Vanguard: Saga of Heroes
An EQ2 Refugee's Perspective
It seems apparent that World of Warcraft and EverQuest 2 are the two titans of MMORPG's.
WoW has the quests and interaction you want, and Everquest 2 has the graphics you might want. Put the two together, and what do you get? Answer: You get a Night Elf running around in mismatched armor. You thought I was going to say Vanguard didn't you? No, in fact I place Vanguard: Saga of Heroes in a league of it's own. Granted, it's not the most revolutionary MMO created, but it's definatley on the right track.
Reading the reviews for this game from GR staff made me think he barely skimmed the surface of the game. Almost like he didn't even like MMO's.
So where can I start? How about with the basics.
Concept: (8/10) The creators of Everquest 1 team up to try their hand at a new MMO using a modified Unreal Engine. They removed zoning, instancing, and long mana regen times. They added (or brought back) death penalties, a diplomacy system, and multiple armor sets.
Graphics: (8/10) Faily impressive terrain and sky. The distant blur option is really neat looking, and gives far away trees and mountains a far away feel.
Armor looks good, except mages are still cursed to wear robes which hide all their other armor.
Character customization is very detailed. There are a lot of slider bars to play with, but in the end, your character looks nearly the same as everyone else of that race. Normally hair styles will set you apart, but sadly there are only 3 hair styles for most races.
Spell particals are clean and presise. (Unlike EQ2's endless shower of particles for a simple level 1 spell.)
Animation: (5/10) I'm split right down the middle on this one. Running animation is as good as it gets for both you and your mount. Battle and Spell casting animations are very nice. Warriors swipe their sword in a whirlwind like fashion. Rangers draw their bow strings back and fire. Casters use "Ha-Do-Ken"-like manuevers to launch their spells!
The downside is well...everything else. For some reason your hair is attatched to your shoulders. When your character looks to either side the mesh stretches and looks bad. The emotes are stiff, and that really breaks the conveying of emotion. Your hands rarely move, leaving your character looking partially paralyzed. In my opinion the emotes are the "life" of the game, so not giving them the TLC they needed dropped the score a bit.
Music: (7/10) I'm torn on this in a couple ways. Some of the music sounds great! They've incorperated electric guitars into a symphany for battle music. Whereas towns and villiages have the repeating "town tune", which can get old fast. The opening theme tends to annoy me a bit, but I think that's just because it lacks punch. (Read unimpressive). So far, however, I have not "had itunes running in the background".
Voices-overs: (3/10) First, the voiceover acting leaves much to be desired. Voices are only used when you /emote something, or speak to an NPC. They won't read their dialogue to you, but NPC's will greet you with "Hello adventurer!" As you leave they may say something like "Peace be with you." They definately get points for making the effort! The problem is the NPC's litterally sound like they are reading from a script. An example being the /laugh emote will make your character laugh, but it sounds so fake...brutally fake...like "being held at gunpoint" fake.
Sound Effects: (6/10) I'm speaking of combat noises for the most part here. The main thing I have to say about them is the lack of variety = repetitive. You'll be hearing the same slashing noise, and the same grunts and shouts from swinging swords and being hit over and over. Some of the spell sound effects sound great, and often leave you with the feeling that you hit the creature pretty hard. Drawing back your bow string and firing has it's own realistic sound effect as well. The main problem I have is the lack of variety. The quality here is fine.
As for other sound effects, you have your basic running and horse galloping footstep sounds that actually change depending on the surface you're walking on. There are also sound effects for Diplomacy that are ...interestingly whimsicle. I can't describe them better than that.
Layout/Execution: (8/10) I'm a big fan of large, immersive worlds, and Vanguard doesn't disappoint. The landscape is lush, and enormous. As you're strolling through the cities, you'll sometimes notice trees in the far, far, FAR off distance that it look like tiny dots. If you're patient enough, and curious enough, you can actually run to that tree. There are no invisible walls to stop you. This gives you the feeling that you are actually exploring, and not limited to certain areas. There's also no typical zoning. I say typical because there are no "Loading..." screens. There are places where you will quickly load the adjacent area. Some people may experience a 20 second load time, while to others it will appear as a hic-up in the latency. It just depends on your computer. The Dungeons are in Vanguard are massive. So much so that you can be in one for hours before you actually see another group. This isn't because there aren't many players either. Not only are they huge, but they are well designed. Some innocent looking cave may turn out to be a vast cavern expanse inhabited by Bugbears. You just never know! I'm very impressed by the way they designed dungeons with such mystery and excitement. There are plenty of treasures to find down there. Boss creatures yield higher quality items, occasionally you'll find actual treasure chests that you can unlock. The reason this didn't get a higher score from me was because there are no individual maps for dungeons. Nowhere...not on the game, not on the internet, it's all up to you. Sometimes you'll find yourself following the left wall just to find your way out.
Questing/Leveling: (8/10) You can look at questing in Vanguard one of two ways. The negitive way would be running up to an NPC, clicking accept, and then check out how many wolves you need to kill. The second , and more entertaining way is to stumble into a town, talk to the NPC's there, and find out one of the locals may need help with something. Find and talk to them to learn their son has gone missing. This will propel you into a quest line with a great story. Questing is what YOU make it. If you want to hit accept and get the loot, be my guest, but the game won't be very fun for you.
