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First Look: Hands-On

Jon Wood Posted:
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Jon Wood gives us his first look impressions of Vanguard

Recently, MMORPG.com headed down to San Diego, California to take part in a press event held by Sigil Online and Sony Online Entertainment to give us a look at their upcoming MMORPG, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes.

Not only did the event give us the access and interviews that led to my previous Vanguard article, but we also had the chance to sit down for a while to get a hands on experience with their game.

The first thing that struck me about this game when I sat down to play was the general look of it. I don't just mean graphics, either. I find the overall art style of this game to be very appealing. Vanguard does a pretty good job of skirting the line between realism and fantasy. Often companies make a decision about the look of their game and take it so far in one direction that takes away from the other. The cartoony style of a game like World of Warcraft sacrifices realism for the sake of having a "fantasy" feel, while I have also played games that tried to look ultra-realistic and in that effort, took the fantasy feel out of their game. Vanguard doesn't succumb to either extreme, looking real enough to satisfy me, while still free enough to be fantasy.

Character creation is serviceable. It's a perfectly functional system that does everything that you need it to do. This is one of those areas of a game that can make or break it for me. My main complaint about Vanguard's character creation system is the same complaint that I've had about character creation in most of the major MMOs: there isn't enough choice. Sure, the character models look pretty, and it's not like you're not given choices, or control over the character's look. I just want more. I don't want to look like other players. I want to look different and unique.

The first character that I made was a Human Paladin. He was a recreation of a character I've been playing in D&D for a while. I'll be honest, for any complaints I may have about their character creation, I was able to make a pretty good representation. The questing system is pretty much what we've all come to know and expect from AAA MMORPGs. At least the opening quests are very much cut and dry and seem to be well enough put together that they will function as a tutorial. That's something that I've come to appreciate in MMO gameplay, seamless tutorials that teach newbies how to get around in the world without coming right out and being an obvious tutorial.

The quests in this game seem well designed and well put together. My only real complaints are in some of the little housekeeping issues. The first is the game's use of "leading quests", which take a player from one area to another in order to continue the story. Some of the leading quests that were in place at that stage of the beta (you have to assume that there will be changes before launch) were transparent. "Lead this camel down this hill," might teach some of the skills needed to work in the game's caravan system, but it really doesn't make sense as a full-blown quest. These quests are not the majority, but rather just something I noticed in my travels.

After each quest that a player completes within the game, a screen will come up asking beta testers to rate the quest and give in their feedback. This approach is, in my opinion, head and shoulders above the "hope they come to the beta boards" approach that I've seen from companies in the past. This method, right there and in your face, prompts you to take a few seconds and make a comment and indicates to me that Sigil is actually interested in what players have to say about the game and ways to improve it.

The next system I tried was the Diplomacy system. Before I got started, I decided to head back to character creation and create a Dark Elf.

Dark Elves are actually deliciously malicious and evil. In every interaction that my Dark Elf character had in her early days of exploration, I was immersed in the kill or be-killed attitude of the people. My complaint about evil races in MMOs has always been that they didn't feel quite evil in the way I wanted. The Dark Elves of Vanguard meet my requirements and I'm really looking forward to pressing on with this character to unlock the true nature of her race. That being said, she was created for a purpose: diplomacy.

Diplomacy is run through an in-game card game that sees players deciding what kind of card to play when in order to verbally defeat their opponents. I know that some people are down on the concept of a card game, but I really enjoyed it. The card game, while certainly unconventional, offers a fresh take on what can be done in MMOGs. I am impressed by the entire system, which seems to fall into the category of "easy to learn, difficult to master".

This is most definitely a game that is worth watching. Vanguard has all of the elements that have the potential to make it a hit game; an engaging story, a good consistent artistic style, strong quests and innovative systems. Most importantly, the early parts of the game make a player want to play more, to improve and continue to climb in whatever mode of advancements they should choose.

While I only got a few hours of hands-on time at the event, I definitely felt the urge to play more.


Jon Wood