Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Night In Owl's Head: First Impressions of Shroud of The Avatar

In March 2013, legendary game designer Richard Garriott (a.k.a. Lord British) announced his intent to create a new computer RPG that would be a spiritual successor to his classic Ultima series.  In keeping with his reputation as a trendsetter, Garriott decided to crowd-source the game on Kickstarter and offer all manner of benefits to those who helped fund the project.  The fundraising effort reached its goal within ten days and nearly doubled that goal within a month!

One of the benefits promised to contributors was alpha and beta access to the game before it went live.  This would allow investors to see the game world as it was built from the ground up and make suggestions as to how it might be improved.  And thanks to Lord British's generosity in not requiring a non-disclosure agreement, I am free to give you a glimpse of New Britannia.

For many gamers, Shroud of The Avatar will feel like coming home.  There's not much content in this first pre-alpha release of the game.. There's no combat nor is there any crafting.  But what content there is will feel welcoming and familiar to fans of Lord British's Ultima.

The classic interface from Ultima has returned, with a paper doll that handles your character's immediate inventory, such as weapons and clothing.  Up to six bags can be slotted to make organizing your belongings easier, with the possibility of smaller bags within those bags.  So you can put a spell component pouch inside your backpack and rest assured everything will remain as you organized it.

Yes, I'm stuffing a fountain in my backpack! What of it?!

In this first pre-alpha version of the SotA, there is precious little to do but wander the town of Owl's Head, talk to the NPCs, take what few items are not nailed down and decorate a home. Yet this too will seem familiar to fans of Ultima. There are no repeatable conversation trees nor helpful exclamation points over the heads of peasants who will pay for some passing ruffian to rid their cellar of rats. No, if you want information from an NPC you must find the right words to get them to open up. The classic 'name' and 'job' keywords are good starts and lead to other topics of conversation, which are highlighted in white..

Every tavern has one... drunk guy who is drowning his sorrows over something you can help with. 

The one woman in the tavern won't talk to me? I play these games to escape from reality!

Shroud of The Avatar already promises to be revolutionary in one particular respect - game-play options.  Although only a single-player mode is available at present, the ultimate goal is for the game to allow single-player, multi-player and MMORPG modes.  So if you wish to play the game solo, as in the original Ultima games, you can.  If you wish to venture out into the wide world ala Ultima On-Line, you can do that too.  Or if you'd rather just open up a smaller realm for you and a few friends, ala Minecraft, you'll be able to do that as well.

No matter what your play style, so far it seems that Shroud of The Avatar is living up to its goals of providing role-players of all stripes with something they'll enjoy.  Should you wish to join the fun, it is not too late to make a $45 pledge and get in on the action.  I think you'll be glad you did.

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