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Shroud of the Avatar Review (PC)

Shrouded in Atrocity

 

Shroud of the Avatar

Look guys, RPGs are my thing. My. Thing. I know they can often be clunky and and even straight up atrocious at times, but I can’t help myself. Stories are an essential element of our everyday life, and a good RPG will always succeed in its storytelling above all else. Sure, they get redundant and repetitive at times but that is often a pitfall of the genre, especially when speaking to a larger scale world or map.

Usually in a good RPG the cons are outweighed by the pros so that even amidst a myriad of bugs and glitches you find something charming enough to make you want to return. I was really hoping that the creators of the famous Ultima Online were going to deliver this (and more) in said game’s spiritual successor Shroud of the Avatar. It would at least be reasonable to assume that we’d have a functioning game from a group of experienced developers that managed to raise over a million dollars to make it.

Somehow, we ended up with a game that both looks and runs worse than something out of the early aughts, yet manages to require a higher grade of hardware that was available at that time. In other words, this game has massive optimization, graphical, mechanical, and combat issues, and that’s just the short list of offenses it commits. It’s difficult to parse just exactly how this game happened with Richard Garriott at the helm, but that’s a story for another time. Right now, I’m focusing on telling you just exactly what is wrong with Shroud of the Avatar.

 

Welcome To Generic Named World!

 

Shroud of the Avatar

The hell is this? The hell are you?

The game starts with you as an ethereal newcomer to New Britannia. We’re not fooling around here folks; this “spiritual successor” shit is pretty on the nose. You’re greeted by Arabella who informs you that before you can enter this new world you must first meet a person deemed the Oracle. They will determine your character path in New Britannia. This more or less sounds like your opportunity to pick your class, but we’re going to get to that later.

After being given a set of menial, pointless tasks you finally get to speak to this prolific Oracle who looks like a combination of C3PO and Zordon. Through a series of preference based questions she determines the “path” that is best suited to you. In my case, it was the Path of Courage. Alternatives consist of the Path of Love and the Path of Truth. These paths will dictate your starting area. Since my path was the Path of Courage I was sent to the Battle of Highvale. This turned out to be a desecrated monastery besieged by elves, frostgeists, and technical bugs – though I suspect that last one might be unintentional. Other areas are Solace Bridge and the Blood River Massacre.

Once you enter your designated starting area you’re more or less left to your own devices. Usually I find this to be a boon in gameplay, but for Shroud of the Avatar it was more of a deterrent.

 

Should Have Taken That Left Turn at Albuquerque

 

Shroud of the Avatar

Random glowing mushrooms.

Shroud of the Avatar does not currently have a working map.

Let that sink in for a while.

If you need to know where you are, where your goal is, or where key NPCs are, good luck. Seriously. NPCs are also not labelled in the HUD until you interact with them, which wouldn’t be too bad if everyone didn’t look so damned similar! I’m still trying to find Lieutenant Simone right now to wrap up a side quest. At this point, I’m expecting to find her inside of a wall.

Want to ask where a named NPC is to another NPC? They don’t understand half the inputs you put into the text window. I’ve seriously had less pointlessly cyclical conversations with people on Twitter.

Speaking of that text window, be ready to get absolutely nowhere when dialogue is concerned. Sometimes your person of interest will just walk away mid-conversation. Sometimes a conversation ends before you have time to read the encyclopedic amount of text posted to that window. Need to revisit it? You better hope that you can, because some conversations can only be initiated once. Why? I don’t know!

You also better be prepared to wade through some of the most infuriating, flowery old timey English imaginable. Honestly, is this an MMORPG or a damned Shakespearean play? If I would have encountered one more person that used “thou” and “thee” over modern pronouns I’d have punched my computer monitor to death. Thankfully the writing team seemed to feel as strongly about this as I did, because plenty of characters eventually started speaking in modern English.

If I’m going to be honest though, this is only nitpicking. Shroud of the Avatar has some very serious problems, well beyond the dialogue windows and its lack of maps.

 

The Works

 

Shroud of the Avatar

At least the load screens are pretty. Granted, they should be. You’re certainly looking at them long enough.

Nothing in Shroud of the Avatar makes a whole lot of sense. This is in part due to the fact that you’re just given too much inane information. NPCs drop pages of text on you, often in one sitting, and you’re expected to retain all of it. Yet for all the script that goes into this part of the game you still walk away feeling like you don’t understand why you’re doing the things you’re doing. In my case I was helping various refugees who had been ousted from their homes by Obsidian Elves. Why had this happened? When? How long has this been a battle between elves and humans? No idea.

Then when I left my starting area I was met with another area that lead to multiple in game regions. Some are player made towns. Most were areas that I wasn’t a high enough tier to survive in (I tried). I also couldn’t find the regions I was looking for to accomplish the main quest line because of that aforementioned map issue, so a good portion of my game was just spend running around accumulating quests I had no idea how to finish.

