Choose My Adventure: Finding my way in Shroud of the Avatar

So... this is a thing.

Heading into Shroud of the Avatar for the first time was a bit of a strange experience for me, right from the start. Usually, when I start playing a new game, I start forming impressions and then spend the next few weeks refining those impressions in either direction. This time, I am utterly unsure of how I feel about the game, and I suspect that the next few weeks are going to make that more complex, not less.

And part of me can’t help but wonder if some of that is just a matter of missing vital reference points.

I don’t mean that in the sense of the game being actually impenetrable; it’s just that I find myself constantly asking if something that bugs me is, in fact, exactly the way it’s supposed to be for fans of the genre and Garriott’s prior work. Which is a trip, let me tell you that. I’m staggering through dark woods, getting my throat chewed on by a wolf, and I’m seized with the urge to ask the wolf if this is, in fact, an intended portion of design. You know, between bites of my trachea.

The yellow filter is a little much.The game starts off by informing me, of course, that I’m sitting at my computer reading about fantasy things before getting sucked in. This is something I was vaguely aware of and also rather dislike. It’s a video game telling me that the video game I’m playing is me in a video game. There’s a curious feeling of simultaneous self-aggrandizement and lack of creativity, like the best thing they could think of was to make you super-important.

It’s also the worst sort of hero narrative possible, since it relies entirely on the notion that just by showing up, you’re awesome. Boy, it will suck for these dudes if the “avatar” turns out to be a self-interested slopstop, won’t it?

What I definitely liked, though – to my surprise – was the design of the Oracle. I’ve also seen at least one of her Watchers, and that honestly proved more effective at making me ask questions than anything else. The Oracle looks like a robotic fair attraction from the not-too-distant future that somehow went off the rails, and everything about her appearance and aesthetic manages to look wrong in just the right ways.

Seriously, it feels sinister and alien and wrong while being completely welcoming on the surface. I was digging on this and also was pretty fond of seeing one of her scurrying Watchers later.

As the vote went to Truth, I started out at the site of the Blood River massacre, where it looks like a whole lot of humans decided to stomp in and slaughter the heck out of some elves, most likely because Justin was leading the charge. This, unfortunately, is where a few bits of the game kind of rankled me. There’s a lot of emphasis on talking to NPCs and typing responses to them, but the parsing is… mixed. When someone asks you what your name is, apparently responding “You can call me Ceila” results in the NPC reading that entire phrase as your name, leading to shouts of “This way, You can call me Ceila!”

I’d prefer to just click on highlighted words or dialogue tree options if that’s the case, really.

Being who I am, I immediately grabbed a sword and knife as soon as possible and began dual-wielding my way through combat as it came up, which wasn’t for a while; I had to investigate a fair bit through the town. The down side is that there are no real sparkly bits to prompt investigation and almost everything can be picked up, taken, or moved around at will; the up side is the exact same thing.

Here’s one of those places, in other words, where I found myself asking “is this bad or is it supposed to be this way?” on multiple occasions. There were lots of bits that felt unclear or strange, often requiring an arcane series of actions to progress, but I’m not really clear on whether that’s a problem or if it’s purposefully keeping close to the game’s origin points. It’s not user-friendly, but this may well be a sort of hostility that the target user expects from the game.

Ditto combat. I wouldn’t say that combat is one of the worst systems that I’ve encountered, but it consisted mostly of casting a spell when it had cooled down and then clicking a lot to whack at things with my weaponry. Not exactly what I consider engaging… but I suspect it’s intentional? To emphasize choosing odd builds and ability combinations over specific close-quarters efficiency? I don’t know.

Nice landscaping, at least.

I also managed to get lost on my way to the city of Aerie due to the way maps are structured; I wound up in the Blood River Outskirts and getting rather lost about where I was supposed to go, not realizing that I was supposed to go further in a different direction to wind up on the world map. I certainly did want to avoid combat as much as possible, I wasn’t even very clear on what I was supposed to do with combat, which made it a bit frustrating that it seemed so difficult to avoid along the way.

And again, it all felt like… not my first choice? But the way things were meant to be structured. There was never a time when I felt like the designers had just made a mistake, only times when I felt like I wasn’t having an experience I would have picked otherwise.

