Choose My Adventure: Brewing disaster in Shroud of the Avatar

    
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Hello, friends, and welcome to the final (belated) installment of Choose My Adventure: Shroud of the Avatar edition. Last week, I asked y’all to make a few final decisions about my character’s build. The blades-bludgeons-polearms vote was a close one, with polearms edging out victory, and it was by a fairly significant margin that you decided I should eschew a shield in favor of a two-hander, relying solely on heavy armor (which beat out light armor by a hefty 26% of the vote) for protection. Meanwhile, magic-wise, you folks decided that I should abandon all pretensions of being an even remotely benevolent wizard and take up the study of the Death and Chaos schools of magic which won with a resounding 36% and 29% of the vote, respectively.

I also, as you may recall, decided that I would close out my time with SotA by dabbling in a bit of crafting, and I asked you folks to choose which trade I should take up. Blacksmithing and alchemy were neck-and-neck for a while, but in the end, alchemy pulled away with the victory with 38% of the vote compared to blacksmithing’s 29%. Well, as always, I did as I was told, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily enjoyed the experience. I don’t know about you folks, but I’m about ready to wrap this one up, so let’s get on with it, hm?

All right, ladies and gents, I think this one’s going to be a bit shorter than my usual fare; please save your sighs of relief until the end. For starters, my playtime this weekend was limited even more than it usually is, and on top of that, what little time I did spend in the game wound up being largely uneventful.

I did, as you commanded, go ahead and specialize my character’s build as much as I could, but there were a couple of kinks in the process: For one, I could not for my life manage to find a two-handed polearm. I’m sure that they exist, and maybe I just didn’t look hard enough, but the only polearm I could get my hands on was a wee little one-handed spear. So since I couldn’t fulfill the mandate to rock a two-handed polearm, I decided to take a page from the Spartans and poke things from behind a big ol’ shield. There’s not much more to say about this, though; killing things with different weapons doesn’t make the combat any less boring.

I also sought out tutelage in the arts of Death and Chaos magic, and the results were largely underwhelming, if I’m being honest. There were, however, a couple of standout spells in each school that I rather enjoyed, at least insofar as I was able to enjoy anything combat-related: The Death school of magic didn’t provide any spells that were particularly interesting, at least mechanically, but it did grant me the joy of being able to make my enemies’ dead bodies go boom, courtesy of the aptly named Corpse Explosion spell, and the life-draining Death Touch spell paired remarkably well with my battlemage’s close-combat style of fighting.

From the Chaos school of magic, I picked up a spell called Juxtapose, which is interesting because it, in and of itself, doesn’t really do anything — it can only be used by combining it (by way of the game’s combo system) with another spell. The resulting combo spell ends up having the exact opposite effect of the original spell with which Juxtapose was combined. For instance, when combined with Gust, an Air-magic spell that blows its target backward, Juxtapose creates Chaotic Backdraft, which instead sucks the target toward the caster. I also realized, mostly on accident, that it could be combined with the Light spell — which, as the name would suggest, summons a little ball of light to illuminate dark areas — to create Darkness, which extinguishes all lights within the spell’s area of effect. Both were utterly useless, mind you, but I thought it was a neat touch, and the wiki tells me that Juxtapose can be combined with other spells (none of which I had access to) to do things that are actually effective in combat.

I did take my new skills and spells out into the field for a short test-run, but it didn’t take long before I’d had more than my fill of combat, so I decided to go ahead and move on to objective number two: alchemy. The starting village of Soltown, which had been my base of operations up until now, did not seem to have a vendor that sold some of the non-harvestable materials I needed, like flasks and a mortar-and-pestle, so I set forth to find a bigger city that might provide the services I needed. That journey led me to the city of Ardoris, which is the first “major” city I’ve come across.

I’ll get to the crafting details in a minute, but first, I have to take a minute to give SotA credit where it’s due: Despite the fact that SotA‘s graphical engine isn’t exactly a cutting-edge powerhouse, to say the least, the game’s designers and artists certainly know how to imbue a city with a real sense of scale and grandeur. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve been playing an MMO and, upon setting foot into what is purportedly a big, major city, looked around and said to myself, “Wait, that’s it?”

