Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. Like it or hate it, there's a high chance that you've heard of it, and probably played it at launch. I heard of it, following it on and off for a couple of years, before it dropped off my radar until it came out. Of course, I avoided it like the plague after I was told it was a huge, buggy grindfest..
However, recently I heard that they'd released a free 14-day trial, and decided to try it out, have a bash at it and see how the game rolled. After playing it until I completed the Isle of Dawn ( the trial area ) and after doing the Logical Fallacies blog post, I've decided upon doing a review-ish blog about the game itself, interspersed with some advice for people considering playing the game.
It's both daunting and enjoyable to open up the character creation screen and find nineteen races and fifteen classes ( although, unfortunately, not all races can be all classes, which was a bit of a disappointment ). Unlike quite a few other games, the bonuses you get from your race appear to be fairly notable in Vanguard, so I made sure to read the race bonuses to make sure I could min-max. I liked the sound of dreadknights, so I decided to roll one of them, and ended up selecting orc as my race, as they both looked semi-decent and had bonuses that seemed to complement my class choice.
Then, we went onto server choice, and since I'm a bit of a roleplayer, I chose Seradon, as it is apparently the unofficial roleplaying server, being a merger from a roleplaying server. Next, name choice! I have to say, this was pretty bloody hard. EVERY decent name I thought of was taken ( or at least "Unavailable" ), so I settled on Ashkain, picking the delightful surname of Deathfeast to go with it.
I bet you're all thinking, "Huh, can't you customise your character or something? What the hell is going on?" but it turns out V:SoH decided to do character creation a strange way. You choose your character's appearance post class and race choice, on your first log in to the game. I suspect that you're able to edit your character's appearance whenever you feel like, although I'm not certain of this.
Anyway, customising appearance is a bit of an awkward topic, it seems. It has an Oblivion-esque "bars" system, where you can change nose length etc, although this always seems to end up with me making an exceptionally ugly character, and just resetting and going with the starting face. However, fortunately for me and undoubtedly unfortunately for people who can actually make semi-decent looking characters, a combination of hood / helm and generic face textures pretty much renders your choices useless, as you end up looking close to the same as others of your race or your face is covered so it doesn't matter. Take heed of the fact that the sheer amount of races means you'll rarely see one of the same, unless you pick the really overplayed races ( generally humans ).
The first log in to the game was disgusting, mainly because of the sheer wave of lag and FPS drop I was hit with ( crappy laptop and EU player on a US server, it was really expected ). After a short time of playing with the settings, I was sitting at a reasonable FPS, and trodding off to do some quests.
Questing is the usual affair, nothing really new to comment on, although the occasional having to actually trawl through conversations to find the information needed or to pick up a hidden quest was both annoying and made being immersed a bit easier. Also, having quests based around the three "spheres" ( crafting, diplomacy and combat ) was both necessary and good for those who enjoy those aspects, and their storylines combined nicely. Some aspects of questing annoyed me a bit, like having to find semi-hidden chests and not being able to go and pick up one at a spot you'd been at. Some of the quests felt like a bit of a grind, too, mainly the diplomacy / crafting ones as I could usually just steamroll them once and they got a bit old after that.
From what I've heard, the gameworld outside of the Isle of Dawn is absolutely huge, three smaller continents and one absolutely huge one, but luckily you get a mount pretty much from the get go at level 10, so that should make any exploring fanatic feel at home. It seems you can enter pretty much any building, as all the ones on the Isle of Dawn had openable doors, and were fully furnished.
Speaking of homes, apparently there's player housing ( although apparently only in residential areas, unfortunately ) and it can be fairly customised. There is none on the Isle of Dawn, though, so I cannot comment.
One of the things that struck a note with me was the little system messages you got when you performed an action or left / entered a zone. On occasion, they were a bit silly, but for the most part they added a little bit to the world.
Graphically speaking, the game world is quite pretty, although most of it was green / brown-ish apart from the occasional tree ( strangely ). BUT, the characters are a bit poor. They've very, very wooden, and the animations seem like they've had only the minimum of effort put into them, as if attempting to please but not really being bothered if the end result fits completely. The animations aren't as bad as games like Warhammer Online, but they're still pretty damn poor.
