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Ultima Online's "Spiritual Successor" Lets Backers Loose on the Pre-Alpha, Filth Occurs

Can Ultima Online's spiritual successor revitalise a hackneyed genre? Will Shroud of the Avatar's player-base behave themselves?

For a brief window of opportunity, developer Portalarium has temporarily lifted the shroud covering their pre-alpha gameworld of Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues to allow an early round of testing.

Unsurprisingly, the SotA forum is awash with amusing reports of "spastic horses", eyeless peasants and some hilarious conversations with NPCs.

Nonetheless, backers and those with a soft spot for the Ultima series will be pleased to hear that things are well and truly under way with its spiritual successor (the dastardly Electronic Arts still hold the rights to the Ultima IP).

Starting to Kick

First announced in early 2013 as a Kickstarter project for Richard Garriott's Portalarium studio, Shroud of the Avatar is to be the modern reboot of his vision, delivering "a rich guided story as well as play in a sandbox-like environment". Also potentially exciting for long-time fantasy genre fans is the involvement of Tracy Hickman, one of the creative minds behind many fantasy novels and RPGs including the the Dragonlance series.

Although commercial release is not expected until late 2014, "Release 1" of Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues was made available to test some of the early features such as:

Character Creation - Judging by the screenshots, there's nothing groundbreaking going on here yet and according to patch notes, head reshaping has tragically been disabled. Possibly an early dealbreaker for ardent coneheads? At least you can have a neck like E.T. and stand like you've wet yourself.

This is the standard novice horse-rider pose after a hard day in the saddle.

Single Player Online - Interestingly, the SotA:FV is not being touted as an MMO in the classic sense, although their will be an "open multiplayer" option. The phrase being used is SMG which, rather than producing a hail of bullets, gives us the "Selective Multiplayer Game" with options including "solo offline, solo online, friends only online, or open multiplayer online." This sounds like cool beans to us. Who wants random folk ruining the immersion anyway?

Behold, I am online yet alone. Verily, I have won the internets.

Environment - The first town, Owl's Head, is ready for early exploration. It has all the hallmarks of a classic medieval town, with wattle and daub Tudor-style buildings and cobbled streets. The intricate tree shadow in the shot below is quite impressive.

Is grand theft cart going to become a thing? 

Conversation - How SotA:FV handles in-game dialogue sounds quite unusual, with conversation taking place in an open text form, entirely reliant on what we must hope to be some sophisticated language learning bots. This will undoubtedly give rise to some hilarious memes to equal Skyrim's arrows in knees.

We know the only reason you are reading this was for the filth mentioned in the title (the things we have to do to get folks reading these days). Well done for holding on this long, here it is:

SotA romance is hardly Mass Effect standard, it seems.

Equipment and housing - the trappings of an adventurer between jobs are available for these unemployed psychopaths as they lounge about in their ghetto with no monsters to kill. Surely a recipe for disaster.

They call him 'Lord British', but this all looks suspiciously French to me. ;)

A Measure of Lord British

If I ever get the chance to become a super-villain with my own clone workshop, I aim to build a Frankenstein's game developer from the some of the great pioneering minds of the industry. As well as Elite: Dangerous' David Braben, high on my list of gaming forefathers whose essence I aim to distil is Richard 'Lord British' Garriott.

Garriott's contributions to modern gaming cannot be overestimated, with his Ultima series of the previous century shaping many of the gaming tropes which are still relied upon today. Perhaps most critically, his focus on ethical choices, open world interaction and non-linear, classless character progression in Ultima Online pushed against the tired quasi-Gygaxian model that could be found in every other faux-medieval fantasy game.

As a long-time EVE Online player - a game designed around a combination of Elite, Ultima Online and Magic: The Gathering - I am glad to see the return of one of gaming's original frontiersmen and hope that we see him continue to push boundaries and show the industry how its done.

Published Dec. 14th 2013

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