You may have heard that leveling up in Vanguard is hard. I'm telling you that is wrong. It's just not "WoW / EQ2 Easy". Leveling up is done best by completing quests, not by mindlessly killing thousands of imps. Every level means something. How many games made you feel like you acomplished something by getting to level 6? While others were playing their MMO's and breezed right over level 6, I was running to the nearest trainer to see what new spells and equipment I could buy.
With every level you have the potential to get upgraded gear. In order to prevent twinking (giving low level players high level gear) Sigil has developed this interesting system. Each piece of equipment has a proficency percentage. These aren't always on 10%, 20%, 30% intervals. Many have 22%, 23%, ect. As you level, you bring those proficency numbers down. Meaning, you are more skilled, and utilizing this armor would be easy for you. No one piece of armor may exceed 20% proficency. As you level up, the item will cost you less proficency. Once it's 20% or lower, you can equip it.
Diplomacy is an entirely new mechanic in MMO's. Basically your character can use his words as a weapon. Instead of killing monsters, you can dispell rumors, encite riots, or raise the morale of a city. This is done by using the card game called Parley. When you engage in parley, you're basically playing a card game. There is tug-of-war type slider bar on one side of the playing board. In order to progress the dialogue with an NPC, you'll need to get the "rope" on your side. Each step on your side of the line will cost a point. You gain points by playing the right cards at the right time. Each card can automatically give you those points, BUT they will have costs (or fuel) and side effects. Side effects include, fueling your opponent, so that he can use cards that have a cost. No matter how many points you gain to your side of the conversation, you can only progress the dialogue one statement at a time.
It's a hard game to EXPLAIN, but a fun one to play. There are plenty of NPC's who offer tutorials on how to parley.
Depending on how you level up (Adventurer, Crafter, Harvester, or Diplomat) you can gain new armors, or clothing. It is possible to have 4 different types of armor. Each profession has their own equipment tab so that you can basically wear all four sets of armor at once. You will automatically change into the appropriate outfit when you begin a corresponding action. Cast a spell, and you'll pop back into your robe. Start crafting, and you'll appear in your smock and toolbelt. All these different armor sets can offer increased stats for that profession.
Gameplay: (10/10) A perfect score, and here's why:
I've played a lot of MMO's and what I've hated most is never feeling "uber" (A powerful, capable character). There are several ways Vanguard is able to make your character feel truely unique, and not the wimp of the crowd.
First, it's a huge world. There's so much to do there, you don't have time to worry about if you're the best, you just find yourself lost in the content! There are litterally enough quests to keep you in the starting city for nearly a week!
Second, there are so many different items in the game, that you will probably never see two people wearing the same armor set. Right from your first trip to the broker, you'll be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of player sold goods. This isn't including the crafted stuff!
Third, the game isn't limited by only allowing you to kill certain creatures. By that I mean their con level, or how powerful an opponent is. In Vanguard opponents are gauged by "dots" by their name in the target window. These dots range from 1-6. A 1 dot creature is a pushover. A 6 dot creature is very powerful, but a single group should be able to take it down with the right strategy.
Back to the gameplay. Character classes are very unique in that each one tends to have different style of fighting, Special moves, or mechanics. Here are a couple examples.
****The Blood Mage has a small "Blood Union Gauge" next to the target window. The longer the Blood Mage interacts with an NPC, the more Blood Union they gain, basically allowing you to manipulate them in various ways. Depending on your Blood Union with the creature, you will be able to use more powerful spells, heal better, ect.
****Paladins have "Blessings" or "Miracles" and are limited to a certain number of these per day. A small gauge near your Health will tell you how many miracles your diety will allow you to cast that day. Once a full in-game day has passed, you will have them at your disposal once again.
****Each class has their own "Chain" and "Counter" moves. Depending on your class, these moves will have different effects. All in all, classes are very unique.
To sum up, I've never been the type of player who enjoyed dungeon crawls, grouping, or questing in other MMO's they never seemed to get it right. But now I'm actually excited to go a little deeper into that last dungeon.
Bugs/Stability/Issues: (7/10) First off, what you need to understand is this is an online game, and it's huge. Things are bound to go awry from time to time. There is the occasional bugged quest, or server crash. I can tell you honestly what I have personally experienced.
I have been in a couple groups, and suddenly everything freezes. We've all seen that happen before. But here's the interesting part. The chat servers are seperate, so both times the game crashed on me, I was able to still talk to my group for about 20 seconds before we all got booted. When we logged back in from the crash, everyone had an immunity buff that lasted about 3 minutes.. It basically gave us time to regroup without being mauled by the newly respawned creatuers. It was a very good idea for them to include that. The downside? It worked that way once. The next time it crashed we weren't so fortunate. No buff, so we all died.
I've done dozens of quests, and so far I've only noticed one that was bugged.
Diplomacy has a strange way of randomly killing my character for NO REASON whatsoever.
GM's (Game Masters) are very kind and fairly quick to respond. The average petition will take about 90 minutes to respond to in my experience.
Gold sellers beware! Sigil has a VERY strict stance on Gold farming/selling/spamming and it is brutally enforced. I have only recieved two gold spam advertisements, and both times GM's broadcast their account being banned before I could even submit a petition. Instant justice! I don't imagine we'll be seeing too much spam in Vanguard.
All in all everything seems to be smooth in the Bugs/issues department. They exsist, but they aren't horrible.
Overall Grade (7/10)