The gritty graphics suit the world a bit, giving it a fairly harsh semi-realistic setting, which is a nice contrast in a fantasy world, as it plays off against the whole magic thing.
Note: I played this game on an awful laptop, so my screenshot graphics will suck utterly. The game will probably be much more appreciated on a higher quality PC.
Honestly? Nothing new to really see here, except that some of my abilities seemed to give debuffs that I didn't know what they did, and apparently get better off certain debuffs. I had no idea what was going on, and it made me distance myself from the combat a small amount.
I doubt you're going to get much out of this game if you're a PvP fan. The only things I can see that're PvP are duels and it sounds like there's an arena when you get into the real game. There is a PvP server, but that's apparently highly underpopulated. The game is not balanced around PvP, so don't go into it expecting a fair fight.
Ah, now, I have to say, this is where Vanguard shines. To be fair, it's not as good as SWG's was, but it's still different from the industry norm. You see, in Vanguard, you start crafting, and then - as you go through the crafting - you have to try and make sure that you don't run out of action points or utilities, whilst progressing through the crafting and achieving the best grade of item possible. This is not as easy as it sounds, as you come across problems, and have to solve them.
There are three main crafting "classes" which further branch out into two each, and they offer a fairly wide variety of choice for any player who's interested in it. From what I've heard ( I went blacksmith, so I can't comment ) artificers and outfitters make "buff" items to help you along, and artificers can almost eventually build the majority of a player house by themselves.
Now, onto the crafting itself. For a blacksmith, it went in four "blocks". Harvesting, crafting the components of the items, crafting a secondary component and crafting the item itself. Along the way, I could infuse my items with "dust", which would allow me to give it special properties and make it worthy of being worn, instead of just being a white item.
The crafting, whilst nice and refreshing, did get a bit repetitive after awhile, and I noticed that - if I didn't skill up my individual "proficiencies" of skills ( ie. weaponsmithing ) the item would fail over and over again until I did because I did not get as good as quality work on the individual stages in one of the stages. This was unfortunate, and a bit annoying, but nothing that would REALLY put me off the game - it was just a bit of trouble for me.
Note: Anyone who's going to play the trial, I'd really advise you to pick up a deconstruction kit off one of the general goods vendors, as they give you dusts / resources from deconstructing magical items or occasionally an item that vendors for about two silver, which is a nice payback.
Something that seems quite new in an MMO, diplomacy is basically a card game within the game, in which you attempt to control the conversation for an arbitrary amount of turns, in a tug of war-esque minigame.It's fairly hard to describe, you have to play it to get it properly.
Sadly, it seems that Sigil / SOE let us down majorly here because, from what I've heard, diplomacy is little more than a means to another sphere's means. This leads to a diplomat being little more than a buffbot for other characters as he convinces NPCs of his cause, which leads them to buff all nearby players. It could've been a much better thing if a group of diplomats could've convinced a town to join their faction or whatever, but maybe we'll see a similar system in a game in the future.
Note: If you're going to do diplomacy, make a strategy that limits one of the enemy's abilities, like flattery, as that'll stop the harder ones from using their best moves.
Something that annoyed me a bit about Vanguard was how utterly bland the lore is. For the most part, games developers aren't the best writers, and I think we can accept that ( and they could hire a professional writer, or something ), but when it's a really, REALLY typical setting like this, it's a bit annoying. Someone in the regional chat said something like, "Vanguard has the most lore out of any fantasy setting I've seen." Well, it might have, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's GOOD or CLEVER. I don't know, your mileage may vary.
Conclusion ( 7/10 )
I don't know what to make of Vanguard. It's got a large world, player housing, nice crafting and a decent "diplomacy" system, but I don't know if it's worth my £8.99 per month at the moment. It feels like something's missing, but I might end up finding that on the mainland. I also don't know if the game has a huge amount of longetivity, since it doesn't really seem to be supported much by Sony, which is a huge shame. I'll probably just try some more classes and professions and see how it rolls from there.
I DO, however, advise you all to try the trial and see what you make of it. You may find the home you've been looking for for so long.
P.S. All of this was written post-playing the game, so I may have messed up somewhere and gotten something wrong, or just said something silly. Please, do correct me, and give lots of bumps! ( That button's at the top. ) Also, I'm quite willing to take any requests for future games to do the trials of, so make comments!