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Release 23 - Empowering the Shadows

Red Thomas Posted:
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Starr Long spoke at the recent Intel Buzz Workshop in Austin, and I really started this article wanting to talk about that.  In his talk about Open Development, or what he called “Co-Development,” Starr made a lot of really important points on how industry developers should be approaching backer interactions.  All those points stem from the interactions he’s had at Portalarium and the fantastic learning opportunity that he’s made of the experience so far.

It turns out that the team really rolled out some awesome content in this release, and I just didn’t have room in the article for it.  That said, I’d highly recommend you take a look at the talk posted in the IntelGameDev channel on Twitch.  If you ever wanted to know how the guys at Portalarium really feel about their backers, there’s a chance to get a real taste of it.  There’s also a later panel with Gordon Walton from the Crowfall team that’s really worth watching, as well.

But on to Shroud of the Avatar and what you can expect out of this month’s release.  In short, some really cool stuff.  They’ve made some big changes to several skills, rolled out a whole new skill tree, continued creating awesome new content, and of course you’ll find plenty of Halloween-related stuff.  There is a wipe for this release, but I think the implementation of the new skill tree and some of the skill enhancements make it worth starting over again.

Halloween Content

No holiday would be complete without the customary thematic content, and Portalarium certainly did their part for Halloween in this new release for Shroud of the Avatar.  There’ll be a ton of new decorations and wearable stuff rolling out in this pass.  You’ll find a selection of masks, and various decorations like jack-o-lanterns and spider webs for you to spread around your in-game residence.

What probably isn’t as widely advertised, but that I think is of particular significance here, is that there’s an effort to ensure in-game versions exist of everything sold in the store.  You can buy a wolf mask, but there’s also a version you can make in the game.  I think the Shroud of the Avatar team made a number of really wise decisions with how they’ve decided to approach their online store.

Using the wolf mask as an example, the one you build in-game isn’t the same as the one you can buy.  The mask is what it sounds like, and just serves as sort of a fun holiday-related item you can pick up in the store.  The in-game version is actually a functional helm-mounted wolf’s head, and I like that they did it that way. 

While released for Halloween, most of this stuff will make awesome decorations for role players all year long.

There needs to be some revenue for the game in order for it to be a healthy project, but you have to do it in a way that doesn’t imbalance the in-game economy or create a system where real money can easily be turned into in-game power.  By ensuring nearly everything they add to the store has an in-game version, the team goes a long way of striking a solid balance between those two concerns. 

More significant to that balance is the fact that while the store-bought item is just a neat cosmetic thing, the in-game produced helm really makes immersive and contextual sense.  Masks are neat, but I expect you’ll see people wearing wolf and bear helms a lot more often.  It’s also something that will go a long way towards creating additional diversity in apparel in the game, which is pretty awesome.  Those who want to support the game’s development can do so and know that they’re not taking anything away from in-game crafters, and that’s the right way to do things like this.

Big Skill Updates

Bigger news to most is that skill updates will create the need for a wipe this month.  The social relationships will be preserved, but skills and content will be reset.  This is to support some pretty cool changes to the skill system, and I’m really excited to see them because it’s another step towards making a meaningful consumption base for alchemists.

The biggest change is the new Subterfuge skill tree, which will include new skills like Distract, Sap, Engage, and Poison Weapon (which will require alchemical poisons).  Several existing skills will move to the Subterfuge tree, which makes sense.  Camouflage, Silent Movement, Sneak Attack, Trip, Train Dexterity, and Armor Weak Points are all moving to support the new tree, which should give in-game sneaks a big grin.

Oh, and Portalarium moved this month… and still managed to release so much content I can’t cover it all!

There are other new skills going in, as well.  Chaos in particular picks up a couple new ones, including what might be my favorite one in this pass.  Look for the new Chaotic Step, a really cool spell that randomly teleports the caster a distance in some direction.  Just be advised that up is also a direction, which is then quickly followed by down.  Said direction being significantly less healthy than others for the caster, I’d suggest that some discretion would be in order.

Weave Chaotic Step with Mirror Image, and you have a really awesome combo that leaves a copy behind.  I can see this one being particularly useful in PvP.  Chris Spears tells me that to make it more effective, they’ve changed the way Mirror Image works, as well.  The copy used to run straight to you as soon as it was cast, making this combo a little less effective than desired.  The new version stays in place, rather than broadcasting to the world where you just blinked to.