Take, for example, World of Warcraft‘s city of Stormwind, just because it’s an easy target: Although it’s supposed to be the capital city of the Alliance and home to nearly 200,000 of its citizens (according to WoWWiki, anyway), you can run from one end of the city to another in no more than a minute or two — faster if you’re mounted — and almost all of the buildings you see are shops or taverns, leaving you to wonder where the hell everyone lives. With SotA‘s city of Ardoris, however, this is far from the case; the city is a fairly sprawling metropolis full of densely clustered buildings — houses, shops, and all — and winding streets and alleyways, and the palaces that are home to the city’s rulers, Shogun Siranto and High Priestess Khasi, are surrounded by towering stone walls that, when you’re standing right beneath them, feel more than adequately imposing.

At any rate, after exploring the city a bit, I finally found an alchemy shop that sold everything I needed to get brewing. I had originally planned to head out into the wilds to forage for my own ingredients rather than cutting into my meager supply of coin to buy them from an NPC, but after realizing that it would take me the entire weekend just to gather enough mandrake roots — which, the wiki informed me, spawn only during the night of a new moon — to make a single potion, I decided that it was probably worth the hit to my bank account to just purchase the ingredients wholesale.

So, having procured all of the necessary alchemical reagents, I found myself an alchemy workbench and set to work. Now, long-time readers may recall that I have constantly praised Final Fantasy XIV’s crafting system as a paragon of how crafting can be made into a full, fleshed-out system that goes beyond gathering materials, finding a crafting station, and then pressing a button. I think it’s safe to say that I’m a fan of unique, interesting, and engaging crafting systems; unfortunately, Shroud of the Avatar has nothing of the sort.

Instead, the game subscribes to a school of crafting design similar to that of Guild Wars 2. Although you have a recipe book that provides you with a few basic crafting formulae (more recipes can be bought from vendors, as well), the game allows and encourages you to experiment with different combinations of ingredients to see what works, which is fine and all I guess, but ultimately, I find that to be tedious moreso than anything else, and SotA‘s clunky, slapdash crafting interface did absolutely nothing to change my opinion on that matter.

But I was told to do some alchemy, so some alchemy I did, dammit. I really don’t want to be too harsh on the game, especially in its current pre-alpha state, so I’ll just say this: Shroud of the Avatar‘s crafting sytem is by no means terrible, it’s just more of the same old mediocre crafting that has been a mainstay in most MMOs for the better part of the last decade, and I frankly expected more. And of course, perhaps there is more to it later down the line, but I unfortunately had neither the time nor the patience to progress far enough to find out.

And honestly, that last sentence sums up pretty succinctly my feelings on Shroud of the Avatar as a whole as its time in the CMA spotlight draws to a close. It’s not by any means a bad game — with the exception of combat, of course, which needs to be rebuilt from square one, in my opinion — and I think I see the potential for it to be a good one, maybe even a great one. But right now, it’s just too early to tell. There’s a lot of work to be done, which should surprise absolutely no one, since it’s still in pre-alpha, after all. I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see how it all pans out.

But for now, I’m plenty happy to turn the page on this particular chapter of Choose My Adventure and move on to the next chapter. Thank you, as always, for reading and joining me on my adventures. Be sure to join me next week for the start of a new series, this time focusing on the freshly-launched (in the West, at least), wuxia-inspired Blade & Soul. 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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Sendar
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Sendar

mindshadow Nah, it’s because they’re getting the bulk of the dialogue written by someone in the community for free instead of spending money to hire an actual writer.

mindshadow
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mindshadow

Bumblebee66 It’s because they were too busy building housing and decoration items and POTs and cash shop items and hats to worry about something as silly as quest mechanics.

Bumblebee66
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Bumblebee66

The quests in this game are awful. Bring this letter to NPC A, take this letter back to NPC B. Bring the amulet to NPC C who gives you a letter for NPC D.
Are we just getting fedex quests which were awful back in the 90s and everyone asked Bioware to not include such quests in Baldur’s Gate? And now we are bombarded by fedex quests in a game that is supposed to be released in 2016 with games like The Witcher 3 or Fallout 4 which set the bar for quests rather high?

