target="_blank">Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, but I
always have tried to remain objective about its faults. I am sure Sony
Online Entertainment was href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/60291" target="_blank">none
too happy with my review in September of 2007, which gave
Vanguard a below-average score despite my insistence that I enjoyed it.
I left Telon amid guild drama and personal conflicts roughly four
Now almost two years since my review, I have returned to Telon. What
has changed? How would I rate my experience now? Read on to find out!
First, I want to note some important factors about the changes in my PC
build between Vanguard beta and today. Then I had a Pentium 4 3GHz
hyperthreading processor, 1.5GB RAM, and a GeForce 7600GT 256MB
graphics card. Now I have the same Pentium 4 3GHz hyperthreading
processor, 3 GB RAM, and a GeForce 8600GT 256MB graphics card. Better,
but still not top of the line material.
New Vanguard characters have a choice between starting out in
the old areas available at launch and visiting the Isle of Dawn (IoD),
the area available to the Vanguard 14-day trial. I chose the Isle of
Dawn to see the new content and get a sense for what the in-game
community is like these days. Ten Ton Hammer’s Eric
“Dalmarus” Campbell has href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/60169" target="_blank">written
plenty on the Isle of Dawn, so I won’t belabor the
point too much.
As Dalmarus noted, IoD does a terrific job of explaining the many
facets of Vanguard in bite-sized chunks without overwhelming the
player. I am not sure old starter areas had any deficits as far as
tutorials went, but the tutorial on IoD is polished and fun. The
central story focuses on the invasion of the Ulvari, sinister creatures
from another dimension. Your budding hero gets a chance to thwart this
invasion, taking the fight all the way to a temple in the mountains
accessible only by a Pegasus mount.
The design of almost everything on IoD is of high quality and looks
very deliberate. My character ran quests that ranged from the standard
kill and fetch variety to a number of interaction quests and even some
encounters with a minor deity. One early task had me work my way
through a cave to shut down an Ulvari portal by destroying the
generators that powered the portal. A new player might have marveled at
the open dungeon that went “miles” under the earth.
As a returning player, I was thrilled again with the feel of a good
The final quest in the Ulvari temple was nothing short of genius. I had
to use a Pegasus mount to reach the place. Getting those trial players
on winged mounts where they can experience that feeling of flying and
can appreciate the beautiful landscapes of Telon is a smart move. As a
returning player, I felt the urge to get my own permanent flying mount.
The first part of the quest had me go seek the aid of a rock deity who
had recently been corrupted by the Ulvari. Then I needed to face down
the Ulvari leader. The temple was laid out well and provided a fun
challenge for a duo.
One huge advantage to the design of IoD is that the NPCs carefully
connect the player to the stories on the main continents after you
complete all quests in the trial area. When I had stopped the Ulvari
threat, I was a hero on the Isle of Dawn, and my deeds were already
known in Telon proper. As such, I was given a choice of three places to
go where a hero’s aid was needed. This gave me a very direct,
if very generic, connection to the place I was going next.
Veskal’s Exchange needed help, so I was going there. At least
I had a bit of buy in for the local problems when I got there.
By contrast, I have always felt that the starter quests of the
Kurasahsa (one of the best in any game you’ll find), ended in
disappointment once the player reached Qalia. The story abruptly
shifted from your infiltration of a world and the relationship between
the Kuras and their symbionts to whatever mundane chores are to be had
in the Lomshir area. Compared to the sudden shift in the Kura story,
the IoD quest line does a much better job of adding continuity to your
character’s role in the greater world.
If IoD has a deficit, I believe it to be the lack of explanation about
the different factions that exist in Telon. Every race and combination
possible exists on IoD together. Sure, the story is sort of a
“band together to save the world” type of thing,
but I didn’t really find an explanation to warn me that my
Thestran human might not be welcome in the home of the dark elves or
that a necromancer might be kill on sight in Khal without some faction
grinding. Unless the factions in Vanguard have changed dramatically, I
think players leaving IoD need some warning about that.
Roughly thirty months since its launch, Vanguard remains a beautiful
game. Sadly, SOE has had to compromise some of the beauty to improve
performance. The new character models are a little on the blocky side,
and I saw more than one NPC who appeared naked from a distance because
she wore a tan jumpsuit with too little detail. Character models aside,
the landscapes remain breathtaking. Trees and forests look so very real
from a distance of 300m or so. Up close you can see them for the
polygons with textures that they are, but they still look good. I would
say only Age of Conan and possibly Aion eclipse the beauty of Vanguard.
The sounds and music in Vanguard remain as they were when I last
played, which is not a bad thing. The music includes sweeping scores to
haunting melodies that fit their chunks. The sound effects are better
than many games; metal on metal clangs appropriately, and metal on wood
gives a satisfying thud. After playing some of the Aion beta and
quickly learning to hate my cleric for saying what sounds like
“seeilookgay” with every cast of a particular
spell, I appreciated the fact that Vanguard keeps spell sound effects
to an appropriate mystical tingle without trying to tie in incantations.
As far as the eternal question of stability in Vanguard goes, I found
my play experience on IoD to go smoothly. I had one crash, which may be
one too many, but I can’t say for sure it wasn’t a
server outage, which is a usual type of crash. The trial area had
plenty of people in it, and I seldom experienced any lag, chugging, or
any other detrimental reaction. Whenever I loaded my character in the
last village prior to the Ulvari temple, it took my PC a while to
render all of the buildings and NPCs there, so I was frozen in place
for a good thirty seconds while everything loaded.
I have never placed raiding or PvP as priorities for my gaming, so I
still am not the best person to comment on those. I do know that SOE
has been working in raid content and has optimized it for the planned
maximum number of participants. I’ll let the real raiders and
long term subscribers comment about the pace at which that raid content
is added, but I’ve never known a hardcore raider who was
satisfied by any developer. It’s just next to impossible to
put out content fast enough for skilled, dedicated raiders. Meanwhile,
Vanguard retains a single PvP server, and little effort is devoted to
PvP events or content. It’s up to the players to keep the PvP
server exciting, but the ones I have encountered in the official forums
Vanguard still offers as much (or more) variety as any game around.
Your character always has plenty of quests to do, or you can get caught
up in a single dungeon for days. In addition to the standard
adventuring and crafting, players can partake in the diplomacy system.
Diplomacy may not have the depth that was promised by Sigil during
development, but SOE has worked to smooth out the kinks of what is
there. Players who love lore will enjoy digging through each races
story as a diplomat and then traveling the world in search of new
parleys. If nothing else, you have to appreciate the city buffs to
crafting unlocked by diplomacy.
The ultimate question a player must ask himself when playing a trial is
will I continue to pay to play this? Considering the current state of
Vanguard and my play style, the answer is a resounding yes. The
performance in improved enough that I feel as if I could recommend it
to a friend without having to apologize, the vastness of Telon caters
to my adventurous spirit, the graphics are still among the best
available, and the gameplay has enough options to keep a casual gamer
busy for years on end.
In the near future, I will take a closer look at Vanguard through my
eyes as a returning player. I will examine combat mechanics and take a
look at how well the refined performance holds up on the mainland.
Expect some commentary on the player base, too. Finally, I’ll
look at what Vanguard offers in comparison to the competition and
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