About the one thing I can point to as definitely bad is the performance; the game seems rather poorly optimized, and I frequently hit stuttering moments despite having a computer that should be more than capable of handling it. Early access and all that, sure, but even with that being said…

I’m sure that my quest leads me further into Aerie, but I’m still just stumbling around here, and for all I know that’s what I’m supposed to do. So today’s poll is a little different than usual, but it’s a poll and it’s a case where I have options this early in the game, so that’s a good thing.

CMA: How should I keep going in Shroud of the Avatar?

  • Follow the path of Truth. (31%, 44 Votes)
  • Jump to another path as soon as possible. (12%, 17 Votes)
  • Just wander, embrace uncertainty. (57%, 80 Votes)

Total Voters: 141

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As usual, that poll ends on Friday at 6:00 p.m. EDT, so you have plenty of time to get your opinion in. You can also share your opinion right down below in the comments, and really, feel free to let me know if all of this expected stuff or things that are actually unique issues to this particular game. I’m legitimately interested about that. You can even just email me at if you don’t want to put your words down there; it’s totally all right with me.

Either way, I’ll be back here next week with more ambiguous and perhaps none-too-clear adventures. It’s a thing I do.

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. To be fair, staying up late at night reading about fantastical places is something that he already does on the regular; it’s just that he views being transported to many of them as more of a punishment than a success.

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At the end of the day, Shroud is simply not a good game. Which is the answer to basically all the questions in the article. Over a year on from persistence and the quests are dull and not very abundant; combat is boring as all heck; it’s a very grindy atmosphere; the animations are poor; the UI looks like something from the 90s, and RMT has created a very dog-eat-dog community where the real goal for many is to buy items and sell them for a real-life profit, no more, no less. If it didn’t have Garriott’s name attached, it wouldn’t have got 1/4 the attention it’s received. Even still, Portalarium suggests there are 60,000 plus game accounts (Source: the recent SeedInvest it ran), yet Steam charts put players in the low hundreds. And even if we assume as many people again are running outside of Steam, there’s still less than 1000 people playing this, as far as the public can see. That’s not a good result in anyone’s language and is probably why the developers keep the game in a state of constant development; so they can always say, “Oh, it’s not finished yet…” in response to ANY criticism. Yet, the game’s been persistent for over a year. Go figure. SotA is an avoid, avoid, avoid on my scale.

TotalCowage .

Part 2:

10.) Portalarium themselves have become like Cult Leaders in that they literally moderate based on whether you defend the game or not, not on how you behave.

Here is a lovely tale of how you can abuse critics of the game and get the person you’re abusing censored whilst your insults are left up; can scam other users for real money and turn a permanent into a temporary ban when you remind them how much you’ve spent; and then get the person you’re targeting via an organised group banned because he said the word “liar”.

Hilariously, when one of the abusive posters changed his Shroud review to negative… then, and ONLY then was he banned.

Search the Shroud Reddits for copious evidence of just how obviously Portalarium moderate all of their forums to protect the game from criticism, on top of the communities attempts to “Hold reviewers responsible”.

11.) And that’s when Portalarium aren’t just being outright corrupt. Someone caught one of the staff leaving a Steam review without declaring he was working on the game. And then when Reddit looked at it more closely, they found that the Community Mod himself, Berek, had put up a review upon being hired too, also without disclosure. Notice that they try and spin it in the comments as he wasn’t employed then… but we find he was looking for flats in that city shortly before, so he must have known he’d got the offer.

Notice this response to that deceptive claim too; Notice how I point out that they themselves in the form of Starr Long had asked to try and brigade the Steam reviews themselves…


12.) … which is just one illustration of the spectacularly unprofessional behaviour that exists within the company. Never mind the drunken begathons for more cash. Let’s just look at Chris Spears comments on Reddit. Find the comments from catnipgames on Steam reviews too. Quite apart from rampaging around being utterly thin skinned and intolerant, are they even bothering to find out what’s happening within their company? Apparently not because later in his comments Spears will pretend he doesn’t know about when Starr Long asked to stack the Steam reviews. He also doesn’t apparently know about how a former Community Mod claimed they use your membership of critical forums to justify banning people based on guilt by association, even though he claims to have archives of the very forum it’s been discussed upon?

