Of course, that doesn’t mean the guys at Portalarium stopped at good enough. When it comes to Shroud, I’ve found that this team tends to demonstrate that “good enough,” isn’t in their books. Thus, you’ll also see a number of fairly significant changes in Release 16. I’d say nearly enough new content to constitute a normal pass, even if you weren’t counting the updates to assets.
If you played in the last release, you found your path in Novia blocked at several points by a shimmering magical barrier. Not only do you get to explore more of Novia in this pass, you get all of it. That doesn’t mean all the scenes are done, but you’ll be able to walk the entire continent via the overworld map. There are several scenes that have been done before now in other parts of the continent and then there are a number of random encounters that will be fully functional everywhere.
The team has continued adding additional scenes, as well. In fact, I got to see Richard Garriott explore the area north of the Perennial Coast for the first time as Starr told me about the new scenes they’ve been working on for Release 16. More scenes have been added for the Perennial Coast, and the desert region of Grunwald has also had a few added as the team continue their inexorable advance northwest. Each update should see more Novia scenes in that north and west pattern, minus the few story-specific areas that Richard and Starr say they’re holding back until they implement the larger story.
Improvements to the new player experience are inbound as the team does a little more work on the Perennial Coast. Players have only had the option of going to Braemar via moon gate up to this point. As of the new pass, they’ll also have the option of starting in the continental village of Soltown. To support lower-level players, the Coast has received a pass to bring encounters and creatures down to a more appropriate challenge level. Rejoice, newbies. Lord British has decreed that upon visiting Novia, thou shalt not be auto-schlacked. In his mercy.
Speaking of new characters, those who want increased cosmetic options for their characters are also in luck this time around. The character creation options have been enhanced for Release 16. Specifically, the hair effects have been have improved dramatically and actually look like hair now.
One of the advantages of being able to visit a project personally, rather than just by phone or Skype, is the ability to glance around at what everyone working on as you walk through the office. Combined with the fact that Starr specifically didn’t mention any updates to crafting in this pass, even changing the subject with a hardly suppressed grin when I tried to bring it up, I think we can expect something pretty awesome in an upcoming release.
Crafting was supposed to get a good look this time around, but that slipped for the Unity5-related technical debt. Additionally and unlike most visits, I wasn’t walked around the office this time to see what everyone was working on, but I did spot several screens and saw as many with actual code and spreadsheets, as I did working on assets. So this is unofficial, but I suspect that we’ll see a pretty amazing update to crafting, probably as early as Release 17.
The notes in the forums covering what had been expected in R16 covered new mid-process crafting events that will create opportunities for players to improve or diminish the quality of the end product. With such a dramatic change to the way things are created by players and to allow for the additional crafting skills that will likely come online to support the new mechanics, I’d count on a character wipe in the next release or two.
That could be good news if you’re a new player, or one thinking about whether to jump in or not. It’ll be an opportunity to join on a fresh server. With so many engaged in crafting at the same general level, it’ll be a good chance to get help from folks working on the same sort of things as you are. It may also mean a housing reset, freeing up real estate for those who’d like to secure personal housing. It could be a good idea to jump in now, learn the ropes, and then be ready to run when the wipes do occur, whenever that may be.
Whether new player or old hand, Release 16 for Shroud of the Avatar has a lot more to offer than might have been expected for what is mostly a post-Unity5 performance pass, and I think you’ll find enough to keep you busy over the next month. Personally, I’ve found myself playing for longer and longer stretches with each release. It’s a fact that I think says a lot about the game being built here.
Like I told Richard and Starr last week in Austin, I started as a fan of the people creating this game, but I’ve quickly become a fan of the game itself. I’m betting that’s a common sentiment.