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The persistent shared world of Shroud of the Avatar is viewed as a massive, ornate outdoor map, something Garriott says is meant to look a bit like the maps of Civilization 5. Your over-sized character travels in real-time across the map, with the player viewing from an angled, top-down perspective as they seek out marked locations, other players, foes, friends and monsters. When the player dips into an encounter or a location, the game's perspective shifts from isometric to third-person.
In the early version of the game Garriott showed us, he wandered around the fog-shrouded land (currently nicknamed New Britannia) revealing the map as he traveled. As his sort of Paul Bunyan icon approached a small town, a contextual icon popped up letting Garriott know that he could "step into" the location.
With a click of the keyboard the game zoomed into a third-person perspective, showing the back of Garriott's character as he stood in a walled town.
Garriott says that the communities of New Britannia are broken down into three sizes: farming-oriented, relatively unprotected villages, slightly more fortified towns and very protected larger cities. These locations all include opportunities to purchase land and construct buildings. The player-owned buildings can be used for guild halls, crafting and selling, or just a place to hang out. Garriott walked into one of the houses of the town we visited and showed us that it was filled with interactive objects, like a playable piano.
Homes can be packed up, complete with all of the items in them, and moved to new plots, allowing players to, in theory, create a healthy, real economy around the buying and selling of land. There will be limited amounts of plots in each town and the better the town, the more trafficked the road and solid the defenses, the more valuable the land will become.
"We are still working out the final economics," Garriott said. "When a player trades that house or lot to another player we'll probably take a rake as our cut of the transaction. We're just not sure yet how that transaction itself will take place."
After wandering around inside the peaceful village for a bit, Garriott left the town, returning to the larger outdoor world map and its isometric view. A few seconds later he walked his character to another town, this one on fire.
"That gives us a little hint at what I'm going to find on the inside," he said.
Stepping into the village, we discovered that the town is under siege. Skeletons crowd the outer walls and nearby trebuchets launch flaming balls into the city.
Maneuvering his character toward the catapults, Garriott explains that there is a nearby woman who, if approached, will ask you to save her sister. You can't get into the city, though, until you take out the siege weapons.
Combat, still early in design, seems mundane. Players point and click with their mouse to instigate attacks with weapons or magic.
"The full combat system wasn't quite ready for demoing," Garriott said. "But the way we're doing combat is, what we're trying to get away from is the just repeatedly clicking. I don't have any problem with that, I'm a huge fan of Diablo ... and I personally enjoy that very much. But for something that you want to last for a greater period of time, in a virtual world you want to go live in, you really need to create a combat that isn't just optimizing your damage over time. So we have a skill system that brings up options based upon the things that you have learned.
"Nominally, as you learn more skills you will go into a combat with what you might consider a deck of those skills."
Ultimately, he said, you'll have to pick and choose your load-out before a battle.
A lot more details, including how Garriott plans to expand the game with paid episodes, are available in the full article, so we recommend that you read it in full.