It’s closing in on two years since Vanguard:SOH was released, and as most people probably remember it was an epic fail of a launch. There was unfinished content along with huge performance issues that ranged from graphic glitches to high system requirements. Very few good things were spoken about the game at the time. A lot can change in two years, especially when you have a team of dedicated developers working on it and a community that is willing to stand by no matter what happens.
Needless to say, Vanguard is not the game it once was at release. While it is certainly not perfect, countless issues have been addressed. Content has been added, bugs have been fixed. The community may have shrunk since the initial first few months, but the passion that everyone displays for ‘their’ game is astounding. Galleons and fishing have made their way into the game, something players have been clamoring about for quite some time now, as well as numerous other additions which I’ll get into more detail about further along.
Performance / Lag
Remember how you used to chug along across every invisible seam as you entered a new ‘chunk’ on the map? Well, that’s still there – with some fixes. Your lights won’t randomly flicker on or off as you cross. You won’t be dismounted; your flying mount won’t suddenly disappear. It’s become slightly more seamless. For those who don’t recall, Telon is a world without instances. I am able to play for long periods of time without crashing, though a few people still mention their systems have issues with the game. I am running an Intel® Core™2 CPU firstname.lastname@example.org GHz with a NVIDIA 8800 GeForce GT. When you try to open doors there’s a very small amount of lag as it swings open but it’s not nearly the performance freezing monstrosity that used to occur.
Heading into the main cities of Telon does lower FPS slightly. New Targonor in Thestra is still famous as the winding roads take you below ground and tend to shoot you around corners a little quickly. Open areas are far better, and it’s still a visible improvement from launch.
You can’t debate the fact that Telon is absolutely beautiful. If you see something off in the distance there’s a way to get to it, no matter what it is. There are no invisible walls, you can climb, swim, walk, or fly all over the world. It’s one feature that I find fascinating since I love to explore. At release most of us became very familiar with the /flush command. It was a command that re-set the graphic engines as we played in order to fix things in the world that had gone horribly wrong, like trees with no leaves, fences with giant holes, that sort of thing. There are very few cases of needing to use it these days (thankfully). Every so often you will still get a graphic glitch where you are wielding no weapons in your hands as you attack things, and there are a few smaller bugs still hopping around. I don’t think it’s necessary for a game to be absolutely perfect, so long as there is constant work being done on it, and visible improvements.
Playing on balanced settings the game still looks beautiful, and it doesn’t look all that different from playing on any of the other settings available. There are many suggestions in the player forums about how to increase performance if you are having issues, such as turning off shadows, or turning off sounds.
A unique aspect to Vanguard is the weather systems that roll through the game. If you happen to be standing on a hill some where you can physically spot storm clouds off in the distance and watch as they approach. The skies will open up and you’ll be caught in it. Snow storms are also an occurrence in Telon, though there is a bug where people using vista are unable to see the weather. If you’re not one who particularly cares about these aspects of the game or they slow your system down you are able to customize your settings and turn them off.
Another key item to note in Vanguard is the amount of customization you have in the game. Character creation is an in depth process, though it has also gone through some revamps. When helmets were added to the game in March of 2008 some facial structures and options had to be reduced in order for it to be implemented properly. This left the community feeling a little neglected, as choice is always top of their concerns. Happily, a lot of these options have been brought back over time, allowing players to continue to create a character the way they want to create it. In September of 2008 character models were revamped to ‘bring sexy back’ after months of players complaining about ‘ugly’ characters. While they still don’t look like centerfolds, not everything has to.
Telon is a world that comes to life through its sounds. The crunch of a footstep as you walk over a sandy beach or the metallic ring as you run over a grate in the floor. Each city and town has a unique feel to it. Combat works much the same way, the pitches rising and falling depending on the battle. You can get caught up in the momentum and lose yourself as you battle whatever foe it is you need to conquer. Sound is not only for beauty either, there are indications during combat of when you need to use your reactive skills as you counter an attack. If you’re not looking for them you may miss them, but the ringing of the attack triggering is a good indication that you should use it. Handy for me when I’m caught up in the heat of battle and trying not to get squished by some giant creature.
