grabby McScavenger, as he will henceforth be known, but all he wanted to talk about was the fancy dagger he’d looted from one of the fallen. If I could find him something that might net him an easy pouch of coin, he might be willing to part ways with his precious dagger.

Edvard, who was considerably cleaner and less jittery than my new scavenger friend, confirmed my initial suspicion that the dagger Grabby had offered to trade to me was not just any dagger — it was a MacGuffin Dagger (+1). Edvard, displaying a bit of unnerving prescience, informed me that it might be in my best interest to get my hands on that knife, and since he was the only NPC around here who seemed to have any idea what was going on, I figured it was best to follow his suggestion.

So off I went to forage through the burning splinters of what had been, prior to my arrival, an Elven village, in search of anything that Grabby McScavenger might take in trade. I have to be honest with you: This entire introductory segment was unbearably dull, and I really hope that it’s changed prior to the game’s full launch.

Now, to be clear, I’m not the kind of guy who just isn’t happy if I’m not making something dead. Combat isn’t the only way of instilling some excitement into a game, but the problem is that there’s no attempt to instill much in the way of excitement. I was initially anticipating stumbling across a cryptic clue that would lead me on a scavenger hunt, which would culminate in the discovery of some priceless Elven relic in exchange for which Grabby would gladly part ways with his dagger.

Instead, I was left to wander the village, rifling through the belongings of dead villagers and finding little more than a rather impressive array of fruits and vegetables, plus the occasional cheese. The only thing that even somewhat urged me onward was the mystery of what had happened that left this village razed and its people massacred. I didn’t have to wonder for long, though; one of the first bodies I searched contained a conveniently comprehensive array of newsletters and mustering orders that filled in the blanks in the story.

Short story made shorter, the Humans (who fear the Elves because of something to do with their suffering under the hands of the token Dark Elves of the setting) decided that they’d had it with these Elves and their fancy varieties of produce and cheeses, mustered up a militia, marched right in, and put the village to the torch and the villagers to the sword.

That, however, did nothing to point me toward the single item in the entire village (that I was able to find, at least, and I think I searched pretty thoroughly) that was valuable enough to satisfy Grabby’s bartering standards. Said item turned out to be a generic golden necklace tucked away in a dresser that I only ended up coming across by sheer bloody-mindedness.

Finally having found the diamond among the cabbages, apples, and so on, I marched back to Grabby, threw the necklace in his weasely face, and took my newly acquired MacGuffin Dagger to Edvard. Satisfied with my acquisition of what appeared to be a purely ornamental dagger, he opened the village gates (which he had been keeping shut on account of the three mildly irate wolves that waited outside) and pointed me toward a boat that he promised would carry me on to my next adventure.

But before I set sail, I was of course obligated to scour the environs around the village because that’s the kind of place RPG designers love to hide little bits of hidden treasure, right? No, not right. Maybe I’m just blind, dense, or some combination of the two, but the only thing of interest that I stumbled across was an Elven child, tucked away in a cliffside alcove behind a waterfall, next to the body of an Elven woman who, a note by the corpse informed me, was the child’s mother.

I tried talking to the Elven child, but for some reason he didn’t want to talk to the friendly Human, even when I called him by his name (mentioned in the note, of course) and asked if he needed help. Alas, he was resolute, and so, satisfied that I had discovered everything there was (or wasn’t, rather) to discover, I hopped in the boat that Edvard mentioned earlier and set sail for the mainland.

Upon my arrival, I was greeted with a tutorial pop-up window that said, among other things, this: “When the game’s story is closer to completion, from here you will begin your story along the Path of Truth, and explore the fate of the Vertas Elves and the secret of bonesteel. For now, you will be sent to Soltown, . . . where your adventures will continue as if you had chosen a different path (The Path of Love, which begins at Solace Bridge).”

Arabella played me like a fiddle! Asking me all those inane questions, being all, “Oh, you’re perfect for the path of Ranger-Love, but you can totes pick another one if you waaaaant,” knowing all along that the path of Mage-Truth was a (Mage-)lie! You win this one, Arabella, you scoundrel.

On the plus side, though, I guess that means that everyone wins! Except for the people who voted for the path of Fighter-Courage, since it’s irrelevant now. And the people who voted for Mage-Truth because their votes were completely pointless. So I guess really, it’s just a victory for the devotees of the path of Ranger-Love, and a remarkably sneaky, underhanded one at that. Well done!

