A New Saga Begins A Fresh Look at Vanguard Pt. 2
The new Vanguard player in me doesn’t know all of that junk about the third party UIs. He doesn’t notice that the new character models are a little blander than the old ones. What he does notice is that the world is gorgeous and seamless (in theory) but does not run as smoothly as many others. Despite SOE’s assertion that it is both unfair and unwise to compare performance of one game against that of another, the new gamer in me can’t help but notice that the Aion beta runs smoother for him. He notices that it’s possible for a pretty game to run smoother.
Online Entertainment has been open about the “ href="http://forums.station.sony.com/vg/posts/list.m?topic_id=7544"
target="_blank">intensive hardware requirements”
of href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/vanguard" target="_blank"> style="font-style: italic;">Vanguard: Saga of Heroes
from the outset. As my href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/72216" target="_blank">new
saga in Telon continued, I
reflected on the game’s performance often. After all,
it’s safe to say that the poor optimization of Vanguard at
launch was a major contributor to the title’s tepid reception
by the market. Exploring the current state of the game was chief in
importance to me because it helped me recall some of the things
promised during development and much of the disappointment that came
when those plans never materialized in the finished product.
Ultimately, I delved into the status of Vanguard with two mindsets,
that of the returning player who carried with him the prejudices of
unfulfilled expectations and the new resident of Telon who knew nothing
of the game’s development. The two perspectives led divergent
paths to the conclusion that SOE has a perfect game for casual players
and guilds in Vanguard.
This commentary is not a review. I did not dive into every gameplay
aspect or sample the user base about their experiences as I often do
for reviews. I’m sharing my experiences and any insights I
have about the game in the confines I have already described; I want to
see what Vanguard is like for a returning player.
Any discussion of Vanguard must start and end with a look at
performance. My system meets or exceeds each of the recommended (not
just minimum) system requirements. See the chart below:
DirectX 9.0c compatible computer
DirectX compatible keyboard or input device
Dell wired keyboard and mouse
Intel OR 3500+ AMD processor
and Pixel shader 2.0 compatible hardware with 256MB of texture memory
GeForce 8600 GT 256MB
compatible audio hardware
Gigabytes Hard Drive Space
While my graphics card and processor are only barely what SOE calls for
as part of its recommended system, everything else critical is above
even what they recommend. I felt it important to share this comparison
line for line because Vanguard plays about the same for me today as it
did when I left the game in late 2007 despite all of the optimization
work from SOE. My graphics card still chokes nearly to death when
loading in a major outpost with a ton of objects, especially character
models, to render. In roughly forty hours of play time using balanced
settings, I have crashed three times and suffered slideshow-like lag
The performance I have gotten since returning to Telon gives flashbacks
to the founding subscriber in me. Back then, I used third party user
interfaces (UIs) that traded out some of the massive image files used
in the default UI for simpler ones. The third party UIs also gave
information that the default one didn’t (e.g. the location of
harvesting nodes within the chunk or current buffs on a mob). Most of
the third party UI coders I followed have moved on from Vanguard, an
inevitable and sad fact about MMO gaming. I wouldn’t want to
use their UIs right now anyway since SOE recently increased the default
inventory size by a decent amount and the message of the day warns that
most third part UIs will not see the new extra slots.
style="margin: 2px; width: 210px; float: right;">
The new Vanguard player in me doesn’t know all of that junk
about the third party UIs. He doesn’t notice that the new
character models are a little blander than the old ones. What he does
notice is that the world is gorgeous and seamless (in theory) but does
not run as smoothly as many others. Despite SOE’s assertion
that it is both unfair and unwise to compare performance of one game
against that of another, the new gamer in me can’t help but
notice that the href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/aion" target="_blank"> style="font-style: italic;">Aion
beta runs smoother for him. He notices that it’s possible for
a pretty game to run smoother.
My final schizophrenic conclusions arrived in the same place about the
performance of Vanguard. First, the game is good enough to forgive some
of the hiccups. I’ll get to the why behind that in a bit.
Next, the Unreal Engine must be one of the most inefficient templates
in all of gaming if this level of performance is the result. To have
needed in early 2007 a machine beefier than the average retail computer
on sale today and still get ragged functioning indicates a severe
limitation of the engine. It excludes a huge chunk of potential users
from the outset and alienates even more after they experience some of
the troubles running the game. Finally, the seamless world concept is
simply too ambitious with the beauty of Telon. Moving from one chunk to
the next still takes roughly as long as it does to zone in href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/38"
target="_blank"> style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest
or target="_blank"> style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest II.
Instead of a load screen, players get to see their characters freeze on
the screen. The seams are visible in the seamless world. The fact that
my graphics card is constantly loading up a lot of landscape on the
horizon that may be a chunk away makes it work harder than it needs to
in order to impact my immediate gameplay experience.
