Vanguard: Saga of Heroes Review
They wanted to ‘Bring back the challenge. Both the risk and reward’ said former Sigil CEO Brad McQuaid of Everquest fame. Reminiscing back to the days of Everquest, Sigil set out to craft their MMOG, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. After a few months of a buggy start and a corporate takeover by Sony Online Entertainment, does this new ‘Old School’ style MMO deliver what they promise?
Telon: The Land Of Opportunity
As soon as you log in to make your character in the vast world of Telon, you get your first taste of just how ambitious a game Vanguard aims to be. In a word…Options! Gamers have over twenty, yes, twenty races to choose from in creating their character. These races are grouped together according to the continent they reside on, each featuring unique cultural influences. For example, Thestra and the races that start there, like Thestra Humans, Barbarians, and Dwarves live on a vast continent like Europe during Feudal times. Races like Kojani Human, Goblins, and Raki who dwell on the isle of Kojan, hail from a land akin to Medieval Asia. Rounding up the last cultural landmass is the desert land of Qalia. Races such as the Morbedei human, Kurashasha and Dark Elves exist in a Middle Eastern setting. Each of these continents gives the races who live there a distinct look and feel. Plus, each of these races has unique abilities and bonuses for gamers to ponder on during their quest for the best character build.
As if having to choose from twenty races isn’t enough, gamers have over 15 classes to choose from. The classes range from classical fare like Paladins, Rangers and Clerics to some new interesting twists like Blood Mages, Psionicists and Disciples. The classes are race specific, so players do have some limitations for race/class combos.
The World of Telon: Big and Beautiful
While not cutting edge, the graphics in Vanguard are decent eye candy. Everything you look at has plenty of detail to gawk at, such as pebbly sand, deep furrowed tree bark or the cracked and weathered stone columns from buildings long since gone. Nearly every surface in the game can sport an amazing level of detail if you have the graphical options turned all the way up. If you can take your eyes away from the amazing textures long enough, you can be treated to some very scenic vistas, towering mountains, and landscapes that stretch off to the horizon.
The gamescape players have to roam around in is not just pretty, but large. It takes a while to travel anywhere on foot and the world has its pockets of player eating monsters and desolate stretches of wilderness. For a nice change of pace it’s possible to pick up your first player mount at level 10. Yes that’s right, a mount at level 10! It makes getting around that much easier in the game. The mounts start off as standard fare, horses or camels based on what land mass you’re on but at high levels players have the option to obtain more exotic mounts like Darkhounds or Unicorns. If that’s not your fancy, you can even get flying mounts like the Griffon or Wyvern. Adding the dimension of flight to the game makes the world of Telon a larger one..
The Music of the Spheres
Game play in Vanguard is similar to every other fantasy MMOG with a few twists. For starters, there are ‘Three Spheres’ that players can advance in; Adventure, Crafting, and Diplomacy. The first ‘Sphere’, Adventuring, is just your typical quest/kill/level routine. Harkening back to old school MMO difficulties, Vanguard has a death penalty that results in experience loss and the need to reclaim equipment from the spot you died on. Equipment loss is easily mitigated by the special gems available for players to use on their items to have them reappear on them when they respawn. These little gems are sold by common vendors and on the cheap so if you’re on the ball this death penalty is easily circumvented. Players can even reclaim some the XP they lost if they go back to the spot they died. All in all it’s not bad but it does have some bite.
Getting back to old school roots, Vanguard’s experience point system is not as generous as other MMO’s are. There is no ‘Rested XP’ for starters so casual players are at a disadvantage from the get go when compared to hard core types. Also, the experience point gain/leveling aspect is not as quick as other MMO games. Getting to level 10 takes some work and the climb grows steeper from there. In short, if old school=tons of invested player time, Vanguard is plenty old school.
The second ‘Sphere’ players can advance in is crafting. Crafting in Vanguard is very detailed requiring finding and gathering resources, assembling the materials with the right tools and recipes and compensating for crafting problems akin to EQ2’s crafting system. Crafters can also experiment on what they make for better items (or horrific ones!). Crafting has it’s own set of classes based on the profession you chose and levels like every other class. And just to make you feel a little more special in your crafting role, players have their own crafting ‘outfit’ they switch into when on the job. Much like armor that gives a bonus to your attack, crafters can obtain or make better crafting outfits for a bonus to their skill. Like the adventuring aspect, crafting demands a huge time investment if you want to excel in your chosen craft. Crafters in Vanguard are another class entirely, not a side note or mini game to give players something else to do.