When I was able to fight, I was bored. Since you have to find masters to level your skills (and by that logic gain new ones), and because I can’t find anything in this game, I spent literal real world hours with only two attacks and a very weak healing spell. Thankfully I spent most of my time in one of the aforementioned “Tier 1” areas, but due to this, combat was abysmally underwhelming. I could have gotten up and walked away from my PC to return and find I’d killed everything without any effort on my part. There’s nothing tactical involved or even anything fun that looks cool. It was, to put it as plainly as possible, boring.

 

I Can’t Even Make A Joke Here.

 

Shroud of the Avatar

In some places it really looks like they tried.

It’s unfortunate to see what Shroud of the Avatar has become, not only because it raised so much money, but because genuinely experienced people were behind this title. I did a lot of research as I eked out this review to make sure I wasn’t missing something, and I discovered something strange. Between 2016 and 2017, this game actually looked fun! Players had content, outfits, pets, and other things that I wasn’t able to even find in my game. As it turns out, some of these things were apparently Kickstarter backer rewards, which was somewhat disappointing. However, I currently can’t imagine being more disappointed if I had been one of the backers of this project. Nearly two million dollars was raised for this game. Two. Million. Dollars. How, and more importantly, why does it look and play like a college freshman’s first attempt at making a video game? And apparently I’m not the only one. Ultima fans seem pretty flustered with this game overall and I don’t blame them.

Whatever Richard Garriott (aka Lord British) and Portalarium were trying to do here, I can’t imagine even for a moment that this was it. Perhaps Garriott is resting a tad too comfortably on his laurels to realize that this isn’t a good game, or maybe things went the way of the dodo when Garriott realized he couldn’t optimize this for both the PC and tablets/mobile like he originally wanted. It’s hard to say.

At the end of the day, I’m left with issuing a strong warning to stay far away from this game. With a $40 price point, it’s literally not worth it. As I stated at the beginning of this article, there are both older and newer games that look better and offer more bang for the players’ buck. Unless this game gets a major overhaul, I wouldn’t even give it a second glance in the Steam store.


Final Verdict: 1 / 5

Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher:  Portlarium ; Developer: Portlarium; Players: 1 ; Released: March 30th, 2018 ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $39.99

Full disclosure: This review is based on a Steam review copy of Shroud of the Avatar given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.

Beth Meadows
A graduate of Full Sail University in the field of Game Design, Beth currently works at a small game development studio as a QA Engineer (a fancy name for a QA Tester - which means she plays video games for a living). Beth is obsessed with Heroclix and loves all things BioWare. In her spare time she enjoys gaming, reading, writing, and playing with her dogs (yes, she's a crazy dog mom). She's also quite a big fan of sleeping and eating and is trying to figure out how to combine these abilities.
  • Spibbus Maximus

    They initially raised 2 million, but kept gathering funds through other sites after Kickstarter, bringing in almost 12 million in the end. At least Lord British probably got a new Porsche out of it…

    • TotalCowage

      In fact, they’ve had over $20m. They raised $7m before the Kickstarter in funding to get out of bankruptcy and for “Ultimate RPG” which is what became Shroud… they raised another $600k via the SeedInvest, and $500k declared in the SI from selling rights to BlackSun in 2015 (with an option on a future, further $500k we don’t know if they’ve had or not yet). This takes them up to at least $20m.

      But Garriott has also put some of his own money in, but never declared how much.

      They’ve ran cross-investments with their own (and friends/former colleagues) businesses such as the Wellness App, BrightLocker, and the NeverDie crypto-currency, but again never said how much money that may have brought in.

      That crypto-currency was supposed to be introduced into the game later, but Portalarium have deliberately fudged whether they purchased any of the Initial Coin Offering to ensure they could, although they did deny any backers money was spent on the coins.

      They’ve also signed with at least 1 other publisher, Travian for Europe, but as far as we can tell there’s been no public statement about whether they earned any money from that like they did from BlackSun.

      But don’t worry for them; they’ll get their porsche alright; by setting the game up as a F2P Macrotransactions funded MMO with a premium currency, they’ll just stop development and run in maintainence mode until they get a nice pay off from it for themselves. They they’ll shut off the servers and everyone else loses anything they ever purchased in the game at all.

      Humility, Sacrifice, Spirituality, Honesty… Shroud truly is the spiritual successor to Ultima we were promised! They just forgot to tell us it was being developed on Bizarro Earth however.

  • Jayson Shapiro

    I would admit that the game did not live up to the hype and I was pretty vocal throughout the development process. Reading your bio, you work in a gaming profession so I would hope that your experience would of at least of taken into account some of the limitations a small dev team faces. My biggest complaint is that Richard Garriot reached further then he should have given the size of his team. 20 million for a game of this scope is seriously little for what they tried to do and they cut corners in some areas while trying to implement Richards hallmark game elements. Such as every light being able to be turned on and off, every book can be opened and read, complex crafting system, old school text based quests where you write things down in a notebook next to you.

