Some Good Things Far from the initially expected "It will run on a tablet" Ultima X that we were expecting for our $1m Kickstarter, people's happy memories of past Ultima games have allowed Shroud to net significantly more cash and grow into a much more ambitious creature. But can it compete for your free time against AAA rivals like the innovative, pacey, meta-event riddled zerg-fest that is Guild Wars 2 or the caviar-quality, fully voice-acted, $200m (how much???) gargantuan, hard-disk gobbling slab of roleplaying goodness that is Elder Scrolls Online? Y'know I really think so! Here's some stuff I really like and some comments: Starting off - new user experience is sound The character creation is more interactive and nothing like that found in other games. It is something we will recognise as much more "Ultima" in feel. The Oracle suggested I would make a good mage and set me on the Path of Truth. I thought "No, I will be who I want to be, matey!" There have been complaints about a general lack of quests but that is not the case in the starting zones. After those areas and the first major city you will soon have a fat list of things to do - I like the way you click on the list of current quests/tasks and it brings up the relevant page of the journal without you having to flick through. Having an adventure trainer in the starting areas is a good idea as new players can begin unlocking different skill branches, testing out different weapons and spell skills straight away. Only 100G each too - thats only about 2 or 3 mobs worth of loot drops. Freedom - Just right Arabella encourages you to progress the three paths simultaneously. Or you can just say "sod-it" and wander off in any direction to do your own thing. What a change from the painfully linear fare you get in Eastern MMOs where you just continually press F and Autopath to the next destination in the quest chain. You can use any armour, any weapon or any spell. And if you don't like it, just untrain the skills you want to get rid of. In most other games you have to commit yourself and then you are stuck with it! (Unless you fork out some real world cash to buy a character class change token...) Keep developing the in-game map! The map is a god-send - it merits continued development as a priority I think. Very handy when it works - just mouse-over the little icons to see the locations & npc's. Huge groan when you enter an area and you get the "Map not found in database" black window of death, or even more offputting, the map of a different area altogether! Keep the puzzles coming These are not related to quests and you just happen upon them whilst exploring. In South Longfall Woods I found a sizeable building with no obvious entrance. Wandering around I found I could gain access climbing up some rubble to one side. Upon entry I am promptly attacked by a nest of spiders and after seeing them off I find a written clue about two brothers. I just so happens that there are two staues here which can be rotated! Following the clue and rotating them towards the sea unlocks a tomb door and you can get the treasure. A sequence of events which was totally unexpected and... cool. Housing - Brilliant but needs to be more easily accessible to new players I think it is astounding how much effort players have obviously put in to decorating their homes. I can quite understand why - it is great fun and easy to place decorations and the amount of different possible placeables is staggering. I think it must be made easier to acquire lot deeds to help new players experience this. To miss out on owning a property is to miss out on a key part of SOTA. Relying on an expensive lottery ticket (or a one in a million loot drop) just doesn't cut it. Rent levels are also a bit of a joke. Stick to village lots and row lots folks. The good fight! Those are some good things. SOTA is laid-back, sizeable, charming and, rather amusingly, not easy to play. Yes, it will fight you! For example, travel is tricky. There is no zipping all over Novia via wayshrines here. Indeed, you had better start friending everyone you see and carrying around a ton of teleport scrolls otherwise you are left with having to navigate passes or wait for very slow Moongates (how many cups of tea and biscuits can you get through before the Moongate points to where you want to go???) For example, crafting is... tricky! Consider: I want to craft a mace. I have a recipe for a mace head, but not the mace itself. So then I have to discover who sells a mace recipe because not many NPC's do... Arrgh! I have the mace recipe but it tells me I need to craft a handle. Now I need to find an NPC that sells a handle recipe! There is a great sense of achievement you get when you can craft all of the required components of the item you want. Oh, and the crafting interface is much improved from what I remember. Click on what you want to make and if you have the ingredients they pop up in the crafting window without you having to search for anything. Nice! Addictive Yes, Shroud is a compulsive little puppy isn't it? A good time-burner. Obviously I can't let down the good folks of Tyria, or those of Tamriel, but for the moment I think Novia is "where it's at" !