The interface works on a very friendly level, and is featured very much like your ‘typical’ MMO screen, simplistic. Vanguard also allows for a lot of customization in its UI. You can move things around in layout mode to your preferences, add extra hotbars if you want or take some away. A compass comes in handy since Telon is absolutely huge – but I still find the maps in Vanguard lacking. The majority of steady players I spoke to ended up downloading a mod that lays things out in a much more organized fashion. Major city hubs show up on the three continental maps, as well as flying mount stations, and riftways which are use to travel around.
Obviously the biggest changes to Vanguard have come in the form of game play. In September 2008 The Isle of Dawn was implemented, a new starting zone for characters. This is an amazing little island on the Kojan continent, with a background story about how the island separated from Kojan during the cataclysm. The village is filled with hardened humans, and a band of zealot hobgoblins, and players are lead from 1-10 in all three spheres of the game. I have always been a fan of alts so I left my 44 blood mage for a few days to play with a new cleric and adventure through the island. Each of the three spheres of the game (adventuring, diplomacy, crafting) is explained in a huge amount of detail, and each quest takes players through the more complex aspects of Vanguard. You may even spot ‘Slappy’ on the Isle of Dawn, dancing away (and causing everyone around him to dance too). There’s so much content on this little beginner island you can easily spend a few days here. The rewards of coin and gear (as well as items like diplomacy cards) far surpass the old starter towns so if you have the option to begin here, I’d certainly take it. It does make the older towns seem some what out dated, and I’m not sure if there’s any reason at all any more to have a choice in where you start unless you’d like to for roleplay reasons.
When you leave the Isle of Dawn you may feel slightly overwhelmed. You’re not given a huge amount of direction on where to go next but for some players that’s just fine. There are some indications on what to do next, riftways now have a number of NPC gathered around who will offer you quests to visit hubs that are around your level range. Each time you level up you can visit these NPC and pick up new quests for new locations to visit. While you may find that the game is very hack-and-slash, Telon has much to offer, and it’s not just based on the combat system.
Crafting and diplomacy are huge aspects of Vanguard, but you may find that diplomacy has very little use and is actually just a grind fest. There has been some work done to the sphere and it’s being incorporated a little better into the world of Telon. You’ll need diplomacy in the raid Ancient Port Warehouse, and it’s a nice casual way to spend some time when you’re not in the mood to do anything else. The rewards of coin and being able to change the buffs in particular cities to benefit those around are also nice. Crafting is hugely complex, requiring lots of faction, writs, sigils, and sub combines. You’re not required to craft by any means but those who do find it rewarding.
There has been so much content added, and so many things changed that it’s nearly impossible to cover it all in one single review. There has been end game content added – even if it’s not near enough for players, at least it is something. Racial mounts made it in game, galleons, fishing, and all sorts of other pass times to keep people occupied. On the test server the level cap has been raised to 55 along with a new set of spells for players to learn, and there is talk of plenty of free content being added in the next year.
Community / Customer Service
I stand by my opinion that the customer service in Vanguard:SOH is some of the best I have ever seen. Whether it is because support knows that it needs to hang onto the few people who have continued to play, or because that’s simply the way it is, I don’t know. Petitions have been met in a timely manor on each of my personal occasions dealing with them, and when they were not there was typically a message displayed as I logged into game about how they had an influx due to some random issue. At least the communication is there.
The game would be nothing without its community. Players are passionate about the game, you can find them everywhere. I would highly suggest hitting the official forums to make friends and find guilds, they are exceptionally active. On the Seradon server there were people constantly chattering in public channels, and joining the player made craft and diplomacy channel also added a lot of conversations. If you’re going to argue about why you dislike Vanguard in game, be prepared for some pretty hefty rebuttals from those who love the game, and you will certainly run into them.
If you’ve never played before expect a few glitches, the game is far from perfect. If you used to play and gave up in a fit of frustration you may want to give things another shot. I don’t think that a casual gamer would enjoy the game because there is simply too much to do in Telon between the three spheres. If you’re looking for a game with an eager community, and multiple facets, look no further.
Again, there’s no way that this one article can cover everything within the game, nor all the changes that have occurred. There are (and will still be) bugs that are being worked on, and doesn’t run nearly as well as it should. If you’ve got the patience to deal with these things in order to sink your teeth into the meat of the game, you may be surprised at what you find.