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Codex Review RPG Codex Review: Shroud of the Avatar

Infinitron

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Codex Year of the Donut Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Pathfinder: Kingmaker Pathfinder: Wrath I'm very into cock and ball torture I helped put crap in Monomyth
Tags: Portalarium; Shrouds of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues

The year was 2013 and Kickstarter hype was at its zenith. It seemed like every month some legendary creator from the olden days was coming out of retirement, and some beloved oldschool franchise was being brought back to life. By March of that year, Brian Fargo had already brought back Wasteland and was about to launch his second Kickstarter campaign for Torment, Obsidian had taken on the mantle of the Infinity Engine with Project Eternity, and Chris Roberts was raking in millions with Star Citizen. But one man seemed to have been caught flat-footed by the crowdfunding revolution. That man was Richard Garriott, aka Lord British, creator of the Ultima series, the premier computer roleplaying series of the 1980s and early 1990s. The aging Ultima fanbase could only watch in despair as one Kickstarter after the other brought back every oldschool franchise imaginable, while their liege traveled around the world proclaiming the supremacy of Facebook games. It was humiliating, and after the bottom fell out of the Zynga bubble in mid-2012, increasingly untenable.

But although Garriott was forced to retreat from the realm of casual Facebook gaming, that didn't mean he'd abandoned all of his pretensions. We first learned about Shroud of the Avatar on March 1st, 2013, and its Kickstarter campaign launched a week later. It quickly became clear that the game was first and foremost an online experience, the Ultima Online sequel that Garriott never got to make. At that point, the vast majority of us ceased to pay attention to it. But there were some who, due perhaps to an atavistic attachment to the Ultima fan community, just couldn't look away. One of those people was taxalot, a veteran of the community going all the way back to Usenet in the mid-1990s. When Shroud of the Avatar was finally released this March after five years of development, he dove right in. This month he returned to us, bringing harrowing tales of a broken and unfinished game, absurd monetization practices, and the delusional fanbase that sustains them. We don't usually post about MMOs here, but in this case I'm glad to make an exception. Here's a quick preview:

Shroud of the Avatar is not some little game. It's not just a couple of tiny towns, with a dozen dungeon levels and a main quest that you can complete in 15 hours that you might expect from a small indie team. No, Portalarium made a huge game and filled it with nothing. The game quite possibly has hundreds of towns if you include player-owned ones, but only five or so contain anything of interest. There is absolutely NO POINT to the player-owned towns if you're not into housing or crafting. Seriously, don't go into them, it's a waste of time. You will get lost. You will meet no interesting NPCs. You will find no incredible deals, because everyone is trying to sell their stuff for ludicrous prices. Meanwhile, sidequests are either uninteresting, broken or just not there, with an incredible number that refuse to flag as “completed”, which means they remain in your quest log until the end of time. And if you were hoping to find new and rare items in this game, prepare to be disappointed. They don't exist. Unless you're willing to engage in crafting (with custom design, which I admit is a nice touch) or buy them for ridiculous prices, you will never own any special equipment.

Had Portalarium gone for a smaller scope with the same budget and even the same technology, they might have been able to deliver a finished product. A competent RPG that probably wouldn't have made any Game of the Year lists, but would have been enough to satisfy Ultima fans.

But here's the thing. Portalarium's intention from the very beginning of the project was to emulate the living, breathing world of Ultima Online in its early days. The classic Ultima series was known for its focus on immersion. For some reason, their marketing department decided that the best way to immerse Ultima fans was to sell them houses.

And sold they did. The first consequence of this was that if you backed the game for the single player experience… well, you probably gave up hope the moment your bank account was debited. To someone who was looking for a great single player adventure, the monthly emails focused solely on player housing were utterly depressing, an obvious sign that Portalarium had taken your money and were doing whatever the hell they wanted with it. Month after month, the studio unveiled new kinds of houses that you could buy with real money. But why stop at a house? Why not buy a castle? Or a whole town? You could do that too, as a solo player or as a guild to have your own place to regroup. The emphasis on this aspect of the game was truly puzzling. Between that and the monthly dance parties thrown by “DJ Darkstarr” (executive producer Starr Long's alter ego), one might wonder whether the point was to have exciting adventures or just to create some sort of virtual renaissance fair for everyone to LARP in. In many ways, it felt like Portalarium were increasingly less interested in selling a game than a medieval Second Life service.