Portalarium will literally make up lies to slander their own user base.

And this is the Dev responsible for the Economy, Combat and, I’m told, finalising the questing. If you want to know why they’re all so bad, there’s the person; someone who absolutely won’t listen to years of complaints that his combat ideas are bad, someone who appears to have an almost Objectivist belief that Greed is Good who sits discussing with his friend the only Trusted Trader Markee Dragon about how to manipulate the value of the Premium Currency, and who doesn’t even have the courage of his lies to win another $40 for Shroud by actually producing the archives of the insane conspiracy theories he encourages.

13.) And that’s ON TOP of all the shady financial practices they’ve resorted too to get ever more money from people who’ve already given $16m than they were originally asked for.

Like adding 4 more chapters to the novel that Kickstarter backers got, so they could re-sell it to them. And then expanding it to a trilogy, with the second and third books obviously not being given.

Like artificially pulling rewards before the Pledges expired, to try and pressure people to upgrade when ever Portalarium were short of cash, whilst simultaneously shafting later backers to please the earlier ones. Which of course triggers off another round of community toxicity for pointing out how badly Portalarium are behaving…

Like not even mentioning to the SeedInvesters that Portalarium still has something like $500k to $2m (a guestimate) of un-produced physical rewards from the Kickstarter they need to honour; thus hiding the true perilous state of their finances from Investors. Oh, and they’ve already taken the $15 International Postage on those… and wasted that money already too.

Like how Episode 2 of 5, which was a reward for the first Kickstarter, won’t even be funded unless you now fund a second Kickstarter… which might not bother those who had the episodes pulled because they didn’t upgrade fast enough true, but is breaking the KS ToS all the same.

Like I forget to mention that single, good friends of Chris, Trusted Trader gets a discount on all store purchases to ensure he can make a profit selling them on to you the player. No one else does. Somehow this will be good for the game though.



All of this is what has been keeping the team so busy; which is why an actual game is so, so hard to find in Shroud.

And I’ve not even had the space nor time to detail all the other corrupt, hateful, dishonest experiences other people speak of about Shroud! Or all the nasty little liars who tried to harass me. There’s so many of them. And yes, they’re here too, hello again you; as always trying to manipulate public perception. Hence this huge correction of the record.

So read more at the Reddit for Shroud of the Avatar (dying now) and Shroud of the Avatar RAW, where all the people who get purged from the community for daring to point out even the smallest criticism end up.

Even the people who once claimed we were part of a paid conspiracy to steal Shroud’s enormous (?!) user base for a rival games company. Yes really. That’s something that they believe within the Shroud Cult Bubble.

Oh, nearly forgot; so I suppose I vote for “Just go wandering”. So you too can get a glimpse of the moral and entertainment disaster that is Shroud.

TotalCowage .

Here are the things you need to know to understand Shroud’s development.

1.) The original Kickstarter claimed $2m and product launched in October 2014. Portalarium are nearing 3 years late, and have spent $18m already. They continue to bleed money, and had recently to launch a SeedInvest project to raise emergency funds.

2.) The Kickstarter also stated in the FAQ it would not be an MMO, and we were promised a “Buy to Own” model with no micro-transactions. Instead, we now have Macro-transactions, with a Premium Currency on top, and a forth-coming crypto-currency on top of that. The SeedInvest even introduced $30,000 Golden Castles.

3.) Worse that this, the entire design of the game has been turned over to the tiny number of backers who wanted to begin Real Money Trading in game. Because people couldn’t trade until the servers went persistent, they pressured Portalarium into an unofficial launch in July 2016, long before the game was ready. This had the result of breaking the economy so badly that90% of players by the developer’s own words could barely afford to play, and lead to widespread macroing and scripting to farm the gold to legally sell for real money.

