MMO Cartographer: Exploring Richard Garriott’s Shroud of the Avatar

    
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MMO Cartographer: Exploring Richard Garriott’s Shroud of the Avatar

Since my last report from the field, I have been exploring Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues, a game developed by Portalarium, described as a “spiritual successor” to my very first MMORPG, Ultima Online. It isn’t exactly an obscure game, but it certainly is a smaller game that’s a little off the trail blazed by the big games. It is free-to-play (with cash shop, of course) and available on Steam, so getting the game is easy and painless.

You begin in the world as a translucent ghost. Welcome to the Isle of Storms, aka the tutorial area. There’s an NPC to talk to who will tell you to go down the path to the mirror. This is where you get to choose your body for the new world. Choose wisely. There is only one character slot for the online game.

The character customization is… adequate. There are skin and hair color choices, a selection of sliders. In fact, “adequate” also describes the graphics throughout the entire game. Some people may even think I am being generous on that point.

After finalizing your look, you go to talk to the Oracle. It turns out that the Oracle is a big mechanical face on the wall who gives you a personality quiz to determine what path of virtue (love, courage, or truth) is your destiny. If you don’t like what the Oracle picks, you can just choose whichever you want. This will determine your starting area, among other things.

You have a choice of either taking the lunar rift into the world or learning more in an extended tutorial. Either way, you will pick up some equipment and get some hints on how to play. I recommend the tutorial if it is your first time playing, just to get a grip on the combat systems before you face any real challenges.

Because you gain the skills you use, you can really build any kind of character you like. I settled into dual wielding blades and casting fire spells. That’s just how I roll.

After finishing the tutorial, I found myself in Highvale Outskirts. NPCs in this game will occasionally call you over and sparkle at you, but for the most part, there are no markers for quest givers, so you have to talk the various NPCs to find out if they have any tasks for you. The easiest way to interact with NPCs is to click on the highlighted words in the text, which you can also click on at the bottom of the chat window. The suggestions at the bottom of the window usually include “rumors”and “help.” The former will yield information about the story in the area, and the latter will find out if the NPCs have any tasks to give you, in the event they didn’t just outright ask you to do something.

There’s also a quest tracker and a journal to help you keep track of what you’re doing. Objectives and points of interest are also marked on your compass. There is a map as well, but it seemed pretty useless to me.

I made my way up into the monastery tower at the request of a woman who is taking care of the sick and wounded, and shortly thereafter I experienced my first death at the hands of frostgeists, which are ice ghosts. When you die, you can either wait out a timer or go to a glowing ankh to resurrect immediately. I got to be very familiar with the ankh locations, but they are also marked on the compass.

The frostgeists actually weren’t that hard to kill after I figured out what I was doing, and I took their skulls back to the NPC who sent me after them. The UI in this game is a throwback to the old days; you actually have to give quest items to NPCs in a dialogue box. This is not a feature I have ever felt any nostalgia for.

I decided I wanted to see more of the world. I had assumed this was an open world, so imagine my surprise when I ran through a gate and found myself looking down on my character on a 3-D map. This is the “overworld.” There are banners hanging in the sky above entry points, but they are written in runes. If you approach an area, its name, type, and enter button appear. You’ll see adventure areas, towns, and player-run towns on the overworld map. The adventuring areas have a tier rating that will let you know the difficulty of that zone.

Imagine the worst way possible to connect instanced areas

I went to Resolute, a nearby town, to deliver an item. It took me a little bit of time and talking to a few NPCs before I figured out that the person I was looking for by name was not identified that way by the words floating over her head. She just looked like another guard in the bar.

While running around in Resolute, I realized that some castles and towers I had assumed were town buildings were actually player housing. There is non-instanced housing in cities and villages, and player-run towns are a bigger canvas for housing fans to work on. Some people put a lot of effort into having a cool place to show off. Many housing plots have vendors standing (or sitting) on the lawn. Housing certainly does appear to be a pillar of the cash shop. There are also apparently player-owned dungeons, but I didn’t actually encounter any of those on my adventures.

Shroud of the Avatar is very niche, and it might appeal to people who are really into player housing and don’t mind dropping some coin to have swanky digs, people who are into crafting and vending, or people who have just fallen out of a time portal from the ’90s. Aside from the weirdness of some of the systems, it is basic MMO fare with things to kill, things to loot, and things that kill you back when you try to kill them. It doesn’t make me want to uninstall it and disinfect my whole computer desk to make sure there are no traces of its essence anywhere near me, but when I look at my folder full of game shortcuts, it doesn’t jump to the front of the line either.

Oh well. Onward the next world!

Every other weekend, Massively OP’s Mia DeSanzo opens up her satchel of maps and decides where to go next in MMO Cartographer, Massively OP’s journey through MMO worlds, be they old or new, ordinary or unusual, or well-loved or long-forgotten. Expect the eclectic!