Radfist
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Radfist

Siphaed PaganRites Giggilybits Yeah I agree, I mean all MMOs are works in progress, but once you start taking that cash and stop wiping, its launched. Sorry.

Tandor Shadewalker
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Tandor Shadewalker

pcgneurotic Tandor Shadewalker PaganRites Giggilybits I understand what you’re saying, but I didn’t for a moment confuse the final wipe with the end of development. My concern is at a final wipe being called so far ahead of what I would estimate as being the end of development. Giving such a commitment ties the developer’s hands unnecessarily in my view, although developers are of course under so much more pressure these days now that they sell the game before it’s even in alpha.

mindshadow
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mindshadow

PaganRites Cambruin Sorry, but SotA does not feel like an “Ultima” at all.  It lacks so many things those previous games did.  Go back and play Ultima 5 or 7 or watch some Let’s Plays of them and then look at SotA.  The world was highly interactive, there were interesting towns full of interesting NPCs that all had NPC schedules.  SotA?  Nope, not even close.  The game if anything is more like “Ultima Online”.  The sandbox is there with all its housing and junk, but there is a serious lack of any content that makes it an Ultima RPG.

The gypsy-like scene with the virtue questions at the very beginning is the only thing that resembles any Ultima.  Unfortunately, the way they implemented that was down right bizarre.  They ask you a bunch of virtue questions which you answer truthfully and you’re put on one of three story campaigns.  But then they say, oh but you can choose any campaign you want because they’re tied to your skills and starting gear.  So basically, ignore everything I just asked you about virtues because they don’t matter and your starting gear and skills are more important than virtues.  Isn’t that a complete slap in the face of the old Ultima games?  Why even bother asking virtue questions if the player can just discard them in favor of combat skills and starting gear?

mindshadow
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mindshadow

Lethality Cambruin I think the general consensus is that it has the potential to be quite excellent.  Currently, it is not.  The world they’ve created is pretty cool but there’s some problems with duplicated scenes and NPCs (zombie dumb AI-less NPCs at that) but hopefully those will be fixed up over time.  The sandbox is probably the highlight right now, as the single player RPG experience is completely lacking.  Not to mention the poor combat mechanics, especially the animation and vfx/sfx.  They fixed it up in R26 but they still have a lot of work to do.  Crafting is only 1/3 implemented and that’s been continually delayed for like forever.  And not to mention quests…boring as hell currently and that conversation system needs a ton of work with too many “i don’t know what you mean” responses.

So yeah, it has potential. But it’s nowhere near that potential.  Not by a long shot.

mindshadow
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mindshadow

Siphaed PaganRites Giggilybits Look at the comments here and you’ll see how the MMO crowd are so excited to finally play the game “forever” and not worry about wipes.  If that doesn’t signal the game has “launched” then I don’t know what everyone’s smoking, especially the developers.  The game will still be incomplete, unpolished and unoptimized.  Garriott has frequently complained about launching too early due to publisher pressure but this one is all on him.  What next, he’s going to blame the public instead for pressuring him to do this?

mindshadow
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mindshadow

Tandor Shadewalker PaganRites Giggilybits I agree.  Even though they’re not trying to launch in July, the concern brought up on their forums is that a bunch of MMO players are going to jump in because of the final wipe, look at what they see (or don’t see) and go WTF is this?  Because final wipe does not mean launch and they’re still in Early Access, anyone playing the game at that point has to understand what that means: incomplete content, bugs, combat balancing not complete, economy not balanced, graphics not polished, quests not implemented, game not optimized, etc.

mindshadow
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mindshadow

Giggilybits PaganRites Even though they are doing a final wipe in July, the game will still be in Early Access at that point and they won’t be complete with the game until some unknown date.  It might be best to wait to see what the Early Access reviews are like in August.  The current reviews on Steam are horrendous about bugs and incomplete content and the unpolished nature of the game.