Choose My Adventure: Starting completely fresh in Shroud of the Avatar

Well, this is definitely a place.

I really know pretty much nothing about Ultima.

This is only partly my fault. Way back when the Ultima games were a big deal on PC, I was still decidedly locked to consoles, where the options for getting into the series were rather limited. Aside from that, it was years before I really acquired much of a taste for the Western style of RPGs as opposed to the Japanese style… and considering that the roots of that style are half-buried in Ultima (along with Might & Magic and Wizardry, to be very broad and avoid overburdening this header), you can see why I’d kind of give things a pass.

All of this is pretty relevant when it comes to Shroud of the Avatar because you kind of can’t separate the two. No, Shroud of the Avatar is not an Ultima game, but it’s Richard Garriott building the game and inserting himself into the proceedings. It’d be like George Lucas making a new movie based off of Buck Rogers and Akira Kurosawa’s filmography; it might not bear the title, but you know you’ll wind up with something pretty close to wars what are waged across the stars.

Much as I did with The Elder Scrolls Online, I feel my lack of familiarity with the source material here is important to understand because it’s quite possible that there are things I’m just expected to know about this game but most decidedly do not. Nearly all of my experience with the game has come from covering it for this site, which has been a wild ride to say the least.

anyway here's wonderwall

On the one hand, SOTA is a crowdfunding success story. The game is pretty much story-complete, it has an impressively solid update schedule, it pushes out news to its backers on the regular, it keeps things moving. The game has a clear vision and thoughts about design, and a team that appears to be both passionate and driven.

On the other hand, the game is also guilty of jumping into some pretty murky waters with crowdfunding along the way. We’ve covered some of those, and some of them are still just… bizarre. (Who in the world wants some of Richard Garriott’s blood? Other than Garriott himself, I mean. He needs that in his body. Anyone else is doing something that actual serial killers do.) It’s the sort of thing that makes the game seem a bit like a nutbar cult of personality rather than an actual fun game.

You all know what I’m talking about there.

But then, I’ve actually met Garriott for multiple interviews, and he’s always been charming, relaxed, and fun. He even gave my wife a mission patch for his trip to space (which means a lot given our own enthusiasm for space travel) and has been intensely personable and friendly, showing none of the “intimidating/arrogant legend of game development” persona I might otherwise expect.

So it’s a whole lot of back-and-forth for me, almost entirely based around just not knowing the game from actual play. It’s quite possible that playing it will cover a multitude of sins; it’s also quite possible that it’ll be a steaming mess. I see comments alluding to both in any story about the game.

That having been said, it’s also kind of refreshing to be playing a game where I simultaneously know so much and also know so little. I expect fantasy tropes and someone named “British” to show up, that’s the long and short of it. There’s no further baggage.


Unlike the aforementioned ESO, with SOTA it’s more about lack of knowledge than interest. I don’t find the backstory tedious or bland, and for everything that strikes me as a little fanfiction-esque (like making real people from the real word into quasi-mythic avatars), there’s another part that I think sounds kind of neat (the whole embodied virtues thing, for example, that also showed up in Ultima games). And since the game stands on its own, there’s no required reading to understand where I’m going.

So, I am turning to you readers for guidance because I have no idea where I’m supposed to be going, and I’m still figuring out what anything is supposed to be.

The bright side of character creation is that you don’t really have to choose a class or anything; you choose your appearance and your name and then you get into the action. I can respect that. What is a bit of a problem is that I don’t actually know what to expect from the mechanics of the game.

Sometimes that doesn’t really matter. You can just go along and focus your build as you want with no worry about running out of resources over time, and you should have either plenty of points for your chosen specialty or always have the option to re-select options later if something isn’t working. It also helps if combat is generally forgiving enough that a sub-optimal build makes things harder, not impossible.

Other times, well, that’s just not going to work. If you have a build assembled from things you think would be cool together, you will just die and die and then die some more until either you break down and work out a painfully effective build or you give up and look for one that others have already made. It’s the difference between Guild Wars 2 and Dark Souls, in other words.

So tell me, readers, especially those who have played the game already. Which one should I go with ahead of time?

CMA: Should I look up a build ahead of time?

  • No, you'll be fine just fumbling along (82%, 109 Votes)
  • Definitely, you will die so many times otherwise (18%, 24 Votes)

Total Voters: 133

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The game also requires you to choose your path right out of the gate. Again, filtered through my limited understanding, this is kind of a hallmark of the Ultima series, that you wind up fulfilling various tests to prove that you embody the qualities of a given virtue or principle or value or something. With equally little understanding, I believe that you eventually have to go through all of these, but you do at least get to choose out of the gate; whether that choice is your one forever or just where you start is somewhat unclear to me.

Obviously, this is pretty important stuff. I have no idea if this impacts your actual game mechanics at all, but based on what seems far more likely, I’m guessing that this is a choice with more narrative impact than mechanical ones. So which path should I start with?

CMA: Which path should I head for?

  • Courage! (16%, 24 Votes)
  • Love! (21%, 31 Votes)
  • Truth! (29%, 43 Votes)
  • Salami! (34%, 51 Votes)

Total Voters: 149

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As usual, the polls will run until 6:00 p.m. EDT on Friday, so you’ve got plenty of time to get in your votes and leave helpful or discouraging words down in the comments. You can also send them along to if you’d prefer. I’ll check back in next week with hopefully more understanding of where the heck I am and what in the world I’m supposed to be doing in the game.

Is it making cheese? I could go for some cheese.

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. Please do not send him cheese. No matter how much you might think encouraging him will help, we can assure you it does not.
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