To give people their houses Portalarium had to offer land, which explains why town maps in SOTA are so huge. Typically about three quarters of each town is occupied by player-owned buildings and empty lots. I would also estimate that around 80% of the towns in the game are either player-owned towns or towns that exist solely in order to sell more land. It makes exploring the world a completely excruciating experience, because of the unnecessary loading, because of the difficulty navigating this anarchic urban development, and because these towns are phantom zones.

No one ever visits other players' houses.

The player-owned towns are always, always empty.

The player-owned shops sell items that are either ridiculously priced, useless, or most often both.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Shroud of the Avatar
 

taxalot

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Codex 2013 PC RPG Website of the Year, 2015
Obviously, this review has been written sometime ago. In the meantime, I have continued playing the game and here are some additional comments that might be relevant. Many things, and sometimes too little things, have happened since this review has been written.

-Portalarium's financial shape, upon which I expressed doubts near the end of the review, has been pretty much confirmed to be... bad. They have fired half of their staff, and this most severely impacted artists and design. Please note that in my mind, the biggest SOTA issue has is its content. The gameplay can be finetuned. The performance can be optimized (and computers will get better anyways). The difficulty balance can be redone, but without artists and additional content, SOTA will keep being a frog trying to be an ox ; a game that kind of looks like it's trying to go for AAA quality, but with only a small, tiny fragment of the content of a normal game, filled with ghost towns, ghost NPCs, few enemies, and too few sidequests.

-How the hell are they going to create an episode 2 under such circumstances ? Apparently, they want to reinforce RMT and add stretch goals to the purchase of buying in game items with your good old fashioned dollars. The people who contribute the most will be able to vote and decide upon the features of Episode 2. Considering this was unofficially the direction Episode 1 took and what these people made of the game, it looks like Portalarium doesn't understand why their game suck and how toxic are the whales in a MMORPG (and let's not mention whales with decisionary power)

-It appears that Travian, a company specializing in web games or mobile games to which Portalarium has a partnership could be willing to increase said partnership. People are pretty much expecting Travian to acquire Portalarium AND/OR SOTA at some point, possibly when they are done "polishing the existing content".

-About the toxic community ? Guess what ? There has been some change about that too, and I guess I'll withhold just a bit the comments I made. Just a bit. The basis of what I said in the review is still there, with people still being weird and some, like Markee Dragon, appearing oddly suspicious but since the layoffs have been announced and the elephant in the room adressed, when the initial denial ("it's normal for a MMORPG to have layoffs at this point" despite Starr Long admitting openly the game didn't have the player base they expected) was over, you all of a sudden started seeing people admitting that the game sucked and that it required many, many changes. The optimism and hope is still there, but people are now less blind to what's going on. It appears, from an unofficial subreddit that they have stopped deleting posts deemed too negative (something I have been a victim of) however polite they were, and stopped banning players that were again disheartened by how things turned out.

But this is probably too little too late.

-About the bad storywriting, let me tell you about a sidequest I missed in my previous playthrough and just encountered. It embodies everything that is wrong with the writing in this game.

In SOTA's world, there are good and bad elves. The bad elves are the historical faction but when the evil cult called the Obsidian was defeated, most of it decided to forsake the evil ways and become good guys. Now, that doesn't prevent racist humans from wanting to kill them all.

Early on in the game, you discover a town that has been brutally destroyed by elves, or so it seems at first because you quickly start suspecting that this might be what conspiracy theorists like to call a false flag. You encounter an elf camp (the good elf kind), whose members are being attacked killed by racist vigilantes led by a "Phineas Drumplemouth".

Phineas Drumplemouth comes from a rich family. Phineas has political ambitions and promote "alternative facts". Phineas is an elitist who says it's important that the dumb masses follow him. Phineas is a bit racist. Phineas Drumplemouth. Subtle.

But that's not all.

The elves ask you to infiltrate Phineas' camp and to find evidence to report to the army that they are bad guys. Well, Mr Elf, those guys have been attacking and killing you have they not ? But Elf Leader wants something in writing. Whatever.. Now, along the way, you are attacked by Phineas's goons because they "are bored" and "want to kill". I'm not making this shit up. Once you meet him, Phineas asks you to kill 10 elves.

You can, of course, report back to Elf Leader who is quite troubled at hearing that. Even though that's what's been happening for days/weeks already. Whatever, you forge 10 elves scalps and try to get more information. Eventually, Phineas trusts you enough to give you a pamphlet that says that all elves should die, which is the proof the elf leader requires to make the quest go further.

