Those who are familiar with the Ultima series might recall that very first game which took players on a romp through a medieval kingdom that somehow embraced modern technology, including space shuttles and interstellar combat. While that particular piece of gaming history seems to have been scrubbed from recent memory, the Ultima series is one that has lived on for many years and is still just as beloved as it was back in the day.
After the wild success of Ultima Online, it was only a matter of time before players would be able to return to Brittania and spend some time as the Avatar once again. Welcome to my Shroud of the Avatar review.
I have a lot of good things to say about this game, but first I want to point out a few things that bugged me. This game spent a lot of time in closed beta and you would think that the interface would be a bit less sloppy, but alas, it isn’t. Still, if you can get past that you’re going to find a title that is 100% worthy of playing. It even impressed me, and that takes a lot.
Bringing Back the Classic Questing System
If you recall the days of Everquest 1, you might remember that in order to quest you were actually forced to talk to the NPC’s rather than press a button. Reading their text would reveal key words, and if you typed in those key words, the NPC would expound upon them. Games like WoW and Everquest 2 took that away from us, meaning we no longer had to interact with the story. As a result, we have an entire generation of RPG gamers that have managed to blaze their way through 100+ levels of content without ever reading the story. I’m guilty of it, I mean, I’ve just kept clicking ‘next’ and then ran to wherever the map marker sent me without a clue as to what I was supposed to do when I got there. That’s great if your goal is to raid, but not so great if you came for an immersive story. Shroud of the Avatar does a great job of pulling you into the story and making sure that you actually read – it’s quite the innovation.
Another thing I’d like to mention is that the game really doesn’t hold your hand when it comes to completing quest objectives. Your quest indicator will tell you when there are certain NPC services nearby that you will want to take advantage of, but it’s never guilty of telling you how to reach a quest objective. The game really wants you to explore the area, which I was more than happy to do.
A More Challenging Experience
The game does hold your hand in one aspect: when you start the game you already have crafting supplies in your inventory, so you won’t have to go hunting them right off the bat. You will also find that maps of the area are kept in your inventory, which makes it easier to take a look at different areas of the world without actually being there. Yes, I know you could do that in other games, but it feels so much more authentic if you need to acquire the map to see the area. On that note, make sure you loot every single corpse in the first area of the game because you’re going to need the maps they have on them.
In the beginning of the game, there is a training dummy that you can use to skill up, and I found that if you equip the training sword, you can stand there and wack away at it until your skill points reach a certain level. You can go as high as you want, but your pooled EXP will go down, so be careful when you do this. I also found that "leveling" requires you to train specific skills and for that you will need to visit a trainer. Once you find a trainer you will need to pay them for the service and the first tier of skills cost 100 gold each. It might not sound like a lot, but in the early game, you’ll find yourself to be a bit poor. Choose wisely! Trainers aren’t exactly found everywhere, only in major cities it seems, and your first stop will be Aerie.
This complicated manner of leveling definitely hearkens back to the old days of MMORPGs, as there is no linear leveling progression. You don’t have a ‘Level 1’ or ‘Level 50’, you simply level based on the skills you’ve used the most and the ones that you choose to develop. In this game, you can be whoever you want and do whatever you want.
A Visit to the World Map
Before I played the full release I hadn’t had much exposure to Shroud of the Avatar so you can imagine my surprise when I exited to Novia and found that the world map was an overhead isometric view. Do I wish that the game had a completely seamless overworld map? I kind of do, yeah, but let’s be honest here, it looks like someone put WoW and Mount & Blade into a blender, which is exactly the game I’ve always wanted. They one-upped it, however, by allowing player-made towns, which is actually very convenient if you’re just coming out of the first area and need to get your bearings.
Towns and Cities
On the world map you will find plenty of interesting things, from roaming bandits, wolves, cities, and even the aforementioned player made towns. These small metropolises, made entirely by players, feature merchant NPCs, crafting stations and, of course, pretty scenery to look at. There is even furniture that you can sit on. That’s right, you can sit on chairs in this game. If that’s not cool, then I don’t know what is. All of this combined makes for a perfect roleplaying environment, something that has been sorely missing from MMORPGs as of late.
Apart from the player cities, you have the main cities which have plenty of amenities, including the skill trainers, which the player cities do not have. An interesting feature is the siege function which allows towns to be literally besieged. If you are a high enough level player, you will be forced to fight your way through the siege lines before you are allowed into the town. If not, they will ‘sympathetically wave you through’. You can take that however you want.
A Full Offline Experience
In an absolute first for an MMO, Shroud of the Avatar allows you to play the game offline. Yes, you have the ability to play the entire campaign offline, and build your own world, on your own computer. The offline version of the game is DRM free and does not require a login, which makes it a perfect place for perfecting your own strategy before taking it online. As a side note, this offline feature will help the game live on for decades after the servers are shut down. You know, sort of like that Hellgate London demo that’s still floating around.
In the online experience, the world is persistent and you do run into other players, so if this game gains more momentum than it already has, then it’s going to be quite the adventure in the future.
Shroud of the Avatar is a bit different from other MMOs as it has a very particular roadmap that includes four more full-length games in the series. Forsaken Virtues I is the first in the series, and it is referred to as Episode One. Theoretically, all of the subsequent episodes can be played offline, making for a pretty fun line of cooperative RPGs.
All in all, this game looks like its going to be a lot of fun.
There isn’t anything new here but it does do what it’s supposed to do and that’s all that matters. It’s doesn’t have too many bells and whistles, at least not for those who come from older titles. In my opinion, if you’re looking to get back to your MMO roots, then welcome.
There really is a lot to like here, but as far as the gameplay goes, there really isn’t anything cutting edge other than the ability to play offline. In a way, this lack of innovation is what makes the game great. It takes us all the way back to our roots and allows us to rediscover that MMORPGs have been missing for all these years.
Learning Curve: 4/10
If you are an experienced MMORPG player then there is really nothing new here. Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues takes you back the days when MMOs were simple, yet highly complex at the same time. Anyone who hasn’t been raised on MMOs, however, might find that there is a bit of a learning curve here.
Graphics / Sound: 6/10
While I personally think the game looks amazing I can’t say that it’s anything groundbreaking. That doesn’t take away from the experience, however, and in my opinion, they achieved exactly what they were going for.
Honestly, it all depends on what you’re looking for. If you want to get back to the classic MMORPG scheme, then yeah, you’re going to feel right at home here. If you were looking for something new and cutting edge, then you will probably want to keep looking.
I would like to give this game a better score, I really would, but I cannot let my personal bias get in the way of an accurate rating. I love it, but the HUD is horribly unpolished and parts of it should never have made it out of beta.
+Player Housing and Towns
+Persistent Online World
-HUD looks Terrible
-Loading Times can be Slow