Shroud of the Avatar – Release 1 Review

This past week, around 25,000 of my closest online friends got a chance to play around in the new world created by Ultima creator Richard Garriott.  Shroud of the Avatar is a new RPG that can be played in both single-player and online multiplayer modes.

Garriott’s new company, Portalarium, is the design studio behind Shroud of the Avatar, and after a successful Kickstarter campaign, they gave us all a taste of the game with some in-game footage right around the 30-day mark. Then recently, a 6-month progress video came out, and really showcased the game’s crafting and housing aspects. Around that time, the guys at Portalarium decided to give us their “release schedule”, a series of 3-day play tests designed to help test and showcase the various aspects within the game, giving backers a chance to play the game early on and help shape how the game is released.

Portalarium has done an outstanding job so far in getting the input of it’s fan base by plugging into their interests and giving them a forum to say what they want in the game. They’ve also made it possible to continue giving to the project, allowing you to increase your original Kickstarter campaign gift to unlock more and more goodies within the game.

This test was to showcase the town of Owl’s Head, one of the larger towns in the game, and give players a chance to claim whatever kind of house they wanted to and begin house decorating. The conversation feature was also enabled, giving players a chance to speak to the various NPCs in the town and test out the call/response format they’ve set up in the game. The point of the conversation feature is to make receiving and turning in quests much more organic (i.e. no more pushing an “Accept” or “Yes” button).

First off, I ran into the town and was met by an Owl’s Head guard who wanted to know my business in the Vale. He has been tasked with keeping all rough looking sorts out of the town, but after a few minutes of conversing with him, it seemed he was satisfied (for now) with my story. So into the town I went. I wasn’t aware of it right away, but the devs decided to place chests of loot, both housing stuff and armor and weapons, in various places throughout Owl’s Head.

Once I figured that out, it was quite fun to run around and treasure hunt in the various open public buildings in the town for the chests. I found a bunch of armor and weapons and a ton of housing things, including furniture, crafting stations, paintings and more (even the coveted Throne of Bones!)

The most expensive house in the game (to date) is the Lord of the Manor house, and it was in the Owl’s Head for claiming, so of course I went and claimed ownership of the property. The only downside to this property is that (at least in this set up) there wasn’t a ton of outdoor space to work with. But this is overcome by having nearly endless space on the inside.

A few of the locks inside were buggy but I worked my way around that. There is so much space in this house, I’m not sure I’m going to be able to be comfortable in something smaller!

There were so many little things that reminded me of Ultima Online, the Ultima game I remember and cherish most. Things like the paperdoll character screen to the animals roaming the town, the text of speech being above the characters head and more. You got a sense that this game not only pays homage to the past but is trying to innovate it and bring it forward into the new style of gaming choices.

This game is only 8 months into an 18-month development schedule, and there are many bugs (mostly small ones) but from what I’ve seen, I couldn’t be happier that I’ve contributed to the development of this game and look forward to Release 2 coming in late January when the crafting system is released! More on that in January! Here are a bunch of screenshots I took in the game.

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Guild Wars 2 Beta Weekend Event Recap (ALL THE SHINY THINGS)

First off, let me go on record as saying the screenshots below are just for funsies, and all credit goes to ArenaNet and the Guild Wars 2 website for them.  I was so busy getting in my playtime this weekend that I neglected to take screenshots myself of the action.

So…Guild Wars 2! Giddy up time…the pre-order having been secured on the first day it was available (early April), I was excited to get the game installed and jump in headfirst with the first of what I can only hope are regularly scheduled Beta Weekend Events.  I started out by making a Norn warrior, but having only gotten access through my laptop, I only played around briefly in the character creation area before jumping in.

Later that night (Friday), I created a Human Ranger, and spent more time in the creation phase.  I have to say, great options during character creation…lots of skin types, and plenty of customization options. I got settled into the game and immediately was thrown into the mix, helping a village thwart an attack by centaurs.

After assisting the village, I move onto Divinity’s Reach and the rest of Queensland.  Outstanding quest areas here and great things to get you involved right away.  I never got past level 9 in my journey this weekend (my time online was sparse at best), but I’m liking several things this game has to offer so far.

Simple UI: The UI has been simplified to the point of almost craziness…there are 5 action buttons for combat (oddly enough buttons 1-5) and Button 6 is your healing skill (which as you earn points can become better/different types of healing skills). I was able to activate one special skill button (on 7, it was some type of blessing skill that providing a boost to my power I think).  Your health is represented by a large red ball in the center of the UI, which empties as you take damage.  There are also some visual effects that take place on the outer border of your window which gives you some indication of damage received.

There’s also a very cool thing they’ve implemented which is called a “rally”. From what I can tell, as you get knocked down (and in most cases defeated), you get to “rally” by pressing a series of buttons to fight your way to your feet, then if you’re quick enough, you can spring a healing spell on yourself and keep on fighting.

The map and quest information is all pretty standard, although I will say the map of Divinity’s Reach is really cool and man, this is a big game.

Simple Combat: It can’t be overstated enough…some games have really thrown too many skills at you, and too many different options with which to spec out your characters…Guild Wars 2 looks to change that. Your skills are based on the weapons you equip, and as you complete the use of each skills, additional skills open themselves up to you. This makes combat a lot easier and you can focus more on the group you’re in and making sure you’re pulling your weight versus making sure you do the right combination of button-mashing.

One thing I noticed right away were the similarities in graphic style to Dragon Age 2, especially the brushed artwork used in cut scenes and map area zoning.  I’m not opposed to this at all, but the similarities were striking. I also think they are taking some things from games like Rift and using them well.  In the game, you will be running along and suddenly, you will get a message that states “New Event Nearby”, and on your map, you can find it relatively easy with a bronze looking shield.  Once in the area, the quest objectives (in their current state) will show, and you (and others) can begin working on completing the objectives.  As you do, there are different levels of completion (I believe the ones I saw were gold, silver and bronze), based on when you come in and how much you contribute to the overall success of the event’s closure.

This is not at all dissimilar to the “rifts” within the game Rift, and it’s a nice way to make the game feel much more “alive” than some other MMOs which are quest-driven to the point of feeling like you’re soloing everything in the world.

It definitely seems like games like Rift and Guild Wars 2 are taking MMO to literally mean many players participating together in the world events in order to enact the storylines.  And this is a good thing.

I will say that it seems to me the quests themselves were a bit inconsistent in that some of them were really, really easy to accomplish (even solo) and others were much more difficult. And it seems their version of “class” quests were a bit all over the place (with the Ranger anyway). I know that I have barely scratched the surface of what this game has to offer, but I think a bit more consistency in how the quests are handed out would help a lot.

They did throw in some unpredictability as well, which I guess is kind of what they are going for there…it helps make the game feel fresh and not re-used from the same formulas other games have done.

Graphically, the game world is just huge and it’s beautiful. They make traveling around very simple with unlocking locations as you discover them (you already “know” a few locations when you get into the game). The good loot was coming from drops and quest rewards…there’s also something called “karma” (I believe) which you build up as you complete quest chains in certain areas.  You can spend your karma for some nicer gear or trinkets that give you buffs.

Overall, I’m very pleased with how polished the game looks two months from current release…and I can definitely see this game occupying a lot of my time this summer.