There are actually quite a few other updates to existing skills and trees, also.  It’s definitely worth your time to check into this in the forum post for this patch.  I don’t have space to cover it all, but there are a number of really good changes in store that you’ll want to know about before starting combat.

Players can purchase wolf masks in the on-line store, or craft helms in-game.

One massive change I did want to make sure I made you aware of was the new Attunement system, though.  Each school of magic now has an Attunement skill tied to it, which can be toggled on and off for training like any other skill.  This skill has some wider impacts that you need to know about.  As you increase your Attunement in one school, you’ll become stronger in that school.  You’ll do more damage and have higher resists to that sort of damage.  Conversely, it lowers your Attunement in the opposing school.

That means you may become an expert at Necromatic magic and be able to drain much more life per cast of Tap Soul, but Life mages attempting to heal you will have much diminished results.  Another way to look at it, might be that the warrior who devotes a little time to building his attunement to Life magic will be healed for more, but will be far more vulnerable to hostile Death magic.


Of course, the team at Portalarium have done a lot to flesh out the game in the last month beyond skills and Halloween curious.  Highvale, the third and final starting location is now in the game, starting a questline focusing on the plight of the Verdantis Elves.  Like Blood River, the area around the starting point hasn’t been as developed as the area around the Perennial Coast, but that work will be coming. 

Perennial Coast was a test area for a lot of the technology and major elements for the game, so you’ll find a lot more to do around Ardoris, as opposed to some of the newer starting scenes.  New players would be advised to head towards Soltown after leaving which ever starting point they choose.  You’ll find more story and questing easier until the newer areas get filled out.  Just run the gauntlet of any control points in the way.  If you die, there will be an Ankh near either entrance for resurrecting yourself.

The Vertas Elves will start getting some attention, and their history is laden with the complexity that’s typical of Richard Garriott games.

You’ll additionally see new creatures in this pass, and some cool new AI behavior to go along with them.  Satyrs and Fauns will nearly always be found in pairs, with the enslaved Fauns acting as healers for the Satyrs.  Killing the Satyr first will cause the Faun to run away, but killing the weaker Faun first will enrage the Satyr. 

Do you fight while the Satyr is being healed, or do you fight a berserk Satyr?  New battle tactics will be called for in dealing with these guys, which are just a test case for future support-class AI.  As cool as the Satyr/Faun combo is, it heralds even cooler stuff in the pipe for later.

The team has been also working with Razer to enhance support for Chroma in Shroud of the Avatar, and Razer should be releasing version 4.8 drivers pretty quickly.  The team has been working with the latest drivers directly from Razer, so you should be good to apply the latest when they’re released (and that should be very soon).  The list of supported Chroma devices continues to grow, and it’s pretty interesting to see how the Portalarium developers take advantage of it to support Shroud.

Wrapping It Up

I really scratched the surface on new content in this release.  I’ve been told that few enjoy reading my overly long posts quite as much as I do, however.  Thus, I’m trying to stick to just the major stuff.  You’ll find a far more comprehensive list in the Shroud of the Avatar forums, and if you’re a fan of the game, you’ll really like what you see.

Frankly, I’m really shocked that they’ve gotten as much done as they have, but they have managed to add a lot of new folks to the team.  That’s obviously giving Portalarium the power to do more, and they’re seizing on it fanatically to push the development past all bounds.  It does help that most of the major systems are now in the game and they can focus on content and filling in the blank spots from here on.

That said, they still make occasional major changes, and I think for the better, especially in this next release.  The new skill tree, magical attunements, and other changes to existing skills just created a huge amount of added complexity to the world.  I love that.  Complexity allows players to develop unique experiences in the world, which allows for the sort of emergent behavior that defines the very best MMOs.

Shroud of the Avatar has always been a good game for that sort of freedom in character experiences, but they’re getting even better at it with every release.  I can’t say the game is necessarily for everyone, but if you’re the sort who likes diving into a world without pre-defined expectations of who you’ll be or what you’re supposed to do, Shroud might be the game for you.  Choices have consequences, but then that’s sort of what makes it feel almost real isn’t it?


Red Thomas

A veteran of the US Army, raging geek, and avid gamer, Red Thomas is that cool uncle all the kids in the family like to spend their summers with. Red lives in San Antonio with his wife where he runs his company and works with the city government to promote geek culture.