Choose My Adventure: The why behind Shroud of the Avatar


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.

My usual curse of forgetting to take screenshots like a giant idiot was pretty bad this week, I'm sorry to say.Theoretically, of course, this ties into the game’s main story. But if you’re not following that (per votes), you don’t really get that as motivation. You have areas that are harder and have tougher enemies, but you never know how much harder, and you have no real reason to go there outside of “I can kill weaker enemies really quickly.” There’s plenty of space to wander and explore, but there isn’t much reason given to explore beyond it being out there.

For some people, that’s going to be plenty of motivation, which is where I did find the fun before. But it’s a sort of shallow engagement, where you just mash your way up the ladder because mashing things into a paste more effectively has a certain simple glee to it. That seemed less firm for me this week.

Of course, here’s where I wind up slipping back to the point I was at when I started this particular playthrough. It’s hard to say how much of this is a problem with the game and how much of it is the game being exactly what the designers want it to be. On the exchange, I’m increasingly thinking that the design, at best, shows off the flaws of those specific choices rather than the virtues.

For example, the point was made last week that in order to see a map you need to have the map in your inventory. Or you need to map out the place yourself, like in old-school games! It’s a great throwback to a system that people found so blindingly obnoxious that basically every game since the late 90s has decided against it, because my word is it ever pointlessly obnoxious.

It’s immersive! It means you never have the problem where your immersion is destroyed by just seeing the map, unless you use the Internet to look it up in about five seconds and then have to just deal with the open question of why you have to jump through these hoops for a video game released in the year two thousand seventeen of the common era, knowing where I am supposed to be going just to leave should not be an ordeal, who said this was all right?!

Sorry, my tongue just sprang into my cheek there.

I remember the days when this was the norm, but the advent of having maps and clear pointers was not something I rue as the day when video games started being worse; it was when designers stopped making me work halfway to make the game playable. These sorts of throwbacks do not endear me. We moved away from this for good reason.

I’ve also been informed that the interplay between skills and dependencies pretty much flattens out to nothing at the higher end, which is… disappointing, to say the least. Restrictions breed creativity; no restrictions breeds an environment wherein everyone is a teleporting fireball-throwing death machine, because if you have no reasons not to be why wouldn’t you be?

I suppose you could also be a lightning-chucking death machine, but now we’re just debating flavors rather than concepts.

After a bit more wandering, I decided to head back to Aerie and actually advance the Path of Whatever Path It Was I Was Told To Go Down. (Truth, I suspect; I could look it up but I don’t particularly care.) Unfortunately, I was told that the city was under siege and I would have to fight my way though the front lines. I would assume this was a player-run siege, which I assumed meant facing players who would kill my characters faster than you could say “design throwbacks.” It’s possible it would have been more like the various encounters with monsters on the field, but considering most of those experiences were with wolves that moved with the speed and ferocity of furry cruise missiles, that was not a heartening alternative.

Oh, you're busy. I'll come back later. Maybe.

It also left me a bit nonplussed, which is quickly becoming a theme. No, the game isn’t aggressively awful and non-functional, but there are so many niggling issues here and there, so many instances of things being designed to maximize immersion that rhymes with inconvenience that it brings down my desire to push forward with too much vigor. This is compounded by the amount of grinding necessary to advance most skills to a meaningful state, including the life-draining skills locked behind the (presently somewhat useless) life-tapping skill. As an introductory skill, that seems like a bad choice.

Presently, though, we’re approaching our terminus for this particular title. Which brings me to the suggestion from last week’s open call that I have yet to address, and another poll. So let’s start with the preamble, which is about why I don’t really join guilds in games for Choose My Adventure.

The reality is that when I start playing a game for Choose My Adventure, the odds of it slotting into my usual play pattern are relatively low. I only have so many hours in the day, after all. Joining a guild when I only expect to be around for a few weeks feels unfair to the guild leaders and a bit unfair to me in the process; there’s a lot of applying involved, after all.

Of course, there are always people in our comments who are playing the game, and I’d say half of the time they’ve either got a guild or have ins with guilds. All well and good, but then I’m getting into a guild by virtue of my name rather than anything else. It leads to a kind of skewed picture of the game, because people are happily flinging stuff at me in the hopes of me saying how awesome the game/community proved to be. So that’s not an accurate picture either.

But maybe I’m getting too hung up on the details here. So tell me, folks, what would you prefer I do in this particular case and in future instances? Are my current philosophies fair or a bit too restrictive in future games? Vote in the polls!

CMA: What should I do guild-wise?

  • Join a guild in Shroud of the Avatar, not elsewhere (11%, 14 Votes)
  • Join a guild in Shroud of the Avatar and in the future (16%, 20 Votes)
  • Join a reader-offered guild in Shroud of the Avatar, not elsewhere (3%, 4 Votes)
  • Join a reader-offered guild in Shroud of the Avatar and in the future (6%, 7 Votes)
  • Don't join a guild in Shroud of the Avatar, but possibly do so in the future (9%, 11 Votes)
  • Don't join guilds in the future (in CMA, you can do what you want the rest of the time) (56%, 70 Votes)

Total Voters: 126

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As usual, voting will be open until 6 p.m. EDT on Friday, so you’ll have plenty of time to get your answers in and have your metaphorical voice be heard. It’s welcome feedback. Whatever you leave down in the comments or send along to is also welcome feedback, while we’re on the subject. I’ll be back for the final round next week, and we’ll wrap things up the week after; there’s only so much more time for exploration until then regardless. (Or, depending on your viewpoint, there’s endless time for exploration because the game is buy-to-play. Life is wild like that.)

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. This is proving to be a particularly difficult adventure to crack for various reasons.
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