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Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Online Multiplayer
Publisher: Travian Games
Developer: Portalarium
Release Date: March 27, 2018


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PC Preview - 'Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on July 20, 2015 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues is the spiritual successor to Richard Garriott’s Ultima and Ultima Online games and invites players to immerse themselves in a rich fantasy adventure set in a persistent online world shared with many others.

Ultima Online is one of the most influential games ever made. Even if World of Warcraft is what set the MMO market ablaze, Ultima Online was one of the most prestigious forerunners of the genre. Ultima Online was still feeling out what it meant to be an MMO and did things (both good and bad) that haven't been seen in games since. With Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues, Richard Garriott and Starr Long, the minds behind the classic, are looking to reinvigorate the classic with modern ideas. The end result is an MMORPG that doesn't seem like anything else on the market.

One of the interesting ideas of Shroud of the Avatar is that it focuses on being an MMO that isn't necessarily always dedicated to the "online" part. Server data is largely stored on your machine, not hosted servers, and that means it can be played anywhere. Garriott used the example of a plane to help emphasize the kind of place where you might want to have access to a large in-depth game but have no Internet access. For someone who'd spent most of a day on a plane getting to E3, it was an argument that found a lot of sympathy from me. With so many MMORPGs focused entirely on the online experience, it's a welcome change to see one that offers both single- and multiplayer experiences. Other elements of the game might prove more controversial.

Right off the bat, Shroud of the Avatar is determined to avoid being just another WoW clone. During our talk, we got to hear a lot about what Garriott and Long wanted to do with the game. One of the primary goals was to avoid making something that was "braindead." This might sound pretty intimidating to MMO fans who grew up with World of Warcraft. They've toned back a lot of the elements of MMOs that are now standard: quest markers, obvious guideposts, and simplistic quest tracking. Instead, you're supposed to puzzle it out. You've got a journal that provides details but doesn't hold your hand through the entire experience. It's a throwback to the days of older games, where it wasn't afraid to leave you lost. For some, that will be a revelation, but others may find it intimidating.

The concept of creating a world and not just a series of objectives is a big element in Shroud of the Avatar. One part of that will be player-created quests. There have been games that allow players to create quests before, such as City of Heroes, but Shroud of the Avatar is looking to take it to the next level. The plan is to allow players to create actual quests in the world. While the eventual idea is for players to create in-depth quests, it begins rather simply. Players gain access to in-world cache boxes that can store items. Then they can use in-world writable books and other material that stays active, even when the player is offline. The idea is that the quests will be hand-crafted by players who can set up rewards, which can be self-sustaining, such as players being required to put an into a box to get an item out of the box, thereby creating a sustained quest chain with a constant flow of new items.

Items are also in the players' hands. According to Garriott and Long, the game's items are all going to be player-crafted. There won't be anything in the way of randomized loot. Instead, weapons and equipment will be crafted by players using the in-game crafting systems. Players can use various items in the game world to create weapons that they can then trade, use as loot, or sell. If you find an item in a chest, it's something that was created by players in the world. Sometimes, it will be taken from the list of vendors who have purchased items from players, and other times, a player may have left it there. It's an attempt to create an actual economy in the game, similar to the ones in older-style MMOs, where players who choose not to engage in fighting can master blacksmithing or other careers and barter, trade and sell to make their in-game living.

Speaking of fighting, Shroud of the Avatar's combat engine is one area where it isn't keeping to the old standards. While the normal autoattacking that you find in other games is there, skills are handled somewhat differently. You have a deck of skills that you build using various skills you find in the game world, pretty much like a collectible card game. These skills have various attributes, ranging from special attacks to heals to buffs. When you get into combat, they are drawn from your deck, with some element of weight based on how you build your deck. Combat has a random element that isn't present in other MMOs. You can't just depend on using a skill every time it's cooled down. We're told that this allows for easy respeccing and to keep combat from being mindless. Whether it's PvE or PvP, you have to keep paying attention to your deck to win. It's difficult to get a feel for the deck from the short amount of time we played, but it's an interesting concept. Randomization doesn't work for everyone, but it requires more flexibility than some other MMOs on the market.

Shroud of the Avatar is not aiming for mass appeal in the way that Blizzard or Square Enix does. It's a game that comes across as oddly retro and very ambitious at the same time. Die-hards who remember Ultima Online will find a lot to be excited about, but relative newcomers to the genre may find it impenetrable or confusing. It's absolutely a labor of love; every element is clearly hand-crafted to be something that the developers think is fun, exciting and enjoyable. Shroud of the Avatar looks to create an MMORPG that is less restrictive and more player-driven than any other on the market. If it works, it'll be something special. Players can get an early taste of Shroud of the Avatar, since the pre-alpha game is available via Steam Early Access.

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