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Scott Weiner

Ok the article is a short play review. Lets go for an in depth review (looking at just a few flaws they focused on as “worked on”) I have been here since day 1. Look at the reply buy the developer. He is Streaming daily working on issues, ok sure but only a small portion of players actually sit there and partake in these streams. Look at the Post for the new release, they talk about; work on Taming; the skill has been here a while (3 Years). they introduced a Skill recently and added it as a “Specialization” and that added to a pets strength, not a real change to the actual skill. The skills is extremely experience point ( how skills are trained, and just a grind to gather) intensive but is completely dysfunctional. You can use a pet but do not really need to heal it at all just have points to get to train Resurrection at level 1 and then let pet Die and res it, repeat. Their newest “additions” to taming are changes to ONE pet (Wyvern) and giving it abilities that is should have had when it was introduced 3 months ago. Also they are “tweaking” the damage done by all pets across the board. ZERO changes to any real taming SKILLS. Now look at their “Crafting Changes” they is really only ONE change, and that is a Batch for a sub item used to make Scroll, Pulp. It still takes 2 hours to make scrolls that are needed / used to play the game. 2 hours of sitting here watching a counter scroll.

People are going to attack me for making this saying I am just disgruntle and not allowed to post on their forums anymore. Well those are true however the fact is I have been there trying to point these out for Y E A R S.

So if you reply and say why don’t you try and tell them what is wrong. Well I have been doing that for that for years, I can even show you posts about in depth taming ideas, sadly that time has passed. As the review by the author says, you can play, go for it, enjoy it for what is. Meet a great community, but PLAY FOR FREE, there is zero reason to actually support this effort more than what is already here.

Notice I am not hiding, I will be happy to talk to you more if you want. I can even get in the game and help you along if you want to try it out, but be smart.

ObstreperousBear
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ObstreperousBear

There’s diminishing numbers of people who’d disagree a this point. Taming is a great example of my gripes. Taming should be fun. It’s not.. it’s better described as passable and uninteresting. They could do something cool like having a “berserker” spell that’d double the size, speed and damage for a few minutes, with maybe a multi-hour cooldown… you know, something.. fun.

But they’re too busy reviewing spreadsheets to figure out how stingy they can be with providing any improvements. Spent weeks gaining 20 levels? Congrats, that’s +1.2% damage… not enough to even perceive any difference (aka not fun).

But they won’t spend too much time on that, because there’s more microtransaction ideas to come up with, to nickel and dime the playerbase.

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PanagiotisLial1

That is what I call a 40-45 mins look on the game. Obviously being an indie the big draw isnt on graphs which are however good but not great so it shouldnt be as demanding as it is currently is. I can tell from your article you hardly quested any deep even on your single path because you dont really mention any of the nicest sidequests there – seems like a rush-run. This game has a deep and big storyline that takes across 3 paths(truth, love, virtue) with options affecting a bit part of their outcome, and a lot of various skills based on a glyph system you can take advantage of to produce combos in a fairly easy way. There is also taming and summons in the game but I havent worked on those yet. Resolute is an npc town and while there are houses on those most housing, for RP, for commerce or other uses is on Player Owned Towns.It has a lot of toys for fun like you can play instruments, sleep, take a bath that yes find a lot creative ways to produce RP out of houses. Its also possible to place scarecrows and crafting stations Harvesting isnt exactly as typical as most mmos since it mainly happens, for most things, in areas with monsters so you got to put some fight if you want to do it yourself – a couple such places I visit a lot are Spectral Mines and Elysium Mines. Moreover I dont see you mention which group activities you took part of – did you play it as a single player game?

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PanagiotisLial1

To be fair most sandboxes dont give you much either in the early game which is logical. I just think most people coming have been used to be setup on an early chain of storylines that guide them complete with cutscenes and higher overall polish which is the staple of most theme park mmo systems. I think you need to like sandboxes in general to go deep and actually try such a game. That isnt just to SotA, as I saw the Project Gorgon review(another sandbox) was reviewed quite on the surface here. I also take issue to comments like “or people who have just fallen out of a time portal from the ’90s” and “it is basic MMO fare with things to kill, things to loot, and things that kill you back when you try to kill them”. The first because it is low level insult to those who may like the game and the second because it simply can be said for almost every mmo

Eric E
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Eric E

If there is a confusing learning curve then something is wrong with the game. Eve online has been out for 16 years and has the toughest learning curve in any MMO, yet their player base is in the 10s of thousands. So don’t blame the lack of players on a learning curve. That a poor excuse for the lack of players.

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Paul

I gave the game another go recently, and its much more fun now than it was – there’s been a ton of quality of life fixes, and property ownership is now trivial to attain (I rolled a f2p account last weekend and had a property deed in like an hour from entering game). So a lot of the bad stuff ™ you may have heard from the past is no longer true. There’s also been a number of changes that have made some of the RMT traders unhappy (eg Commission free vendors now available from the in game store for a fraction of the inflated prices RMT traders were reselling them for), but as far as I’m concerned that’s good for the game and regular players in the long term.

Performance, whilst not stellar, is much improved and perfectly playable on a half decent system (my son is playing it on my old 3rd Gen i5 with a 1060 and getting good performance and my wife can run 2 clients perfectly well on her i5-8400 and 1660Ti for example). Just make sure the game is on an SSD ;)

The game will always be ‘niche’ by design and that’s fine. The game isn’t a quests on rails theme park, you need to be able to set your own goals etc. There’s enough people active to mean that the new global chat rarely stops (and is way more civilised than most MMO global chats) and my vendors get regular sales. Game won’t be for everyone but its free to try out (its only like a 7-8Gb download) ans has a very helpful community so if it sounds interesting I’d encourage people to do so.

