The State of Shroud of the Avatar: Redux

As I posted on Twitter yesterday, today marks the one-year anniversary of my post over at the Ultima Codex exploring the development of Shroud of the Avatar and some of the community fears around where the game was in the process. Conveniently today also marks the start of Early Access Release 39, so what better excuse to revisit the topic and share a few updated thoughts on the game a year later? I’ll try not to rehash too much of what I originally covered, but I’d like to explore a little of how the game has evolved since then.

My first observation, especially related to R39, is the updated visuals along the Perennial Coast. Somewhere along the line, the decision was made to make the Perennial Coast an Asian-themed region. As such, they’ve introduced Asian-inspired architecture and clothing for the NPCs, which all look OUTRAGEOUSLY better than previous iterations. If this is the level of visual quality we can expect from the rest of the game, I will be ultra impressed.

The game, overall, has expanded greatly in a year as well. New skills, items, quests, locations, systems, crafting features, and overall polish have seen a lot of effort put in during this time. Is the game better than it was? Loads. Is it done? Nope. Would I recommend jumping now? Well, that depends. If you’re looking for a polished, complete game; no. It’s still not polished and functional as much as it should be. If you wanted to come back and see how much it has improved, I would say have at it. Unless you’re one of the die-hard fans (who admittedly is probably already in-game on a regular basis), I would say continue being patient. This game has been in development for a long time, but it is still moving along at a surprising pace. Portalarium, I am certain, is keenly aware of how long the process has taken, and understands the frustration of it not being finished.

As I said in my previous entry, there is still lots of work left to do. But we’re now getting into the exciting parts where the framework is basically done, and now the juicy bits are getting layered on. NPCs are starting to look unique to each other. There is now more than a few types of armor and weapons for players to use that look different from each other. Locations are starting to feel alive with flora and fauna, and that Ultima feel that we’ve all been waiting for is slowly starting to to propagate through the world.

And that was the whole point. We are all waiting for the Richard Garriott touches that make his games unique and so memorable. Well, in order for those to happen, the game world for them to be placed on top of has to exist in a reasonably solid state. Does that mean the game will ultimately be perfect, now that we’re starting to see some of the glitter? That remains to be seen, but probably not. I’m still anxious for the game, and excited by what’s on offer.

Ultima VII is my favorite game of all time, but was it perfect? Of course not. But I loved it for all that it was. Shroud of the Avatar is a big game, with big ambitions. That means there will be missteps along the way, and there have been already. There will be more.

But at the end of the day, I think the game is still headed in the direction it was intended to, and I think it will be a fun and enjoyable experience. And as always, a healthy dose of patience will help us all better deal with the almost 4-year development cycle that we’re still in. To be fair, 4 years isn’t unheard of, especially given how small the development team and the (relatively-speaking) budget is. I don’t envy the dev team being in the position of having to finish this game that has, at times, unreasonable expectations surrounding it as well as being almost 3 years past it’s “expected delivery” date. But with great power comes great responsibility, and we as Avatars should have no issues being virtuous through this last stretch of development hurdles.