The selection of the Unreal Engine and the decision to use a world
without zones were not up to SOE. They got the game way too late to
impact those choices. It would be unfair to SOE for me to focus on
those aspects to the point of excess now. Meanwhile, it would be unfair
to gamers not to at least mention them. Both elements contribute to
some of my favorite things about Vanguard, so I’m torn on the
Telon’s current inhabitants are as fiercely loyal as the fans
who followed Vanguard in development. The old Sigil forums were
renowned for being very unfriendly to posters who had anything negative
to say about the game. Likewise, the current player base staunchly
defends the game when given the chance. For instance, when I did my href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/68419" target="_blank">State
of the Game interview with SOE
in May, a subscriber href="http://forums.station.sony.com/vg/posts/list.m?start=0&topic_id=47680#580191"
for asking questions about the old problems that drove away players.
That gamer was right that the issues addressed were old, but those
issues still resurface. If you don’t believe, check out last
week’s Premium article, href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/71692" target="_blank">Bait
and Switch: Ethics and Values in MMO Marketing.
Trust me when I say MMO fans remember the broken promises and
disappointments with Vanguard. SOE needs all the help it can get in
getting people to put aside their prejudices and focus on the game for
what it is today.
The good news is that I have encountered a very friendly community in
my recent play time. Every question I ask in region chat is answered
promptly and politely. Good discussion goes on at peak times though it
gets quiet in off hours.
Current Vanguard players also seem very casual. They tend not to focus
on PvP or raiding (more on that later) as the launch players did. This
suits my gameplay style perfectly. People understand if I say I have
only the time to run this one dungeon before I need to go do some
laundry. Most people I have come across also share my nostalgia for the
old days of chatting within the group, of getting to know the players
behind the avatars.
In short, the pace set by today’s Vanguard player is very
casual friendly. It is friendly and helpful. Finally, it is mature and
In my Vanguard href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/60291" target="_blank">review,
I said gameplay is where the title shines, which still holds true
today. The sheer amount of diversions in Vanguard can keep the casual
gamer busy for years. In addition to the standard adventuring, the game
boasts rich crafting that lets players build their own boats and more.
Vanguard also has a Diplomacy system that unlocks fascinating lore and
storylines while also contributing in a small way to raids. Speaking of
raiding, players can do some of that, too, if the notion strikes.
I have been enjoying the rent-a-griffons in my return to Telon, but I
also remember Sigil developers claiming, “You’ll be
able to use almost any animal you see in the game as a
mount.” It’s hard for returning players to overcome
the disappointment that this isn’t true, but new players can
appreciate just how fun it is to soar in the skies on a rented griffon
and take in the sights. The freestyle control of the griffons tops the
predetermined flight paths used in EverQuest II.
It’s the numerous extra things to do in Vanguard that keep me
logging in every night. Like Ten Ton Hammer’s Eric
“Dalmarus” Campbell, I found the href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/66156" target="_blank">Tao
of fishing to be most relaxing.
I can spend hours running around looking for different water sources to
see if the fish are biting. Some play sessions are devoted entirely to
harvesting. Others are spent only on crafting. When a friend logs in, I
drop what I am doing and go on some adventuring quests.
Each facet of Vanguard offers a layer of intricacy that most other
games don’t. Crafting goes far beyond the simple
“combine items with the press of a button”
mechanic. It has more complexity than EQ2’s system of
different crafting actions to produce different effects. For serious
crafters, Vanguard is a great game to play. Meanwhile, harvesting adds
clothes that increase the yield, and Diplomacy offers quests in the
form of a fun card game, a truly unique feature.
PvP is not a real focus for the Vanguard development team. A single PvP
server hosts the action, which is mostly player-driven. The returning
player in me remembers that Sigil clearly advertised that PvP was never
intended as a focus, but an outcry on the forums late in development
led to it being tacked on as a way to get the bullet point on the box.
Luckily the PvP community is some of the most loyal of the bunch. Were
I a new player looking for PvP, I likely would look elsewhere.
Finally, raiding is really starting to shape up in Vanguard. Hardcore
raid guilds likely will get bored pretty fast, but the casual crowd who
sticks with Vanguard will find plenty to challenge them. The developers
are dedicated to adding to this gameplay element, so this will only get
better. Hopefully the casual nature of the fan base will allow SOE
ample time to tweak each new raid encounter to make it really
It’s time to talk about performance again. As I said in my
review, players who have no technical problems running Vanguard have
plenty to be positive about, especially if they can get past their
original expectations and appreciate the game for what it is. Those who
do have some problems must decide if the game’s tremendous
numbers of features make up for this shortcoming.
With good friends to play with, Vanguard could keep me happy for a very
long time. Everything about Telon has a serene, calming effect on me.
It’s not as crowded as style="font-style: italic;" href="http://wow.tentonhammer.com/"
target="_blank">World of Warcraft,
nor is its subscribers as friendly to immature players. It has most of
the fun features of EQ2 but with greater detail. It lacks the storied
intellectual property of href="http://lotro.tentonhammer.com/" target="_blank"> style="font-style: italic;">The Lord of the Rings
or the PvP of href="http://warhammer.tentonhammer.com/" target="_blank"> style="font-style: italic;">Warhammer Online,
but its massive world outshines both for explorers. Perhaps only href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/aoc" target="_blank"> style="font-style: italic;">Age of Conan
and Aion rival it for graphics.
Vanguard, the game that it is rather than the collection of promises
made during its development, is a terrific MMO well suited for the
casual but serious gamer. The title received the criticism it deserved
at launch, but it’s come a long way since then.
It’s time to give Telon another chance.