E3 2015: Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtue Hands-On PreviewWe stopped short of crowdsourcing this preview.06.18.15 - 5:52 PM
Shroud of the Avatar is the latest project from Richard Garriott and Starr Long, two of the minds behind the Ultima series. Originally funded as a Kickstarter two years ago, the creators have extended the crowdsourcing philosophy to many other aspects of the gameplay.
Players have and will generate much of the game's content. For example, the developers told us that 90% of the music was created by players, and players have created whole towns ranging from rural hamlets to booming metropolises. Much of the game's economy will be driven by players as well, as they will be able to operate shops and craft their own unique equipment for sale. They can also band together to create lore and rumors in their towns (that they have built themselves) that will lead to player-generated quests and even treasure.
Crafting is immensely important in this game, as players will again supply the meat of the game's equipment, and everything they make will bear their unique maker's mark. As players craft weapons or armor, certain events can occur randomly to endow the equipment with additional strengths and weaknesses. Further, equipment can acquire attributes through repeated use, such as a sword that kills a lot of skeletons gaining extra damage against the undead. Most importantly, this player-generated, unique equipment will persist in the world. If the player is killed, their goodies can become loot for subsequent adventurers, and if they sell their equipment, it enters the stream of commerce and will cycle through the game's economy to other players. So it is entirely possible to have your prized broadsword become a reward for another intrepid hero.
Shroud of the Avatar will have four modes of play: single player offline, single player online (where the player's world is affected by online events and world building but they do not interact with other players), play with friends, and full online. Instead of having multiple servers, the game is split between localized areas and an overworld map. In this way, all of the game’s players can coexist on one server and interact with one another at least indirectly. If an area such as a town gets too crowded, the game will create another instance of that town, and any changes to the town (such as a player-built weapons shop) will persist across both instantiations.
I did not have a chance to tinker with my character's skills or equipment, but the developers said the game is classless, in that any character can learn any skill. However, players must still specialize in order to reach the more interesting abilities on the skill tree.
As for gameplay, I must first admit that I am not very familiar with the MMO genre. I found the general flow of combat to be intuitive and engaging, but my character herself felt clunky and the inverted camera controls bothered me. Combat mostly consisted of right-clicking bad guys and clicking shortcut attacks that popped up at the bottom of the screen. Though the skills are largely random, players do get to choose which skills can appear and can combine certain skills for extra power. Keeping track of my attacks kept me focused during the fight, but there were times when I was not attacking simply because I hadn't maneuvered my character into the right position, which was frustrating. Also, the game's textures and character models, while not terrible by any means, did look dated and flat.
Shroud of the Avatar has a lot of interesting ideas and ways for players to become engaged in the world. However, because it relies so heavily on crowdsourced content, it has a very pronounced network effect; it will only be interesting if enough people join and invest themselves in the world. Otherwise, there will not be enough people generating interesting content to sustain the world. My fear is that these technical hindrances will prevent many from uncovering the depth of play within.