A critical miss.
We keep expecting the next big MMORPG to involve something other than orcs, dragons, and magic, but it looks like Fantasy-ese has become the official language of online addiction. After all, each of the big four (World of Warcraft, Lineage, Everquest, and Ultima Online) have taken place in fantasy realms; could we even understand a great MMO that didn’t speak Elvish?
Maybe not, but we have no problem identifying games that talk the talk, without walking the walk, like Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. While it has all the trappings of a great MMO, (Elves, swords and loincloths), its lack of polish or compelling new mechanics make it just another MMO, not the next great one.
[image1]The world, Telon, is divided into three massive continents. As opposed to the cartoon design style of World of Warcraft, Telon represents a more realistic place to kill dragons and whatnot. And you can kill any way you see fit, because if you can’t find something to enjoy across the maddening combination of fifteen classes and nineteen races, you’re just not the nerd we thought you were.
With so many possible combinations, Vanguard offers a ton of options for filling party roles. Say for a healing class, do you take a standard cleric, or opt for the creepier blood mage or a karate-wielding disciple? Each class is pretty unique, although there is some overlap. It offers multiple ways to get the job done, and makes for some pretty interesting group and guild potential.
Your character can obviously level up through adventuring (questing and killing), but you can also get ahead in crafting or diplomacy. You gain crafting experience from making things, and merchants will also toss you a variety of work orders and pay you handsomely for your tinkering.
Just like in the real world, diplomacy is a great idea and more often than not, much more of a pain in the ass than you’d think. Diplomacy in Vanguard is handled via a very strange card-based mini-game you play with certain NPCs. The cards you collect and use all pertain to some type of statement, though the dialogue that progresses along has nothing to do with it. The process of learning what to do with the four color gauges, the little purple disk, and the word-bubble numbers is so painful and so repetitive, I’m just going to tell you it’s lame so we can get back to the fights.
[image2]Combat is handled in typical MMO fashion, with a few minor differences. In addition to an enemy target, you can also maintain a defensive target (nice for tank or healing classes) that will catch all your positive spells, sparing you from hectic targeting changes in the middle of battle. Also, monsters that are after you are displayed in a column under your primary target for easy reference and target switching.
That’s all well and good, but a number of the surrounding mechanics will impede and frustrate you madly. For example, the penalty for death steals a fat chunk of your experience bar, and you’ve got to make it up to progress. Also, when you die you’re simply resurrected at a graveyard and must plod back to your corpse with only the gear ‘bound’ to your player. Combine those two and see if you can’t come up with a headache.
You’ll die a lot too, if you’re a solo player. Vanguard’s difficulty frequently requires you to team up or be destroyed, but that’s not as easy as you might think. Telon’s massive landscape combined with the myriad starting locations of each race can make even seeing another player somewhat of a rare occurrence outside of a capital city. Though if you can fumble through the awkward invite system, your group can go after serious foes and insanely huge dungeons.
The dungeons in Vanguard aren’t instanced, but once you see the size of one of them you’ll know why. Four or five groups could probably hack away in the same dungeon for hours and never cross paths. These things could easily smite an entire evening of your life.
[image3]Unfortunately, the surrounding sights leave something to be desired. The graphics may be fairly detailed, but their design is pretty bland, and the interface itself is a homely imitation of Warcraft. You’ll also need a hefty rig to do it justice, and even then glitches like random pop-ups, unintentionally invisible monsters, and on one occasion, getting trapped bodily inside a mountain await to, well, bug you.
We are pretty happy with the customization screen for your character - you can totally change your look anytime you log in. When you have to ponder whether or not your brow is protruding enough today or how much ‘pinch’ your ears have, you’ve got options. The background music is typical fantasy score, neither breathtaking nor grating, and the sound effects are fine, if standard fare.
Vanguard has been in development for five years now, but it doesn’t really show. Sure, there’s a boatload of quests in a massive world, but much of the game was still buggy as of release day. MMOs are obviously works in progress, as they should be, but that’s no excuse not to ship solid code to begin with. Furthermore, there are no community forums aside from a tech support thread crammed with player issues, so expect some bumps in the road.
Vanguard: Saga of Heroes
might be a far better game in a few months time, but coming from the company that questionably destroyed one of its most popular MMOs (Star Wars Galaxies
), nothing is guaranteed. If you’re looking for an extended tour of nerd duty, and don’t mind it being very much a work in progress, you could give Vanguard
a shot, but don’t cry to us when you’re stuck in a tree fighting an invisible wolf, naked, with nothing but a deck of talking cards.