But no matter; as far as I can determine, the chosen path determines little more than your starting equipment/skills and the main narrative your quests will follow, and since I can buy new equipment and learn new skills, and since the main narrative seems to be largely incomplete and absent from the game — and even if it weren’t, I wouldn’t discuss it in detail so as to avoid spoilers — this little hiccup shouldn’t be a problem.

Now, before we get on to this week’s polls, there are a couple of things I want to talk about. The first of them is the game’s questing system, which is a radical departure from the systems commonly found in RPGs (massively multiplayer or otherwise) these days, but it should be familiar to anyone who’s played just a handful of RPGs from back in the olden days.

There are no markers floating above characters’ heads to indicate that they have quests to give you, there’s no quest tracker, and there’s no quest log — though there is a journal in which major events are recorded, but they’re not particularly detailed, and I ended up just taking notes (by hand! with a pen! on paper!) to help me keep track of who wanted me to go where and do what. In fact, you can’t even see an NPC’s name until you talk to him or her and get a proper introduction; until then, it’ll just show up as “Villager” or something similar.

I have a feeling that the aforementioned NPC-name-hiding feature and the old-school-esque quest system will fall under the umbrella of “features I enjoy because they’re immersive but that other people will hate because they’re tedious.” I enjoy the fact that there’s no quest log, no quest tracker, no quest location markers on your map, just NPC dialogue and texts (letters, notes, etc.) to nudge you in the direction of interesting things. It makes everything feel a lot more “organic,” so to speak, at least insofar as it doesn’t make me feel like my epic quests are just a laundry list to check off as efficiently as possible.

But yes, I’ll admit that it does require me to keep my inner completionist in check (or fill up sheets of notebook paper with notes on quests I’ve come across), and it can be pretty frustrating when you’ve been told to go talk to Betty in Villagetown, but when you show up, it’s just a bunch of NPCs labeled “Villager,” so you’ve gotta run around like a maniac, grabbing people and shaking them by the shoulders, shouting, “Are you Betty!? What about you? WHERE IS BETTY, DAMMIT!?” OK, fine, that’s a more-than-slightly dramatized retelling; it’s really not that bad, at least to me, but as always, your mileage may vary.

Now, that being said, while I feel like the “organic” and more open-ended quest system falls under the aforementioned umbrella of “features I enjoy because they’re immersive yadda yadda,” there is one feature in the game so far that I think falls under the much-less-frequently occupied umbrella of “objectively awful,” and that, unfortunately, is combat. Combat is awful. I’m sorry, but it is. And yes, I know that it’s in pre-alpha — in fact, in case you’ve forgotten, consider this another disclaimer of “it’s pre-alpha and everything is subject to change” — but I feel the need to rail on it a little bit anyway, if for no other reason than personal catharsis (but also because I hope that if enough people rail on the combat, they’ll scrap it and come up with something better).

“I don’t think the combat is awful because it’s just the same super-mediocre, tab-targeting, hotkey-mashing combat we’ve seen from at least a solid 90% of MMORPGs in recent history; I think the combat is awful because it’s cumbersome, sluggish, unresponsive, and probably just about as close as you can get to experiencing the sensation of wading through fresh honey with weights tied to your extremeties without actually shelling out the cash to buy a massive vat, some dumbells, and a respectably sized apiary.”
So here’s the deal: I don’t think the combat is awful because it’s just the same super-mediocre, tab-targeting, hotkey-mashing combat we’ve seen from at least a solid 90% of MMORPGs in recent history; I do, of course, think that they should be able to come up with something more engaging than the same super-mediocre, tab-targeting, hotkey-mashing combat that’s been beaten so thoroughly to death that its very essence has become one with the universe, reaching nirvana. I think the combat is awful because it’s cumbersome, sluggish, unresponsive, and probably just about as close as you can get to experiencing the sensation of wading through fresh honey with weights tied to your extremeties without actually shelling out the cash to buy a massive vat, some dumbells, and a respectably sized apiary.

Of course, it’s also still within the realm of possibility that combat eventually picks up some momentum and I just haven’t progressed far enough to see it happen (which would still be a problem, but not as big of one), but I can’t say I’m really holding out hope for that. And again, just for the record — because I know someone in the comments is going to take umbrage with me — I am aware that the game is in pre-alpha, and I’m hoping that means that reworking the combat system is somewhere on the devs’ to-do list, but just in case it isn’t, it needs to be fast-tracked to the front of the line.

