The desire to check out Shroud of the Avatar’s been growing in importance to me over the past couple of months, if nothing else than seeing how much SOTA has going on with its community these days. I’m not normally a beta guy, nevermind a pre-alpha peeker, but if there are already dev-led events and player gatherings, then it looked to me to be more than just a mere test. Besides, out of all of the crowdfunded projects, SOTA has been speaking to me as the MMO that I’d most like to try.
I was never big into the Ultima series (or even that aware of it), nevermind Ultima Online. But people speak so highly of the creativity and actual roleplay of those worlds that I didn’t want to miss out on this spiritual successor. So yesterday I used my allowance to grab a copy and take a few timid steps into this “construction zone” (as the loading screen warns).
The opening movie has a strong Ultima vibe, blurring reality and game fiction as it posits that you — the gamer — have somehow accessed this fantasy land for real. I love how the movie assumes that you’d be surfing Richard Gariott’s Facebook page as part of your nightly excursions. That is not creepy at all. No sirree.
Cheezy movie aside, can I say that I am in love with the music already? So cheery, so renaissance faire-like. I’ve had the character creation theme looping while writing this portion and I haven’t gotten sick of it yet.
Here’s my test character. The character creator is decent but not astounding. There’s about a half-dozen hair styles, two genders, and a while lot of sliders for facial features — and that’s it. Still looks nicer than I’d have assumed.
Here I am moments after entering the game. The lighting is nice — not great, but again better than I would have thought. How low are my expectations for these indie games again?
There’s definitely a heavy old-school vibe going on with SOTA, and I’m not just talking about older MMOs. Right from the start, you have to actually type replies to NPCs. Whaaa? Where’s my brightly colored dialogue wheel with mood icons? Anything more complicated than a Denny’s menu, I can’t handle it (just kidding).
I like these immersive touches but I’m a little worried that it’s going to be so foreign as to be off-putting. For example, I dig how you actually drag objects from the world into your inventory, but I am not thrilled with the camera controls or the laggy movement. It’s functional, just not great right now.
And the combat? I don’t even know where to start. The tutorial tells you to go up to a training dummy and hack away for a while, but it’s not intuitive at all. There are several skills that won’t light up and my character doesn’t automatically scoot forward a couple steps when I target the object in order to get within range. When I do get close enough and find a skill that lets me swing, the sound effects… phew. Well, this is pre-alpha, right? Everything I write here has to have that caveat, because these are the most pathetic sword sounds I’ve heard since the IBM PC-Jr from the mid-80s. It’s like someone crushing a small turtle. Pfft. Pfft.
One thing that did please me greatly, however, is that my inventory not only had a full manual but also a guide to player-run events. Like, a multi-page book FULL of dates and events for that month. Egads, SOTA is hopping with stuff.
I’m a fencer!
Oh here’s a little tip: “Z” is the button that takes you from non-combat mode to combat, which is important since you have different hotbars for each. Also, when you’re in non-combat mode, you heal up faster.
Not to keep picking on the sounds, but they don’t even sync up to combat actions, which makes them all the more noticable.
OK, getting more of a grip on combat. One skill to inflict a bleed, one to help me dodge, one to do two quick attacks. Skeleton, you are toast!
While the skelly doesn’t drop loot, I discover that the corpses all around me have some gold on them. When I click to loot, their bodies jerk in a disturbing way that I think is meant to represent me moving them… but it comes off as “oh my goodness, you’re alive! No wait, that was a death spasm.”
The (temporary) tutorial quickly over, I’m ported to Soltown to begin my proper multiplayer adventures in a much more lush setting. I’m glad I’m taking my time to poke around the settings and controls, because I do feel that I’m a little more steady on my feet than I was at the start. Now what? The game told me to find a guard, but I might have to go exploring.