The third ‘Sphere’ for players to advance in is ‘Diplomacy’. Through an ‘innovative card system’(something along the line of Magic The Gathering and other such games) players can interact with NPC’s to influence their environment in the form of crafting or adventuring buffs that affect all the players in the area. Leveling in this sphere allows more & better ‘cards’ to be played in the diplomatic conversation to help move the conversation in your favor, thus earning the buff. Sadly, there is little ‘Diplomacy’ about it. This ‘sphere’ is really a mini game for interested players to get more buffs and perks.
Variety is the Spice of Life
While the content in Vanguard isn’t as deep as say LOTRO (Lord the Rings Online. Go read my review if you don’t have a clue!) and has the typical fare of shallow, formulaic quests, there’s plenty of it for players to experience. This is evident from the start as nearly all of the races in game start out in their own areas with specific quest content. You might have two, maybe three races at most that start out in one area but the rest have their own backyard to start playing in. I started a Monk character as a Kojani Human (Oriental) and he started out as an officer in the Emperor’s army, assisting a commander ordered to put a poor, rural village to the torch for withholding gold. I created an Orc and started out as a prisoner on a slave ship, making his escape from a rival orc tribe. As a Kurashasha, I started out in another dimension locked in war against a racial enemy from yet another dimension! All that from just starting out with 3 different races. Vanguard definitely takes the lead when it comes to variety and players will find plenty to do with the plethora of options
Vanguard: Leading MMOG’s in what NOT to do.
No MMO game is perfect, especially in the first year of launch. What makes these games good or bad is the severity of the problems that get in the way of game play. Vanguard has its share and they’re pretty significant problems too.
First, for all its bells and whistles, Vanguard is a god awful resource hog. I played this game on a Pentium 4,3.0 ghz CPU with a 512 Nvidia AGP card, 1.5 gigs of onboard RAM and this game chugged for me even at high performance settings. I have to mention that with the latest series of patches the frame rate of the game has improved, the game has these moments of sluggishness as if waiting for something to load. Even high end machines have these problems. The game is very lag sensitive too, as some areas are simply unplayable if the local PC population is too high. I don’t think Vanguard is that far ahead of the technology curve but it must be lacking something fierce in the coding department. Players can’t enjoy the game if it won’t play for them. And if they can’t enjoy the variety with the beauty the engine offers, they’d be better off signing up for the original Everquest! For a current generation MMO game, the performance of the engine is inexcusable.
Second, this has to be the first MMOG I’ve played where I found the sound to be a step shy of garbage. The sound in the game gives me the impression of something that was temporary until launch that was made permanent at the last minute. The music in the game is uninspiring and plain. The sound effects for combat and spell casting are flat and boring. The voice acting in the game for the NPC’s is the worst I’ve heard, ever! Thankfully, there’s a volume slider for NPC voices that you can easily slide to the left to mute the voice acting. I usually lean on the forgiving side when it comes to game flaws but whoever was in charge of the sound direction for this game was grossly unqualified and lacking.
The last of the criticisms I have against Vanguard are the character models & animations. It’s nice that players have the ability to shape every aspect of their character’s physical appearance from head to toe but the perk is lost if the models themselves aren’t visually appealing. The graphical qualities of the character models are sub par when compared to the rest of the graphics the game offers, making the characters seem out of place in the game environment.. The animations are a bit on the goofy side appearing exaggerated and slow. The pace of combat is critical in MMO games as it take up roughly 75 % of all game play. If combat isn’t exciting, neither is the game and the player goes elsewhere.
At The End of The Day
Despite it engine’s problems, character models and poor sound quality, Vanguard is enjoyable to play. The variety of content is enough to offer plenty of gaming hours for players. While Vanguard does pay homage to old schools MMO games like Everquest with it’s death penalty, experience curve and character options, the real challenge that players face are overcoming the obstacles of the engine and the mediocre elements it shipped with. Although they can be annoying, they’re not game killers and can be corrected in time.