Vanguard: Saga of Heroes
by Karen "Shayalyn" Hertzberg
I need to start this
article off with a little disclaimer. While I'll try to be objective, I
must admit that Vanguard: Saga of Heroes is my game. As community
manager and site lead for the Ten Ton Hammer Vanguard community I
covered the game extensively for over a year. I may have moved on from
that position, but my attachment to Vanguard remains.
Want to learn more about Vanguard? Here are a couple of great resources:
When gamers first started playing Vanguard many of them might have
likened the Vanguard experience to an Oxy commercial: href="http://vimeo.com/259031">better than a badger to the
face. Way better? That was questionable. Vanguard's
instability at launch was legendary. Bugs infested the game. And the
system requirements were so steep that many gamers couldn't play unless
they splurged for new computer gear.
In defense of the development team that toiled to create Vanguard, the
now defunct Sigil Games Online (which was bought out by Sony Online
Entertainment in May, 2007), Vanguard was forced to release earlier
than it should have due to what Brad McQuaid, Sigil's then CEO, dubbed
"financial realities." The game was far from finished when it shipped,
and Sigil knew it.
The question now becomes whether SOE was able to turn things around
after their acquisition of Vanguard.
style="font-style: italic;">Flying high over Thestra's
scenic vistas on a rent-a-griff.
Unfortunately, minimum system specs won't change and you'll still need
a fairly decent gaming machine to run Vanguard. But the upshot is that
SOE has invested a lot of time into optimizing the game to make it run
smoother and crash far less. Framerate and stability have both
improved. Numerous bugs have been exterminated. Vanguard is a
significantly better game now than it was when it launched at the end
of January, 2007.
On top of that, some systems nixed for launch due to time constraints
have finally made their appearance in the game. The Brotherhood system,
an experience sharing mechanic, is at last live. Guild halls have been
implemented, too. The Looking for Group system has seen a major
overhaul and now functions as a good social tool should. Couple that
with recent server mergers (from 13 down to 4) and it's getting much
easier to find people to hang out with in Telon.
Perhaps most promising is the fact that SOE has remained faithful to
their promise to deliver a major free game update roughly every 6
weeks. Game updates #1 and 2 have already arrived. Good things are
coming to future updates, not the least of which includes high end raid
content in the forum of a new and challenging 12-man raid zone called
the Ancient Port Warehouse.
Vanguard still has a way to go before living up to its enormous
potential, but SOE's progress has been both positive and steady.
Graphics and Performance
Call me a fangirl, but I feel that Vanguard offers the most stunning
vistas I've seen in any game--Vanguard is beautiful. When I play I
often find myself calling someone over to take a look at my screen:
"Look. Isn't this awesome?" Unfortunately, those stunning graphics can
still be a major drain on system resources. Without a beefy gaming
computer, Vanguard will likely look a lot less crisp and detailed.
style="font-style: italic;">Vanguard has some stunning
visuals, but you'll need a solid gaming system to see them in all their
Character models in Vanguard are attractive and customization is deep
and tweak-able. Sadly, the game's early launch put a crimp in the
number of options available to players, limiting them to just a couple
of face choices (although those faces can be fine-tuned in a seemingly
infinite number of ways) and only 4 hairstyle choices. So far, adding
to these options hasn't taken priority over bug and stability fixes and
getting other promised content into the game. That's as it should
be--bugs before beauty and all--but it's no less disappointing.
Armor is well done in Vanguard. Each of the three continents offers
differently styled armor, and the range of armor types is impressive.
Other than some armors that are just a little too shiny to look
realistic (in a game that puts high value on being ultra-realistic),
Vanguard's armor gets no complaints from me.
Vanguard's stunning looks would earn it much higher marks from me if
not for those steep system requirements. Performance, although
improved, is still sub-par. And I hate to admit it, but the limited
number of hairstyles is also a downer for me because it makes
characters seem far less individual.
Graphics and Performance
I love combat in Vanguard. Don't get me wrong, it's still a matter of
clicking this button to activate that ability or cast that spell, but I
still find the combat more enjoyable than either EverQuest II or WoW.
