As most of you have probably heard, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes is scheduled to undergo a free-to-play conversion sometime this summer. The game has had a tumultuous history, with a rocky start that included a less than stellar review from us, a dearth of content releases aside from bug-squashing patches, and a general lack of attention paid to it by Sony Online Entertainment. Times are different though, and we re-reviewed the game last year in light of how the MMO landscape has changed and we gave it a better score than we did at launch.
I tend to think of Vanguard as an MMO time capsule, one that has been generally undisturbed for many years. Now that SOE has pledged some support for bringing some vigor back into Vanguard, I do believe it's time to make an appeal to MMO players out there to bring about a resurgence on the world of Telon. As such, today's Devil's Advocate is about discussing what makes Vanguard a worthwhile game to play, and what SOE's renewed interest in the game can potentially do for the game's future.
The Telonian Love Letter
Let me preface this next bit by saying that Vanguard is far from perfect. There are occasional bugs that occur, and I sometimes get stuck behind rocks when I walk too close to them, among other things. Despite these issues, however, the game is a lot of fun and I can cite quite a number of reasons for people who've never heard of Vanguard or who've dismissed it to give it a try.
The first thing that makes me enjoy Vanguard is that it's pretty much an MMO time capsule between two points on the MMO timeline. There are enough modern aspects to it that make it an enticing play for people who are used to World of Warcraft, but there's also quite a bit of the challenging old-school style of play for those who prefer a bit of harshness in their world. On the modern side, you have fast travel, mailboxes, an auction house system, and flying mounts. On the flipside, combat is slower and more dangerous than in other games, death gives an experience penalty and requires a corpse run to pick up any non-soulbound loot you had on you prior to death, and the game has 19 races and 15 classes, each with their own special abilities and bonuses, for added replayability.
The nature of replayability brings me to my second point in this love letter for Telon. The game is multi-layered and allows for a three types of progression, each with their own set of gear and statistics: adventuring, crafting, and diplomacy. Players can work on getting up to level 55 in any of the three parallel progression types, with each of them having major and minor questlines of their own. If you feel like killing stuff and following quests around the world, adventuring is your go-to activity. If you want to build ships, houses, weapons, bags, and other sorts of things, you can craft (and harvest) like a madman to fulfill that need for accomplishment. If you love collectible card games, prefer reading the flavor text of conversations and like creating passive buffs in cities, the diplomacy system will fulfill that need for you.
Finally, I really have to stress the diplomacy system as one of Vanguard's selling points. The Legends of Norrath card game, perhaps the only other MMO card game out there, isn't as robust and as integrated into the game world as the diplomacy system of Vanguard. Basically, engaging in diplomacy lets you encounter non-player characters and engage in parleys with them, with the cards you use as the means to continue the conversation. The objective of the parley is to use your dialogue cards to keep the meter closer to your side of the board for as long as possible until your dialogue timer runs out, allowing you to win the parley, earn experience, and continue questlines. There are also civic parleys, which are non-quest based parleys you can engage in repeatedly with various NPCs to try and earn a civic buff in a given area, such as increased crafting capabilities and enhanced attributes. Gear for diplomats consists of acquiring new conversation cards as well as the management of presence gear: clothes and items that increase your presence with a subset of the world population and allow you to parley with them.
The F2P Transition
Since the big news with Vanguard is its upcoming free-to-play shift, there are some things we can extrapolate from SOE's current happenings in the F2P MMO business in its other games. Of course, there's no assurance that I'll be correct with these predictions, but if SOE's track record is accurate, then some of these will probably come to pass.
The sale of cosmetic goods (for the appearance tab of characters) as well as mounts will probably occur as a main point of purchase through Station Cash. Additionally, we can expect certain races and classes to be sold for Station Cash rather than be made available for free players, though I'm hoping that any races and classes we make will during the subscription phase will remain usable after the transition should we decide to give up our subscriptions.
Sadly, given the news that SOE has removed Station Cash subscription purchases in Everquests 1 and 2 (these were reinstated for a week but will be removed again), we can expect that Vanguard will probably not have the same functionality as well.
One of the things that separates the Everquest games from Vanguard, however, is the parallel advancement structure of its three leveling spheres. Now, while adventuring probably won't get any gear for sale, gear unlocks might not be out of the question given SOE's history. As for the harvesting and diplomacy items, that's up in the air. I wouldn't put it past SOE to sell permanent per-character presence increases though, since getting the right presence gear to engage in some of the low-level diplomacy quests is already a bit of trouble.
One possibility on the crafting side, though, would be the sale of large stacks of materials for easier crafting. Prefabricated ships and houses, as well as housing plot vouchers (you need to purchase a housing plot to build a house on it) may become a boon for those who don't have the in-game currency up front for housing. Of course, there's no telling what sort of havoc crafting material sales might wreak on the game's already weird economy, so I'd want SOE to be cautious of that.
A Hope for Resurgence
Vanguard: Saga of Heroes is a big game, perhaps even overwhelming at times. It doesn't always hold your hand, and is a little rough around the edges, but it rewards patient gamers with variety. While SOE will try to turn it around with a free-to-play switch, it's up to gamers to ultimately decide how Vanguard will fare in the long run.
Hopefully, you'll let this devil's advocate persuade you to give Vanguard a good look, and I do hope to see more folks in-game, fighting the good fight.