Mewmew
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Mewmew

All I can say is to try it for yourself and don’t worry about the reviews. It’s actually quite different and for some people it will be the game they are looking for.

Portalarium also made the game go free to play all the way through now rather than a small trial or with major restrictions. Weirdly enough I missed when they did that somehow.

The Portalarium team sort of sucks, but the game itself is pretty decent. It won’t be what you are used to, and for some people they’ll think it’s a step back, but for a small number it will be something amazing and great.

It’s hard to pick over other things that are really rolling strong right now, Elder Scrolls Online is becoming a major juggernaut and just keeps getting bigger and picking up more players and expansions. But I’d still recommend giving it a try. As I said for some people it will be exactly what they are looking for, and you never know unless you try it out.

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PanagiotisLial1

I wouldnt say they suck but if one thing is true, is Richard Garriot seems barely involved. The rest of the team is nice, communicate with people, taking suggestions to heart and tries to improve every month. R.G. while a hell of game dev isnt really there for the most of the time

Mewmew
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Mewmew

People normally just play a little while and insult the game and leave before really knowing the game or the systems. Calling it “generic” is weird, as I don’t see many other games that do skills this way these days. It has real puzzles in it too that take some thought.

A lot of people just don’t like Portalarium. I see people who actually like the game giving it bad reviews because they dislike Portalarium’s handling of things.

Which I can agree with them a bit. Most of the better changes Portalarium did out of necessity and long term complaints rather than wanting to do. While it’s pretty fun I think, a different team may have done something amazing with this game and made changes faster.

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PanagiotisLial1

I got to disagree there. Take a while and visit their streams. They actually listen to people and even check bug reports in real time. It is a small team however that is less than 15 people and they cant be as fast as the major companies. If anything R.G. is just barely active except for some guest appearances. The rest of team is active, friendly and hard working

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Chris Spears

I stream most weekdays from 2PM-4PM weekdays and do nothing but answer questions, fix bugs, and try to make the game better. Players who watch my stream know that over and over again, I’ve listened to their feedback and turned it into real features and changes that usually make it into the game the next month. If their ideas don’t work, I try to explain why from either a design or tech standpoint.

Eric E
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Eric E

That’s funny because you never even finished the main storyline quests. There are so many broken quest parts, bad spelling mistakes, and portions where it won’t let you turn in the quest loot it asks for. Look at all the reviews on this game and it will tell you what needs to be fixed.

It seems as though your streams are made to give prizes to those who donate the most bits. Perhaps if you spend less time streaming the monthly releases would be less buggy and miss items that we supposed to be included. But the community knows your streams are just another way to milk money from people when you tell them to keep donating bits and over them prizes for doing so. There is a reason you work out of your house, because the direction of this game changes quicker then RG tweets.

Select Another Display Name
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Select Another Display Name

This game screams “generic.” If the devs spent half the time on systems and polis that they spend on recolouring assets for sale on the cash shop, it might be halfway decent.

The UI is also one of the clunkiest, ugly and unintuitive UIs I’ve ever seen.

Mewmew
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Mewmew

Generic? The systems here are extremely different than other games. It’s different to the point of being confusing to a great many people. Portalarium sort of sucks I’ll give you that, but the game has some very unique systems that I certainly wouldn’t put in the generic category.

If someone else was running with this game it could have been something amazingly great. Portalarium either is dead broke without any way of getting more funding, or is lazy and inept, possibly both. I still find the game fairly interesting and certainly wouldn’t call it generic. It’s hard to pick it over other things with my limited gaming time, but I always thought one day I’d go back to it (hoping they’d finish up a lot of stuff and add more content by the time I returned).

The way they do skills and the real puzzles they put in the game, I find that stuff to be pretty unique. Again it may not be my favorite, but I can see how some small number of people would really like it for those unique systems.

Maybe you’re talking about a feel to the world in general or something, but even then I didn’t see that. There were so many interesting things to find around off the trails and decisions to make etc. I didn’t find the game to be generic at all, maybe even too different for some people.

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Bruno Brito

Yeah, it’s quite a mediocre game. Not bad, not really good. Just ok. And the optimization issues are something that keep me away from it.

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BalsBigBrother

I think i would agree that adequate is a good word to use when describing Shroud of the Avatar. It doesn’t shine in any particular area nor are their any real standout failures either though there are some odd design choices.

Its just an average game that I have a hard time working up any sort of enthusiasm to actually play when there are much better options available for pretty much everything that it has to offer.

Oh hum /shrugs

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Ironwu

pretty much my feelings on this MMO as well. Bought into it during the early days and sort of got turned off by the random skills on the bar mechanic. I guess lots of folks did not like it as I hear it has been heavily modified.

Not into MMO housing at all, so no draw there. Game has just never met up to the expectations I had for it in terms of game play, graphics, world construction, pretty much everything.