4.) Still worse, the entire structure of the game has been changed to support RMT and Whale backers above all else; As an example, originally early backers were going to get unique houses, but anyone could buy the deed to the land and place generic NPC bought homes. That got pulled, and now land deeds can only be bought from the Add On Store or an RMT selling it on. Anyone telling you that “everything can be bought in game for gold” is lying by misrepresentation; You can’t, unless a human RMT accepts the gold for it. Gold itself is legal to sell for real dollars, which is the only reason they might accept it.

World chat? High end backer only, no one else has it. Auctioning items? You can’t pull them from the vendor, it costs money ahead of time to place them, and if they don’t sell in 7 days, the NPC takes it permanently. Whale backers however have access to cost free vendors with no time limit and which they can remove their items from manually.

And we’re only just beginning to get into the problems.

5.) Outside of those driven by pure greed, the remaining vocal community is divided between two groups who have an unhealthy approach to what the game should be. The first is too busy playing dress up in the Add On Store to pay much attention to the actual game; go through the Positive reviews on Steam and count how many say nothing about the actual gameplay or content, but talk about the sense of community or people in the game. We’ll come back to that quality of player and the question of reviews shortly, but for now, bear in mind the only thing this group care about is treating Shroud as a LARP themed chat room.

6.) And the other vocal group is a hardcore who want the game to be an old fashioned Grind based game; the kind where time is more important than gameplay or emergent skill. The sort of player which is either retired, or disabled, or out of work, or just plain obsessive… or like the quoted thread, running a Power Levelling Service he’s selling for real money. (Follow his request to brigade against a Steam review and see him brag about it in the comments; we’ll come back to this too)

7.) It’s satisfying these which has caused the two major issues with the core gameplay; that even Lord British himself can’t follow his own quests, but he’s accused of betrayal for even suggesting there be a way to see Quest NPCs, and that there’s no effective level cap in Shroud. The developers openly stated that people have paid for advantages and don’t want to take them away. But this of course destroys balance, in PvE and PvP. So you end up with all kinds of band aid fixes to try and slow it down, like XP loss upon death.

8.) And here is where Shroud really starts to nose dive. Having driven away most of the former backers by becoming an RMT, catastrophically designed mess, the remaining backers have become what is literally a Cult of Belief. On the one hand you have decent, if misguided people who sold their car and phone, or liquidated their retirement funds to try and keep the game alive after it keeps running out of money yet again… Some of these people are lying to themselves about what the game really is, or what future it has.

It’s mostly this part of the community that makes open calls for people to try and manipulate the Steam reviews to hide the negatives and give a false impression of how well the game is supported.. Mostly…

9.) On the other you have a despicable group of people who will lie about everything in order to get you to fund their game, or at least buy something from them in it; who will slander and try to outright actively harm people who they feel are getting in their way of making money from the game, or whom they just that they decide are their enemies because you challenge their sense of entitlement.

On Page 2 of the Steam Review Brigading thread is a user who has been banned permanently from Reddit for sending PMs bragging about how he hopes he’s made someone terrified for his children’s safety.

Who constantly sets up sock puppets to engage in outright abuse, and brags about it on the official forums.

Who has even gone as far as trying to hack my email address, and for which I gave Portalarium the Crime Reference Number.

We even suspect the same individual, because of his behaviour in the Ultima Online community on another sock puppet, is responsible for this referral to the US authorities by the UO staff for threats being made to the 20th Anniversary Party attendees.

If you’re asking “Surely that community member is banned from Shroud…?!” the answer is “Not at all!”, because…

temp starcitizen

I tried the story and I just thought that they hadn’t spent any time on it because they’re early access but then I read something about how the story is actually complete and polished and the game was getting ready for launch. Which is a bummer because I’m generally a big fan of single player modes for the deep run through before end game. At first I was going to play this game but then all the problems just drove me crazy. I can appreciate you guys being dedicated testers and all, how do you suffer all the load screens? That and all the glitching and weird combat and graphics and all the broken animation behaviors. Man, I don’t know how were able to put 1500 hours into this game, but good on you. I could only get a few hours into this, tried a couple times and was upset because I went over the time limit to get a refund.

