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Checking in on Update 9

Robert Lashley Posted:
Interviews 0

Last week I hosted a livestream interview with Richard Garriott and Starr Long of Portalarium. Portalarium is currently working on Shroud of the Avatar. When I caught up with Richard and Starr they were at DargonCon in Atlanta showing off their game. At the same time other members of the Portalarium team were present at PAX Prime in Seattle. I asked Richard and Starr about the latest news with update 9 and about what we could expect in update 10.

The biggest addition to update 9 was the implementation of team based PvP. PvP was not scheduled to go into the game this early but Richard explained that if they added PvP to the game now that they inherently balance combat skills for PvE at the same time, whereas if they balanced character abilities based upon PvE that they could be out of line for PvP. In the long run balancing for PvP upfront saves the team time and effort. I’d also like to point out with development being based on a crowd funded budget efficiencies like this saves Portalarium money.

Having two teams from Portalarium at different locations over the weekend provided an opportune backdrop to have team based PvP matches. The PAX team vs the Dragon Con team. At the moment there is not a lot of flash to the team PvP. It is a death match arena with players on both sides trying to annihilate each other. It serves its purpose of laying a foundation from which to build however. Something special to SotA became very apparent during my time in the arena. While not entirely unique SotA does have a classless character system. Players will develop their avatars with skills not archetypes. If you want to wear plate armor and cast spells you can. But there will be consequences for your choices.

If you decide to equip that two-handed sword and plate mail while casting you will suffer from a lot of “fizzles.” Fizzles are miscasts. Times you attempt to cast a spell and they are unsuccessful. The account I used during the stream was a demo account that any person attending PAX Prime had access to. Someone that had access to the character before I did had them decked out in plate, had a two handed sword equipped and then set them up with mostly caster abilities. Needless to say I was destroyed in PvP. The majority of my spell casts ended in fizzles. After a couple of matches Starr gave my character light armor more suited for a caster and I took on a support role and started healing my team members instead of trying to wage war directly with my opponents. Things were going pretty well until the other side figure out I was the only one healing and then I became public enemy number one.

We also talked a little bit about the current state of the combat system. SotA has a deck based combat system. Players can determine what skills go into their decks. These skills then randomly populate on the skill bar like drawing cards from a deck. This offers a varied experience and it is less static than typical RPG combat. Richard and team want to try and do something different than every other tab target, macro heavy, hotbar based combat system and deck combat offers that. Also during combat you can have slugs pop up on your action bar. Slugs eat up a slot and allow your character to do nothing with that draw. This deck based system was in update 8 but has had some upgrades for update 9.

New skills were added and the look of the cards have changed. Cards have been given colors based on whether they are a support ability, damage ability, heal, or debuff. Portalarium made this change to help players recognize faster what skills are on their bar. For update 10 the team plans on adding in some preconstructed decks for players to choose from to lower the barrier to entry for combat. These decks will be designed so they have certain synergies and stop players from creating decks on accident that will not be very helpful to them. Players are still allowed to create their own decks so the system isn’t being restricted it is just being tailored to offer more help to the uninitiated. 

I do have some concerns about the current combat system. Due to the lack of knowing where your skills are going to be on your hotbar you constantly have to look at your hotbar to know which skills you can activate and when. Players have no way of knowing in advance what key binds the skills will be associated with. I find this to be very distracting. It shifts your focus from the field of combat to being on your hotbar while the game passes you by. Starr said they are talking about limiting what slots certain skills could appear in to help players having a feeling for where skills will be to help keep their attention on the action and not on the skill bar. Also combat currently has a global cooldown but they plan on taking that out for update 10.

We also spent about 30 minutes just exploring the town of Ardoris. It is a huge new town with a Mediterranean feel with some Eastern Asian tones infused. We looked at a variety of player housing that was available. These ranged from rank and file row houses to two large manors for high dollar backers. I even figured out that the signs in front of the houses said “For Sale” in Runic.

Update 10 for SotA is due out on September 25th. This update is mostly focused on polishing the content that is already in the game but there will be some minor additions including the ones I already mentioned. Once this update is live, and all future updates, I’ll dive back in with Starr and take you on another guided tour of New Britannia. Make sure to leave comments below on what you would to hear us talk about.

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Robert Lashley

Rob Lashley is a Staff Writer and Online host for MMORPG.com. Rob's bald and when he isn't blinding people from the glare on his head talking in front of a camera you can chase him down on twitter @Grakulen or find him on YouTube @RobUnwraps.