OK, I think I’ve gotten all of that out of my system now; thanks for humoring me. In return for your patience, let’s go ahead and make with the voting, shall we? So, coming up with the poll options this week was a bit of a challenge for two reasons: First, my playtime was unfortunately limited by the inconvenient interference of ye olde RL; and second, because of Shroud of the Avatar‘s heavy emphasis on providing players with an organic and freeform experience, there don’t seem to be any distinct paths that overtly lead to one activity or another, so a lot of the game’s facets are simply unknown to me until I happen across them by chance. Or, alternatively, until I look stuff up on the wiki because I’ve got a poll to make, gosh-darnit.

So here’s the deal: There are simply too many different skills and activities in the game (by the wiki’s measure, at any rate) for it to be possible for me to make polls covering every individual one, so instead, let’s start by establishing a general direction, and we can delve into specifics next week.

First up on the voting agenda, we’ve got the matter of my character’s combat build. Shroud of the Avatar provides a huge variety of combat-oriented skills, and if I let you vote on individual skill sets, the list would be so long that your votes would inevitably be spread so thin that it would hardly be a decisive vote. So instead, I want you to pick a general “role” for my character: physical melee, physical ranged, or magic. Or, if you’re feeling a bit unconventional, you can also vote for a hybrid build that will incorporate two of the three. If you have any more specific suggestions regarding the general direction of my character build (we’ll sort out the specifics next week), leave ’em in the comments, por favor!

CMA: Which role should my build focus on?

  • Physical melee (7%, 12 Votes)
  • Physical ranged (8%, 14 Votes)
  • Magic (23%, 39 Votes)
  • Melee-Magic hybrid (34%, 58 Votes)
  • Melee-Ranged hybrid (9%, 15 Votes)
  • Ranged-Magic hybrid (19%, 32 Votes)

Total Voters: 170

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The second item on the docket is to provide me with a general focus to direct my adventures for the weekend. Again, there are too many things in the game (or, at the very least, too many things I don’t personally know about) for me to provide you with anything resembling a complete list of options, so again, I’m going to ask you to just give me a general idea of where I should set my focus, and we’ll see where the game takes me from there.

So as I figure it, there are a few different facets I can explore (or attempt to explore, at any rate): First, we’ve got old, reliable questing. I already talked briefly about the overall questing system in the game, but I’m sure there are still plenty of interesting quests to discover and unravel. Second, I could go ahead and lay down the sword for a bit and try my hand at the game’s crafting system and see how the life of an artisan compares to the life of a Mage-Truth-Love-Ranger… thing. Or lastly, I can simply cast aside all notions of pursuing quests or practicing a trade and instead simply wander the world, exploring the vast unknown and seeing what New Britannia may be hiding in its out-of-the-way locales.

CMA: Which focus should guide my next adventure?

  • Questing (29%, 48 Votes)
  • Crafting (21%, 35 Votes)
  • Exploring (51%, 85 Votes)

Total Voters: 168

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At this point, some of you may be dismayed that player housing, one of the game’s most-touted features, isn’t on the above poll. There’s a good reason for that — two, actually: The first is that I am a player housing fanatic and, though I am by-and-large your puppet (figuratively speaking; don’t make it weird) for the duration of each CMA series, I still have a modicum of free will to exercise, and I’m gonna check out player housing whether you like it or not, and there’s nothing you can do to stop me!

But the second, and probably more pertinent, reason is that I decided to go ahead and look up how much a property deed (required to claim a lot on which to build a house) would run me, and the cheapest of them costs the not-inconsiderable amount of 120,000 gold pieces. Considering my character is currently valued at a total net worth of a couple hundred gold, tops, I don’t think I’m gonna be scraping up the dough to buy a deed over the course of one weekend. But if I’m able to get my hands on a deed, rest assured that I’ll tell you all there is to know about Shroud of the Avatar‘s housing.

Well, folks, the time has come once again for me to bid you farewell for another week. Make sure all of your votes for this week’s polls are submitted by Friday, January 15th, at 11:59 p.m. EST. And of course, join me next week as I try to break through Shroud of the Avatar‘s obfuscating outer layer and take a peek at the deeper aspects of the game that lie within. Until then, friends!

Welcome to Choose My Adventure, the column in which you join Matt each week as he journeys through mystical lands on fantastic adventures — and you get to decide his fate. Be gentle (or not)!
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