    There are a lot of the things SotA does well. Unfortunfortunately, in an attempt to be everything to everyone they made some big errors.

    As gamers we forget Final Fantasy XIV needed a complete reboot of how Elder Scrolle Online bombed at launch. Needless to say games like Wildstar, Destiny 2, and others failed with Dev teams and budgets double to triple the size that Shroud has. I see a dimond in the rough here. Based on my steam data here are my clocked time for mmo’s ESO 927 hours, FFXIV 420 hours , SotA 2610 hours.

  • Girehan Greyhaven

    A lot of this review is just plain WRONG. So much so, that it difficult to believe that it is based on the official release version of 27/03/18.

    Let’s correct the errors:

    “After being given a set of menial, pointless tasks”
    WRONG. Such tasks include choosing the appearance of your Avatar and its name. Hardly pointless – more like essential.

    “Shroud of the Avatar does not currently have a working map.”
    WRONG. Press M and you get a scaleable map.

    “If you need to know where you are, where your goal is, or where key NPCs are, good luck.”
    WRONG. Location & time are at the top of the screen together with a compass showing important locations. Your position is shown on the map. NPCs are often shown on the map with small circular icons – mouse over the icons and you get their name!!! And now the developers are adding glowing blue guides on the compass to show you where to go relevant to your quests.

    “They don’t understand half the inputs you put into the text window”.
    Only if you type rubbish. Recognisable inputs are shown in white under the text window, and are also underlined in the NPC’s text.

    “NPCs drop pages of text on you, often in one sitting, and you’re expected to retain all of it”.
    WRONG. Important information goes in the Journal which you can access anytime. Did you look at that?

    “How long has this been a battle between elves and humans? No idea.”
    How about playing the game & finding out the reason?

    “I also couldn’t find the regions I was looking for to accomplish the main quest line because of that aforementioned map issue”
    WRONG. The entire continent of Novia is covered by the in-game map and all the towns & regions are noted on it from the very beginning.

    “Since you have to find masters to level your skills (and by that logic gain new ones), and because I can’t find anything in this game, I spent literal real world hours with only two attacks and a very weak healing spell.”
    WRONG. There are adventure trainers in the starting (outskirts zones) and they can teach you any of the first few tier skills, magic & weapons. So you can easily fill your hotbar with skills practically straight away. They only cost 100G to unlock (and you get that from selling drops from only 3 mobs…) Masters are only needed for higher tier, more advanced, skills.

    “I could have gotten up and walked away from my PC to return and find I’d killed everything without any effort on my part. There’s nothing tactical involved…”
    Well if you were wandering around for hours with only two attacks !!
    The Deck System provides tactics/builds and the “free attack mode” is available for those who want a more interactive combat. And guess what – you can unlock both from the trainer in the starting outskirst zone !!

    “I did a lot of research as I eked out this review”
    Well you obviously did not read the instructions that Portalarium publish with each release.

    “Players had content, outfits, pets, and other things that I wasn’t able to even find in my game”.
    Well they’re still in there, from a variety of NPC merchants or from thousands(!) of player merchants. Plus Obsidian coin merchants allow you to buy things from the Add-on store but with in-game money as these coins occasionally drop.

    Why is your review so uninformed and packed full of untrue statements? My neighbour’s cat could have written a better review!

  • Greg Mohney

    12 MILLION! AAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHA

  • TotalCowage

    Just thought I’d pop by again and illustrate one further issue with the game; From the review;

    ” Ultima fans seem pretty flustered with this game overall and I don’t blame them.”

    And in attempting to state this honest perception, the vast majority of backers were slowly driven out by a toxic soup of Real Money Traders and almost cult like worship that tolerates absolutely no criticism, and will resort even to actual criminal harassment in an attempt to prevent anyone getting in the way of their money making or blind insistence that This Is Fine whilst the project burns down around them; in my own personal case I’ve had to go to the police 3 times over one particular sociopath after he hacked into my email and has for the last year and a half slowly escalated to ever greater threats against myself and the people whose details he harvested.

    Why do I bring this up? Because today on the official Shroud forums, you can see the community cursing the author of this review personally.

    https://www.shroudoftheavatar.com/forum/index.php?threads/game-reviews-are-well-challanged-to-be-nice.126298/#post-1041628

    Observe how that post will be left uncensored, because it’s abusing a critic. Anyone who follows this project quickly comes to see how Portalarium actively protects abusive posters as long as they act against people outside the bubble.

    And what has proven the most appalling and demoralising element of this experience is watching someone who was a childhood hero, and whose Ultima games taught a style of how to, and the purpose of leading a Virtuous life, now actively encourage dishonesty, protect scammers, and treat the people who believed in them enough to Kickstart them as literally The Enemy for trying to simply tell the truth about the mess that resulted.

    Fortunately, Steam figures have already collapsed below where they were before Launch, so this whole horrendous mess will be over before the year is out.

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