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The weekend has brought us a new hands-on preview of Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues, and this time it's coming from Eurogamer with a bold statement that the title is "Ultima Online 2 in so many ways". Of course, there are a few caveats:
Shroud of the Avatar isn't as charming as Ultima Online yet, but it's going for the same look and the same feel. You sign for trades with NPCs, type keywords to prompt NPC reaction and cast (some) spells with reagents - and they can fail, Fizz. The music can be near identical in places and it's lovely, a real reason to listen, although the sound effects are placeholder bad. There's all the player housing surrounding the cities - grandiose abodes and even castles - and the classless skill system, the player-run economy and myriad crafting options and tables. At times you really could be in a 3D version of Ultima Online, only without the elegance of that isometric world.
Ultima Online had a whimsy, a feeling of a dusty old tome: parchment menus, leather bag interiors for backpacks, stony health bars. The interface in Shroud changed from something similar to something ugly and functional for Early Access, and I hope it doesn't stay that way. Characters have a cartoony feel, and the environments are mainly murky and dull. Cities and a day-night cycle sporadically elevate it, but the poor performance besmirches their efforts.
But Shroud of the Avatar also sets out to do things differently. It's not a pure MMO but a "selective multiplayer" game. You can play it offline, alone, ignoring everyone else forever, or you can play it online in a number of ways. You can play Single-Player Online, ignoring everyone else but making use of the shared economy and world; you can play Friends Only online, seeing only your friends; or you can play it in full multiplayer online and see everyone else.
Combat has changed for a deck building system and uses skill trees, neither of which were in Ultima Online. When you level up, you earn Skill Points, and can spend them in whichever tree you like. Doing so unlocks active glyphs (abilities or spells) that you can build a combat deck with. The glyphs you put in the deck appear at random, and temporarily, in your hotbar during combat. Some can be combined to make combos.