Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues is a review of a current work in progress available through the Steam Early Access program. When the game eventually leaves Early Access into full release, some things may have changed from the time of writing.
I don’t normally go for Alpha/Beta and Early Access titles as I feel it can be a bit unfair towards the game if it’s prone to crashing and bugs. In the case of this one, I decided to make an exception as release 44, which came out on Thursday 27th July, sees the storyline complete start to finish on all 3 paths, as well as numerous bug fixes, stability and beautification of quite a few areas.
A brief history lesson for those who don’t know who Richard Garriott is: Lord British and creator of the superb Ultima series, which dates back to the ’80s, as well as a few other titles, including the ill-fated Tabula Rasa MMO. In all fairness, Tabula Rasa was pretty darned good, but it failed due to WoW still being big, plus quite a few other MMOs also being out at the time such as City of Heroes and Guild Wars, which was and still is subscription free, so the market was a bit saturated.
The story is about the Avatars who have been brought from Earth to discover why a new malevolence has risen. The evil is intelligent and fully aware of what it is doing, and appears to be executing a plan of some sort laying siege to towns and villages across New Brittania. This is the objective for the first game. After reading up on the official website where you set up your account, this is the first of five games which are all linked to this opening chapter. The story, itself, has been written by Tracy Hickman – well known for his Dungeons & Dragons: Dragonlance novels. He has also worked on pen & paper RPG modules for TSR during the early ’80s.
The gameplay has similarities to many of the fantasy MMOs. It’s also very similar to the Gothic series of games in the way quests are given and play out. There are plenty of your usual fetch quests – the type that will have you go somewhere, kill something, or find and collect something, and then return… rinse and repeat. The story-driven quests are given from key non-player characters (NPCs) and usually move you further afield from an encampment than the fetch quests, which helps to keep things moving along.
The enemies will also be more in line with your skill level. The level system will feel familiar to anyone who has played The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. You buy your skills from a trainer, and then the more you use said skill, the better you get at it, offering benefits to combat etc. I also mentioned similarities to the Gothic series (this also ties in to the older Ultima games). When you are given quests, there are no markers telling you were to go. As an example, once you meet the Captain after the opening section, she’ll tell you to go South on the other side of the river to find some missing scouts which were last seen near a certain point. From this information, you have to search about to find the area and then find said scouts. Scouting for scouts, if you like.
The combat system is firmly tied to an MMO: you click to attack an enemy, your character will do the same basic attack over and over, you then click the numerous different skills you’ve setup on the bottom bar to deal more damage, heal or cast spells. The beauty of this combat system, though, is that if you are using ranged attacks, then you can be backing away while firing arrows, or strafing round enemies if using a sword. On top of your questing, it’s also possible to buy properties and rent them out if you’re playing online. In addition, spending time as a hunter-gatherer is an option, crafting items to sell on to make more gold, or join one of the many guilds that other players have created.
The sound and visuals on Shroud of the Avatar are pretty good. They aren’t as detailed as some of the images I’ve seen running on Unreal Engine 4, but they are nice enough. The graphics engine is the ever popular Unity and it does portray the fantasy landscape well. I’ve noticed the roads and paths look a little low-res, but the texture work on characters, forests, buildings etc. have had a lot of work put into them, and not forgetting that this title is still in early access till later this year. Every week you get patches to make things look nicer, as well as bug fixes. This includes a large update which does even more with graphics tweaks (Since 27th July there has been a 6Gb and three 3Gb patches!).
The sound I have enjoyed with different musical scores playing throughout your time in-game, the music sounds like it has been played on a Lute, so it really adds well to the overall medieval experience of New Brittania. One thing I feel *is* lacking, however, is that there are no voiced NPCs. Everything is text-based conversations, much like your old school RPGs. The characters’ mouths move, but there is no voice work at all. Unfortunately, this again this ties into the whole MMO feel of the game.
I can see polarising opinions about this game. If you’re more used to RPGs now and all they entail, such as quest markers and free-form combat, not forgetting plenty cutscenes and voice acting, then you may struggle to get into Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues. On the other hand, if you enjoy reading story-rich text, and a game which is closer to the old-school RPGs, then you’ll be in your element. Personally, I have really enjoyed my time with this game and look forward to the final product when it comes out later this year.
I have played this in single-player offline mode, but there are a few online options: friends only, single player online (which allows you to see how the world is being shaped by other players but is essentially the same as single player offline), and there is also a full open online mode, similar to other MMO titles.
There are a few bugs and broken quests presently, but nothing that is game-breaking. Te developers are actively working on this with fixes and updates. I feel now is a good time to finally jump in if you want to play a spiritual sequel to the old Ultima games (EA still owns the Ultima license, from what I believe, hence an new name and setting).
Thanks to the Youtube channels featured for the gaming footage.
Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues is out now on Steam Early Access, and click on the top-right image for the full-size version.
- Developer: Portalarium
- Publisher: Portalarium
- Players: Single (Offline & Online), Co-Op & Multiplayer
Retro at heart and lover of all things ’80s, especially the computers, the music and the awesome movies and TV shows! Crazy huge retro gaming collection spanning the ’80s and ’90s with hundreds of tapes, discs and carts for various machines on top of a 600+ strong Steam library that is ever-growing. No I am not a serial hoarder, just a dedicated retro gamer!