Critical hits trigger finishers--the ability to cast a more potent
spell or use a more powerful ability. This means that getting the
bigger damage hit or other bonus isn't guaranteed. A fight where a
player scores more critical hits (and triggers more finishers) can go
very differently from one where the hits just aren't landing, and
players need to plan accordingly for both possibilities, particularly
in solo play. Vanguard also has a weakness system, but unfortunately it
isn't well explained or implemented. Player spells and abilities create
style="font-style: italic;">There are plenty of interesting
places to fight, and combat's fun.
monsters that other players can then exploit, but the only way a player
knows that someone has triggered a vulnerability is through the
appearance of a small, vague icon and a couple words of text. A
well-oiled group could probably take advantage of this system to good
effect, but the average group will exploit a weakness only by accident.
Targeting in Vanguard is a strong point. The game uses a dual targeting
system which allows players to select an offensive and defensive
target. Damage spells and abilities will hit the offensive target while
beneficial spells such as heals and buffs will land on the defensive
target. Why other games haven't utilized this system before now is
beyond me, because it's brilliant.
Overall, despite combat in Vanguard being fairly standard, I find it
fun and engaging. I believe it's the excitement of trying to score a
critical hit and a finisher that does it for me.
The Bling Factor
One of the first things I perceived as a let down when playing Vanguard
was the lack of innovation in this game. As I've already mentioned, the
dual targeting system is a handy thing, but beyond that Vanguard
doesn't have much of anything new to offer. There's the diplomacy
sphere, a card game-based means of interacting with NPCs for fun and
profit which appeals to lore-lovers and those looking for an amusing
diversion, but I don't feel that it's well connected to the game at
this time--diplomats just aren't essential. (SOE tells us to look for
this to change in the future, however.)
What Vanguard does have going for it is its sheer size. The world of
Telon is massive and diverse. One can explore deserts in the
Arabian-themed Qalia, wander the forests and jungles of Asian-inspired
Kojan (complete with floating islands in the sky), or traverse the
rugged and often mountainous terrain of Thestra, which has a Western
European feel. You'll likely never run out of places to discover and
interesting things to look at. Feeling bored with a certain location?
Hope to another continent and get a new perspective. I have never felt
boxed in or on rails while playing Vanguard; in fact, I think it would
be nearly impossible to feel that way. Yes, the game is that big.
Other intriguing aspects of Vanguard are those I haven't been able to
fully explore yet. Players can own their own boats, built by crafters.
The same goes for player housing. Houses are crafted on existing plots
that players purchase, making them an investment not only of in-game
coin, but of virtual sweat. It's easier to form an attachment to
something you had to work hard for than it is to bond with an instanced
So Vanguard earns high marks for size and scope, but lower marks for
feeling a little too archaic for a next generation MMOG. EverQuest 2,
which is nearly 3 years old, wears more glitter than this relative
Bling Factor score:
Summing it Up
Despite some rather weighty flaws I like Vanguard. It's one of the few
existing MMOGs that has the depth and challenge I crave as a gamer. I
also like the improvements that I've seen since launch, and I believe
that Vanguard will one day reach its potential. That said, Vanguard had
its chance to hit big, and it fell far short of the mark at a critical
time--launch. Will gamers forgive Vanguard's bad launch and take up the
game again, or maybe for the first time, when SOE kicks up a new
marketing blitz they've referred to as a "relaunch?" Perhaps some will,
but many have undoubtedly been lost for good.
My final analysis? If you dropped Vanguard early on due to performance
issues and instability, or if you've never tried Vanguard before and
your curiosity is getting the better of you, wait until SOE introduces
Vanguard's free Trial Island (just follow the trail left by SOE's
marketing campaign). The Trial Island should help SOE introduce even
more optimizations and fixes in the live game, plus improve their
developer's toolbox. I say give the game a shot. It may not prove to be
the game for you, but you've got nothing to lose, and you may just find
that you're one of those niche players, like me, who love this game
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