Fantasy Re-Review: Vanguard: Saga of Heroes

Fantasy Re-Review 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.

Fantasy Re-Review

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:

What's Changed?

When gamers first started playing Vanguard many of them might have likened the Vanguard experience to an Oxy commercial: 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.

Rented flying mount
Rented flying mount

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.

Beautiful scenery
Beautiful scenery

Vanguard has some stunning visuals, but you'll need a solid gaming system to see them in all their glory.

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 score: 5


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 vulnerabilities in

In combat
In combat

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.

Combat score: 8

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 room.

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 newcomer.

Bling Factor score: 7

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 despite itself.

Final Score: 6.7

About the Author

Karen is H.D.i.C. (Head Druid in Charge) at EQHammer. She likes chocolate chip pancakes, warm hugs, gaming so late that it's early, and rooting things and covering them with bees. Don't read her Ten Ton Hammer column every Tuesday. Or the EQHammer one every Thursday, either.
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