Well friends, it's hard to believe that another year is about to close. As far as MMORPG's go, it was a fairly stale and bland year. We've seen premier titles launch, and we've even seen a few close up shop. I guess you could say we've run the entire gamut in 2007. However, in my humble opinion there was one particular title that shined through as the diamond in the rough in 2007:
THE MMO THAT ALMOST WAS NOT
We begin our journey with a rocky and tumoltuous start. A man by the name of Brad McQuaid, co-founder of a small company called Sigil, promised the MMO community that his new game, that had been in the works for several years now was going to take the industry by storm with it's innovative and free-form (sandbox) play features. The man had the vision AND the experience behind him to pull it off, and he was an excellent salesman and public relations guy. However, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, probably due to it's epic and grandioise nature was simply not ready to be released in it's current state. And he and his company were broke.
So what do you do when you are broke? If you have faith in your product, you try to get more money by any means possible. If you don't want to see your vision vaporize you do what you can to save it. So he releases the game to the world on January 20th, 2007 to what could be called a "playable, but unfinished state."
However, before passing final judgement on this title in it's initially released state, and nit-picking at the smaller complaints, lets take a look back at what actually IS included in the original vision of the game, most of which is now currently in-game or on the list to be added sometime in the future:
- A massive, unique, beautiful, non-instanced, 3-D game world sprawling across 3 separate land masses, with large oceans of water between them. And there is room to grow. The devs created the world with expansions in mind, so that they could add land/content above and below the current land masses, as well as in the oceans.
- Dynamic weather
- Personal ships
- Personal mounts
- Personal flying mounts
- Player built and owned Housing and real estate (non-instanced)
- A crafting system that is 2nd to none in innovation and creativity
- Player controlled harvesting of resourses
- An actual stake in in-game politics, known as Diplomacy
- A full featured guild system, along with player built guild halls
- 18 professions and 9 races
- 1 character could take up and fully explore not only their chosen profession, but be a crafter, harvestor and diplomat in addition. No need to roll new characters to pursue any of these avenues.
- Brotherhoods (aka Fellowships in early game) so you and your friends could level together regardless of your actual time played
- Caravans due to the enormous size of the game world, it allows roleplayers the ability to travel the length of the quest even while not logged into the game (i.e. your party stays constant and uninturrupted)
Most of the above items are very unique to this game and are firsts in the genre. I did not elaborate too much on the breadth and scope of each of the above but you get the general idea. The mere fact that the game world is non-instanced means it's special. I challenge anyone to compare item by item, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes and any of the existing MMO's out there right now. I don't mean games that are up and coming, but MMO's that are currently released. I'd say you would have a hard time doing so.
So hype was up at it's release and it seemed destined for success based on initial sales and subscriptions. MMO players were happy to see a hard-core, sandbox, open game like Vanguard come to market. One that reminded them of McQuaid's first release, Everquest. It brought back that feeling of wonder that the original EQ did back in it's heyday.
Then the game's ultimate problems with peformance and lag finally settled in, along with the many player's discovering that many quests were broken, content was not finished, and even some of the promised game features weren't in-game at release. I can't hide the fact that it was a disaster - everyone knew it. Including Sigil and ultimately McQuaid. Initial subscriber numbers were in, and it was decided that it just wasn't enough to keep the game afloat under the Sigil banner. The complaints started raining down hard, and every Tom, Dick and Harry in the gaming community began posting how bad the game was and how Sigil basically should be ashamed of itself and should not have released such an unfinished product. It also became apparent that the game really needed a heavily spec'ed out computer to run it comfortably. It became a nightmare, and Vanguard's very young reputation became tarnished almost overnight.
This is where Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) steps in. Due to the already established relationship between Sigil / SOE and their management teams (i.e. SOE was the publisher for Vanguard and provided back-end support for the game for Sigil) it was an easy marriage. SOE agreed to buy the IP from Sigil, saving it from almost impending doom and gloom. Now, I know there are a LOT of people out there who dislike SOE for various reasons ( I'm not one of them), but to those who really like Vanguard, they are the one's to save it's arse. The game was financially rescued, however at a cost of some of the key people who developed the game. Essentially everyone at Sigil was fired and most were re-hired by SOE to continue on it's legacy.
Since SOE's involvement, the game has improved 300%. I challenge anyone who actually plays the game (I'm not talking about someone who has played the game for 2 weeks and cancelled...I mean people like me who have played since launch) to say it hasn't improved. First of all, performance has impressively gotten better and frame rates have improved.
The new team is working very hard at fixing bugs and broken quests as well as creating new content in the form of not only dungeon type raids, but overland raids. They have merged the servers to a manageable amount and therefore the populations of each server has increased. Finding groups is a lot easier and they have given the players new tools to help with this. In addition, there has been ongoing work on a trial island type scenario that will be released as a "free trial" to the game. They are playing it smart by fully optimizing the trial island to run smoothly and then use it as a base to re-texture the entire game world so that it's performance is increased overall.
Subscriber numbers appear to be going up and word of mouth on forums like these are spreading the newly found joy and love that the devs are giving us. People who left the game in disgust have come back to give it another go and are liking it. I say without hesitation that after almost a full year, the game is much, much better. I highly suggest that anyone interested in a game of this scope and size give it a try. Coming in the next few months will be the "Free-Trial Island". Be on the lookout for that. Keep reading the forums for people who are again enjoying this fascinating and ground-breaking game. It can only get better from here.
It is therefore, in this experienced MMO player's opinion, that Vanguard: Saga of Heroes deserves the MMORPG Shining Star Award of 2007 for it's innovation, and it's ressurrection from near death, into a shiny diamond found in the rough world of MMOs.
Thanks for reading. If you like what you read here, I would love for you to come by my website and participate in the discussions there. Thanks!