Yes, after having supposedly kill 10 elves, you are about to pierce the greatest secret ; Phineas hates elves and wants to kill them. Which he has been established doing from the start. At no point this quest ever makes any fucking sense. You know Phineas kills elves. Elves know Phineas kill elves. Elves then know you have been asked to kill 10 elvesn and deliver fake scalps. But the pamphlet finally convinces them thatPhineas is evil ?

What the hell ?

And yes. The entire game is written like that. Everything is a blur.Everything "sort of" makes sense unless you try to understand it, or think about details. Nothing actually works at all and you are surrounded with amateurish nonsense at all times.

-Combat and skill development are interesting ... for a long while as I said in the review. They get much less interesting when your character gets high level because it all revolves about grinding the skill trees you didn't develop yet.

-I forgot to mention the loot. The loot is TERRIBLE. 20 to 50 gold coins per enemy, whatever enemy it is, plus worthless equipment that is always unusable and breaks easily (it's there to be resold, or dismantled and recrafted). You will never get worthwhile new armor, sword, or anything by defeating an enemy.

edit : sorry about the formatting, this was typed in Libre Office earlier this week in expectation of the review coming up. I will reformat that post in the morning.
 
Last edited:

SniperHF

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Holy shit :lol:

The review said said:
Ready to cash in? Keep in mind that housing lots are also subject to taxes. Be late on your payment and you can say goodbye to the landlord life. The latest Portalarium community livestream strongly emphasized that they're now able to send emails to players who don't pay on time.

When's the Britannia tea party?

Oh right:

the review said said:
In private conversations, some rejoice that they can finally buy their way out of a game's difficult moments instead of having to “pass exams” all the time.

What the hell?

SOTA feeds on blind loyalty. It thrives on the fortunes of people who are too easily parted with their money, question too little, and seem ready to accept anything as long as it's a pretext to meet each other again with an endorsement from Richard Garriott and an Ultima reference namedropped here and there.
 

Grauken

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Taxalot suffered for Lord British sins

also, is Garriott actually still involved with the development of this, or was he ever, as in actively as a developer and not just a face?
 

Doctor Sbaitso

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Codex 2013 Codex 2014 PC RPG Website of the Year, 2015 Grab the Codex by the pussy Serpent in the Staglands
grimace is that you I see in the dance party player's list? Was it fun showing a leg for the lords and ladies?
 

taxalot

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Taxalot suffered for Lord British sins

also, is Garriott actually still involved with the development of this, or was he ever, as in actively as a developer and not just a face?

He rarely shows himself in the streams, his character is mentioned but doesn't actually inhabit the game world, he seldoms posts in the forums. But his word (which is the only thing we have) is that he is very involved indeed. It could very well be. He at least made the major decisions, Portalarium is his venture.
 

Mustawd

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Poor guy. He’s probably asking himself why he ever left space.
 

taxalot

I'm a spicy fellow.
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Codex 2013 PC RPG Website of the Year, 2015
Well... that's a game I'm unlikely to ever play :lol:
Or maybe I will, as kind of a Trash Fest show...

It's 50% off right now. What are you afraid of ? :M

Incidentally, just out of curiosity, I checked out torrent websites for this game to see if people were illegally downloading it for the single player offline. Well, no. There is no torrent. That's how popular this game is.
 

Infinitron

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Codex Year of the Donut Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Pathfinder: Kingmaker Pathfinder: Wrath I'm very into cock and ball torture I helped put crap in Monomyth
Well... that's a game I'm unlikely to ever play :lol:
Or maybe I will, as kind of a Trash Fest show...

It's 50% off right now. What are you afraid of ? :M

Incidentally, just out of curiosity, I checked out torrent websites for this game to see if people were illegally downloading it for the single player offline. Well, no. There is no torrent. That's how popular this game is.

Seems like it's too frequently updated for a torrent to ever be worth it, no? Are there torrents for other MMO clients?
 

taxalot

I'm a spicy fellow.
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Codex 2013 PC RPG Website of the Year, 2015
Well... that's a game I'm unlikely to ever play :lol:
Or maybe I will, as kind of a Trash Fest show...

It's 50% off right now. What are you afraid of ? :M

Incidentally, just out of curiosity, I checked out torrent websites for this game to see if people were illegally downloading it for the single player offline. Well, no. There is no torrent. That's how popular this game is.

Seems like it's too frequently updated for a torrent to ever be worth it, no? Are there torrents for other MMO clients?

Usually. But this game is also supposedly an offline single player thing. I think I saw for one Conan ?
 

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