Shroud of the Avatar: Tabula rasa redux

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Now that Shroud of the Avatar has reached Release 32, the game’s moved into a persistent world state. This confusing bit of terminology means both “no more wipes” yet “it’s still in some sort of alpha.” For the life of me, I can’t imagine why you would want to step over this threshold with a game that’s not nearly ready for release unless you were concerned that players were going to leave or you wanted to make more money somehow.

Anyway, I thought it was time to at least roll up a character and poke around, since I’ve only played this game a couple of times in the past and that was a while ago. Hopefully the game would be in a much more finished state.

Every online game feels like it has to do something a little weird with its setup and controls so that there’s a period of learning adjustment. I acknowledge this and simply hope it won’t be too weird. SOTA isn’t terrible, but there are a few little “quirks” from the get-go, including a mouse-look control scheme. Took me a few minutes to figure out how to disable that (hint: tab) and to remap a few keys so that it handled more like a traditional MMO.

When you start up a new character, you only pick a male or female before being dumped into the character creation area. I actually like this zone, the Isle of Storms. Very atmospheric and it moves you through creating your character in somewhat of a reasonable progression.

A lady greets you when you phase in, and I guess this is supposed to be the wife of Lord British, which means that she’s standing in for Richard Garriott’s real wife? It’s a little odd, like you log into the game and the wife of the game’s creator is there to make sure you wipe your feet and mind your manners.

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Of course, there are little SauronBots roaming around, scanning things like they escaped a cyberpunk thriller and landed in this fantasy universe.

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This visual creation mirror kept crashing my game, to the point where I threw my hands up and walked away for a while. A Twitter helper mentioned that I needed to disable the cloth simulation (which is in the game menu). That did the trick and I was able to make up SOTA’s version of Yeti Yesterday.

I wasn’t terribly impressed with the visual choices. Sure, there were lots of facial sliders, but raise your hand if you like sliders in character creators and you’ll look around and see that you’re one of a few. I don’t want to fiddle with nose length and jaw positioning, I want preset options so that I can mix-and-match looks. There were a decent number of hairstyles but most looked more like plastic than not. SOTA’s visuals are a step up from many indie games but still have a ways to go to get into the same sphere of, say, Guild Wars 2.

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I might not have been impressed with the character visuals, but I did find world touches like this reading altar well-done and worth examining.

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The last part of making your character is to talk to this creepy robot head, AKA the Oracle. Is there a steampunk element to this game? I’m starting to think so. Seeing the Oracle jerk around as it “talked” to me (through the chat box) was a little unnerving. In a good way.

Like the Ultima games, SOTA gives you a handful of hypothetical situations and you choose which response your character would take. It’s a neat little bit of immersive roleplaying, although ultimately it just funnels you into one of three class archetypes (bow, sword, or magic user) and then lets you choose a different one if you aren’t happy with the pick.

The game strongly recommended that I went with bow, since that was the most finished area. Nothing like having a game shoo you away from its messy rooms to impress you with its accomplishments.

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I bucked the game and went with magic user anyway. After that, I walked up the hill and went into mini-Stonehenge to head down to the world proper. Nothing much to say about this other than it was quite pretty.

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OK, this got a laugh, and not in an intentional way. A literal “under construction” sign in a tutorial area? Are we visiting a GeoCities website in 1997?

It’s even funnier with the sign juxtaposed with all of the dead bodies scattered about. I can imagine some imp hobbling along with a pump, inflating the corpses so that they stand up and start waving.

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