This article will be my 6th of a continuing miniseries titled: Insight. It isn't mandatory to read the previous editions, but they do add context and continuity. You can jump to those and check them out via the links below:
Lately I've been harping a lot on how today's slate of MMORPGs have failed to bring their computer AI (for both mobs and NPCs) up to par. While graphics and combat have come so far, the real meat of the content in these games has barely progressed at all. It's generally still getting delivered the same way, and there haven't been many real innovations, particularly when it comes to MMOs.
It's still the same old stuff, and quite frankly - a lot of people out there are done with it.
Shroud of the Avatar
This game concerns me.
While there is certainly a lot to like about it, I have to wonder if there will be enough innovation on the content side to sustain this game and make it anything other than another niche MMO that feels lonely. The reality is that most MMORPGs fall incredibly short of providing emergent and self-sustaining content. Such a concept requires at least one of two things (ideally, both); either a return to socially-dependent mechanics, or improved AI systems that allow the game to renew itself.
I'm not so sure SotA has either of these.
While there are large efforts being made to increase the immersion and provide the foundation for an awesome community (which from the outside appears to be very much the case right now), I don't know if that will ultimately be enough for a persistent online game world to thrive. I hope it will be enough, but I have serious reservations.
What Makes It Interesting
What Shroud of the Avatar truly brings to the table is a multi-faceted game in that players will have the ability to experience the content however they want. They'll be able to play alone offline in a focused NPC-driven experience, as well as connected in groups or with hundreds of other players. It's an intriguing concept that may begin to change the way we imagine RPGs as an experience. I'm not entirely certain that this multi-functional game will be able to fully satisfy both single-player RPG fans, and fans of larger MMORPGs, but it definitely has a chance.
The developers are giving it their best shot, and they've got a very talented and creative Lead Lore Designer in Tracy Hickman, and a very experienced Lead Game Designer in Richard Garriott. These two should be able to provide an experience befitting of fantasy RPG fans everywhere. I expect the story and narrative to truly be top notch, but that doesn't eliminate my concerns about the game's ability to keep players constantly active and interested. Though, I will definitely be diving into this game and finding out what truly makes it unique either way, (which from the rumors so far, seem to revolve around the game's current community).
Another Take on Combat
While I don't necessarily believe that iterating on Combat is the primary solution for what is truly plaguing today's MMORPGs, moving away from traditional class-funneling tab-target systems that revolve entirely around the holy trinity of Tank, Healer, DPS will always get noted in my book as a strong positive.
I'm a huge fan of trading card games, particularly Magic the Gathering. I've always enjoyed the customization and creativity that game afforded long-time players, particularly in casual legacy formats where players can freely build decks (within defined rules) that allow them to craft a playing experience they truly enjoy - win or lose. I don't have enough experience currently with Shroud of the Avatar to make a judgement call on its current state - but I know what mechanics make those kind of systems both viable and fun. I'm eager to put SotA combat to the test to see if it feels as free, creative, and rewarding as a TCG like Magic.
There's just something to be said about a game that allows you to build a class (and define your character) rather than preselect a permanent class or profession that never allows you to change, adapt, or alter your play-style further down the road. I'm not so sure it will be enough to make the game a must-play, but it is a step in the right direction.
That bodes well for RPG fans, and for that reason - above all others - I will definitely give it a fair run.
I'm anxiously waiting for the stars to align and a game to come along that will finally innovate on the stagnation of current MMORPGs and do something that finally makes these games feel alive.
To me, that means putting the emphasis back on player interaction and also increasing both the level of immersion in the game-world itself, and in the creation of a self-sustaining system where NPCs and mobs can keep the world spinning on their own. Without either of those, I think games will continue to fall short of expectations; expectations that many of us probably have no idea we actually possess. Eventually one of these games will come around.
Until one does I'll be keeping a close watch on games like this one, that is at least not moving further from the goal.
If you'd like to see some Shroud of the Avatar first hand, from the perspective of an avid role-player, then come join me this evening as I stream the game live on Twitch here with TenTonHammer. The broadcast will start right around 9PM Eastern time on our Twitch network channel, and you can find more details about that and our other planned streams in this week's Open-World Wednesday thread.
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues Game Page.