Let's get right down to business - I played Vanguard the first day it was released, and cancelled within the first month. It was buggy, poorly optimized, and lacking in many areas. With the latest updates to the game, I decided to give it another shot. Below I'll outline how things went and what I think about the game so far. For some images from my travels, scroll to the bottom :)
Installation and patching~
This was a breeze. Installation took about 20 minutes (I had the original installation discs), and patching the game took about 2 hours (I'm on a 5mbps cable connection). Before patching I had to re-activate my account, and much to my surprise SOE had revamped this part of the process. It was much easier and smoother then the last time, so that was nice. All said and done, it was about 2 hours 30 minutes from installing the software to logging in for the first time.
First login, and character creation~
Upon first logging in, I noticed my old characters were still there. Their servers had changed after the server merge, but that's no big deal. I have an 18 Sorcerer and a 23 Bard - but I decided to roll a new character to really experience the game fresh again. Creating a new character is easy - this time I decided to make a Wood Elf Ranger (Wood Elf for the extra +Dex per level, as well as the fast wolf transformation runspeed buff they get). Rangers just looked like a lot of fun, as they are categorized as an offensive fighter in the game. Vanguard gives the player a ton of options when customizing your character. Every single aspect can be changed, from sizes to weights, from cheekbones to ear widths, heights, locations, etc. You can even change things like arm size in respect to leg size, neck length, and more. All in all, your guaranteed to make a character that is very different then anyone else.
Entering the game for the first time - first thoughts~
I entered with my newly made Wood Elf Ranger, Torax. This time around I am playing the game with all graphical settings maxed out (16x AF as well). Sadly the game does not support AF yet, but this is in the works for a future patch. Upon entering the world, I was blown away... there's no other way to put it. The shadowing, the landscapes, the view distance - amazing. I had completely forgotten how majestic this game really does look.. Travelling around is a real treat, the landscapes have so much to show and there is always something you find while exploring. I finally uploaded some ingame screenshots I took - look at the bottom of the blog to find them.
Questing, Leveling, and the GUI~
I began by picking up the starting quest line and running through it. It's pretty straight forward and I really enjoyed the story it told. One thing I had forgotten was how slowly you level in this game. That's never a bad thing, as you really feel like you earn each level. Every even level you can train new skills at your respective trainers, and they usually have quite a few [skills] for you to learn. The quests give decent equipment as you work your way through them, and after the first 4-5 levels I was really getting into the game. The GUI is pretty simple, so I decided to use a customized GUI to really expand the information shown onscreen. I went with DroxUI as it has a lot of features and is pretty much bug free.
Guilds, groups, and other randomness~
The next big thing I wanted to do before I got past level 5 was join a guild. The new socials panel really helps ease players into that process of finding the right guild. Un-guilded players can load up the guild section of the socials panel, and get a quick overview of ALL guilds on the server currently seeking players (similar to the EQ2 socials panel). Each guild listed is selectable and shows a list of officers currently online and offline. I was even able to set my options for what type of guild I wanted out of a list of around 20. Things like casual friendly, chatty, raid oriented, group oriented, crafting, adventuring, etc. I found a guild very quickly, struck up a conversation with an officer and within 20 minutes I was a new recruit to the Black Sun guild. This is a big step for me, as it helps me to meet new players quickly and really get into the social aspect of the game. The guild, with around 380 members at the time of this writing, has 10-30 members on at any given time and is very active. It's great as the first thing one of the officers did was craft me some great weapons. I also grouped up from time to time as I quested, and it was easy and fun. The new LFG tool in the game is fantastic and makes finding groups a snap - you can specify what type of group you want (dungeons, questing, adventuring, etc) and then even specify which quests or which dungeons you want to explore. The tool even shows you how far from each dungeon you currently are and their level ranges - making it very simple to isolate the closest, in-level-range dungeon you want to explore with others. I would also highly recommend installing a map mod like InfoMap Advanced. Not only does it add a mini-map to the game, but it updates all the game maps with new, detailed ones that contain many more POI's and locational information (harvesting nodes, binding stones, etc).
Optimizations and enhancements~
I'm sure many of you are curious about this - the game engine is much better now. The chunking problem is non-existant. The animations for running, walking, and fighting are a lot smoother now as well. Overall the game engine is much more responsive and the framerates are higher all around. With all the settings maxed, I get on average 20-60 FPS depending on where i'm at. Huge cities bring me down to the 20's, other places I run from 30-50 usually. Remote locations I can get up to 70+ fps. The vanguard team is working on a new NPC structure that should greatly enhance the npc's of the game, and improve performance at the same time. They are also working on revamping the city of Khal, streamlining it and overall making it a better place to stay.
Well, I'm loving the game. I'm level 9 currently, and i've been playing for 2 days. I've accomplished a lot so far, from joining a guild to exploring the land to grouping and adventuring. I find myself getting pulled into the quests due to the immersion of the world around me. I can't wait to get a mount and a ship at some point - and who knows, maybe even a house! Our guild is currently working on a guild hall, and once that's complete we will all have a place to congregate and hang out together. It's exciting times. I'm impressed with the vanguard team as well - even though we've all heard that they have been decreased in size, they still manage to really put out quality patches that are quite big in scale. I believe they plan to have a trial at some point, and this is when I recommend everyone to come give the game a try again - you'll be thoroughly impressed. If you can't wait, then come on down and join the Seredan server... shoot Torax a tell and let's strike up some good times :)