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Rob Crowther

The story is complete but it is not yet polished.

temp starcitizen

I gotta be honest here. I meant the polish comment to be for the interactions with the NPCs that you gotta talk to. I have no idea how polish can be applied to main storylines. Really, it’s either there or its not. I get the idea of dailies and side quests and all, but that really has nothing to do with main storyline. Polish as I see it is fixing all the broken graphics, fixing the animations, speeding things up, making the animations smoother, stuff like that. IMO, if they’re still working on the main storyline after they’ve said it’s complete and they’re making preps for launch – if I was $$$ deep like I imagine most of you 1000 plus hours folks are, I’d be pissed.

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Rob Crowther

I’ve voted for “Just wander” because I think it’ll be more interesting, but watch out for the skulls on sticks (on the overworld map and near zone entrances in scenes). 1 skull = starter zone, 5 skulls = high difficulty zone. There are a few higher level things hiding out in some lower level zones, but that’s part of the fun ;)

temp starcitizen

“About the one thing I can point to as definitely bad is the performance; the game seems rather poorly optimized, and I frequently hit stuttering moments despite having a computer that should be more than capable of handling it. Early access and all that, sure, but even with that being said…”


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Vagabond Sam

So, if you’ve been randomly picking stuff up or moving items, you likely have gained some negative Truth virtue for theft. If an item is tagged as belonging to an NPC (as opposed to a mob) then removing it from it’s position counts as stealing and the game won;t warn you or tell you that’s the rule of the game. Likewise the NPC’s won;t respond like in Elder Scrolls games to let you know what’s happening. The oracle will just one day mention your Truth virtue is red.

As for combat, the game has two different systems. Traditional hot bar combat and the ‘Deck dealing’ based combat. I’d recommend sticking with the traditional hot bar for the month since the deck building is obtuse and not well liked by most players, especially before they reach higher levels and access a wider range of skills.

For fighting monsters, your character has a hidden adventuring level that determines your base hit chance, base dodge chance and HP/MP. If you type ‘/stats’ into the chat bar it will export a log into your %AppData/Portalarium/Shroud of the Avatar/ChatLogs% folder which will tell you your level and help you keep track of progress.

Ridiculous to have to do that to see progress, I know.

I’m level 55ish on the Truth Quest and the very first combat scene I am sent to after the newbie zone is too difficult for me to fight through unless I just blood port to the location of the NPC I need to talk to (Which I don;t know where they are so would run around the map for ages eating the XP loss on death using that tactic). I’ve played for hundreds of hours since it went live and never specifically did power grinding for XP and that’s how powerful my character is.

I’m glad you’re being paid to play the game when you could be defending maidens from Ultros…


Currently running on the trial. The game is still in development, but I share your mixed feelings.
On one side, there are echoes of the distant past (the Ultima games), on the other, this is in dev and it shows: lag in the UI, combat pretty meh (might be I’m playing from EU), animation stiff, sounds which are disturbing (the moaning that some people make in the bivouac are only disturbing).
It looks like this game would like to be an AAA but it has only so much funding and it had to cut short something (people model are decent, environment texture looks poor). I was sure Garriot had ambition on this, but this will be very niche in its audience given what it is…


I have not played soa yet, but I can say the best and most memorable games I have played are the ones that makes you doubt and question what you do, that has moments of despair and confusion in one end of the scale and feeling of accomplishment and joy in the other as you master and learn things. That is what triggers my curiosity to continue to explore a game, while on rails story mode with handouts and over-designed player experience (usually) does the opposite.

Of course there is still no excuse for clunky UI, or design choices made for the sake of being hardcore but with minimal benefit to the game experience. Combat is the heart of a mmo, and as proven by {insert mmo here} no amount of content can make up for boring combat.

A Dad Supreme

This MMO sounds like the David Lynch’s “Lost Highway” of MMOs from reading the description above.

For me, that’s not a good thing.


Well, from the POV that Lost Highway is a cult film and the community on the official Shroud forum is like a cult, you’d be absolutely right! Anyone posting a thought on the official forum, no matter how well worded, if it can be perceived as negative to the game, it’s either locked or deleted. This is a game that has circled the wagons and is protecting what’s left of itself after the gaming community over the past four years has given it a resounding NO.