By -Vartu Faroth
Many of us who have indulged our MMORPG fantasies over the years with a multitude
of different games have always heard the "promise" of a bigger, better
game each time a new one was preparing to launch. The burning question on MMO
gamers is: Will Vanguard live up to our expectations?
After my years of spending countless hours immersed in these on-line fantasies,
each game brings a new aspect to the genre of gaming. Each new game launched
really does give something that makes it bigger and better, maybe even unique.
While a game rises to expectations in one or more fields, it inevitably seems
to fail in others. It's not unreasonable to expect this in any game--it's not
a question of is the game perfect but rather is it good enough for you to be
100% content with? EverQuest had that in it's earlier days, before SoE took
full control, and WoW appeared to have the contentment quotient filled until
the end game proved to many players to be lacking content and challenge. So,
will Vanguard rise to all of our expectations and give us years of 100% contentment
and happiness? Fortunately, the amount of information we fans have been given
on the game thus far is amazing. From my digesting of this information, I have
found many reasons that encourage a yes answer. Here are a few of them:
There are three fields that are most important to me. I'd like to give a little
insight on each one, based from the information so far put on the table by Sigil.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
First I'll talk a little about Artificial Intelligence (AI). This aspect gets
better and better with each game but by no means is it a huge leap from game
to game either. Vanguard seems to be taking a larger leap into the game mechanics
that the previous second generation and first generation MMO's couldn't. Mobs,
Non-Player Characters (NPCs), and "Bosses" in previous games always
seem to lack the AI needed to make you believe the mobs around you know what's
going on. The biggest problem with a lack of AI in mob encounters is it gives
a sense of text book content.
What I mean by this is that each time you go into combat with creatures in
any game, the style of fighting is pretty much text book in its execution. You
know what the mob is going to do about 90% of the time before it does it, so
you know how to beat it every time by doing the exact same thing. That gives
no diversity in the way you fight a mob. The combat system in Vanguard, which
I'll go more into next, allows you do a combo of various moves, techniques,
and tactics. The way AI fits into this is that the mob you are fighting can
learn from what you do. Basically, this means, if you do something once, don't
be so sure it'll work again. A mob that can "learn" per se is a large
leap in its own right. Further, I suspect this experience-driven combat is only
a taste of what is to come from Sigil's AI achievements.
Now a little bit about the combat system. Combat for many of us has been the
same thing in about every game we've played you know the time-honored
hack n' slash punctuated by a few heals. We push buttons here and there when
the timer winds down and the ability becomes available to add some damage per
second and that's the majority of combat for melee and damage dealing casters.
Healing classes usually just sit and watch your health while skillfully tossing
out heals, cleanses/cures, shields, etc. Not much to it although I won't say
it's not an easy job, just a simplistic one.
In Vanguard the word "simplistic" isn't found in the game dictionary.
So far, about the only real-time decisions you make in a majority of games is
knowing when to interrupt a caster's spell being cast and that's about it. Vanguard
will offer us some real-time strategy in the way we go about entering and surviving
combat encounters. In Vanguard's world, combat will offer a multitude of things
to do, and the best way to explain these is to give examples.
First example is ability chains, not sure how better to word it. Let's say
you are a warrior and use the ability Shield Bash, which knocks the <Targeted
Mob> off balance. The "ranger" in your group sees that the mob
is off balance and has seconds to react-s/he does so by shooting <X ability>
at the mob, knocking it to the ground. The "rogue" in your group then
sees the mob fall and quickly unleashes <X ability> which drives his/her
dagger into the chest of the mob dealing X amount of damage. The mob, being
on the floor, makes its defense weaker so the <X ability> the rogue used
did a nice amount of damage. The mob stands back up quickly and the fight continues.
This chain requires quick reactions and real-time strategy. Just don't get cocky,
because the mobs can learn from these chains. If you try this same strategy
a second time, there is a good chance that it might not work.
Another nice tidbit Sigil is working on is the ability to protect others in
your group based on your perception skill (a seemingly important skill in the
game). Based on your perception, you may or may not be able to predict what
the mob is about to do based on its posture/movement/etc. If you successfully
see what the mob is about to do and to whom it is about to do it, you might
be given a second or two window to counter it, whether by physical or casting
means. An example might be a mob that is about to <Melee Ability> the
healer in your group. You notice it in time to quickly parry it with your weapon,
thus protecting your healer. The windows I imagine are only seconds long so
quick reaction is needed to successfully pull anything off.
The Virtual Game World
Third and most importantly for immersion sake is the world itself and all the
details it includes. The world of Vanguard: Saga of Heroes is literally built
from the ground up. From all accounts, this world is amazing. In many games
we are used to seeing great and massive worlds that are nearly always missing
a key factor, sense of life. Yes, EverQuest has beautiful landscapes, DAoC has
its shimmering reflective water, and World of Warcraft has its creatively &
artistically designed world that is pure eye candy. Yet, Vanguard:SoH has taken
it a step further with wind that can change directions just like wind in the
real world, and trees and plants that can move with the brushing of the wind.
Not everything follows the same pattern and direction like we've become so accustomed
to. This world has so much detail that a book could be written on the content
and detail alone. Speaking of content, the "Content Is King" guys
at Sigil aren't only applying their motto to raid encounters, quests, etc.,
but also in the size and detail of the world the happy gamer will be living
in day to day. I want to place emphasis on living, because becoming immersed
in this world is easy to do whether you have an imagination or not.
The sheer size of the world is mind-boggling. Traveling from one side of a
continent to another would take about 45 minutes, and that's traveling without
running into an encounter. The size of a continent is comparatively larger than
a World of Warcraft continent (which there are two of). In Vanguard:SoH there
have been four announced continents. Not only is their sheer size amazing but
the detail they put into every nook and cranny as well.
One great note to read is straight from the Vanguard:SoH FAQs: "All of
the world, both content-wise and graphically, will be hand-crafted by our designers
and artists. We are not using an algorithmic or random approach to content generation
as we feel the quality and feel of a hand-crafted world is much more compelling.
This does make the game harder to develop, but it's worth it." The world
is seamless and traveling is made appealing by the countless number of points
of interests and amazing artwork by the development team. What more could you
* * *
Of course everything I say here is subject to change and enhancement-this is
only scratching the surface of the wonders to come. I am looking forward to
more updates as they are made available and will continue to write about them.
*Note: If you are interested in another very experienced gamer's point of view
on things from a first hand visit to Sigil, check out Furor's post on his guild
web site: http://www.fohguild.org/archive.php?page=6
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Vanguard: Saga of Heroes Game Page.