Vanguard Saga of Heroes: The Dark Horse Turns 6
By Darren Henderson (DizzyPW), OnRPG Editor-in-Chief
As you may have seen on yesterday's OnRPG Shotgun News, 1/30/12 marked the monumental 6th anniversary for SOE's Vanguard Saga of Heroes. Why is it monumvanental you may ask? A title that carried as rocky of a launch as living through the MMO graveyard that was 2012, surviving stiff competition from hyped titles like Diablo III, Guild Wars 2, and TERA is something quite a few older MMORPGs weren't able to say come the New Year. After reading a scathing review from OnRPG's local GW2 expert in November I decided to accept a press tour invite to see for myself just what is going on that not only is keeping this game alive after 6 years, but has suddenly prompted an increase in the playerbase in the US.
First Impressions Are Everything
Now back at the time of launch I was a poor college student cooking pizzas at the brick oven at UC Riverside. I couldn't even afford the quarterly parking fee so playing a B2P game like Vanguard was never even a consideration. For those in the know the Vanguard launch came and went with various issues plaguing the game that badly hurt the retention of the initial playerbase and the game disappeared into the annals of MMORPG history.
As I first logged into the game it occurred to me that I am painfully oblivious to titles that launched during 2007 and so I jumped into the character creation screen to get a feel for what Vanguard is all about. Boy was I in for a surprise when I came across that race/class selection screen. I stared in disbelief at 19 races (each with male and female variants) as well as 15 classes (non-race specific) ready for the choosing. Now granted the graphics in Vanguard aren't terribly detailed so this amount of selection is still reasonable but when I looked further into the game and saw each race carried unique stat bonuses and skills my first impression left me spellbound. Combined with the detailed customization I felt as if I was preparing my Elder Scrolls Oblivion character. Though I was a bit let down that some of the toggles seemed rather useless or so subtle that I couldn't for the life of me tell the difference. But as I was called into the press tour things started to make more sense.
The Cancelled Review and Rapid Direction Change
So you might be wondering why the above mentioned review by Merry was never published on OnRPG? Well less than 2 weeks after it was completed, Vanguard made a serious decision to change up their F2P business model in a big way. It seemed Merry was not alone in her hate of their previous F2P model as they followed the outcry of the community to make a more fair system. Rather than punishing free players by denying them housing, many of the races, gold inequality and such, they decided to push their game in a direction where monthly payers received nifty bonuses and free players still had access to all the same content, housing, classes and so forth. This combined with the revamps from a while back including the Isle of Dawn newbie tutorial and merging each faction's starting location to the best of the bunch helped to build up the community early to improve the all important first impression. Heck before I even spotted my first quest NPC upon logging into the game someone ran by waving and welcoming me into the game. As sad as it is to say, I have never experienced this in an MMORPG before.
The Community and PvE Focus
This initial incident was a sign of things to come. Normally when checking a game out I always enjoy snapping screenshots of people fighting and trolling each other in all chat for comic relief. Did not see any of it during my hour long press tour. It was just people helping people, forming groups, answering questions, giving advice. "Is this really the Internet?" I asked myself. But then I looked deeper into the features and realized the reason Merry hadn't covered PvP in this title during her review is because there isn't any. Despite having 3 separate factions there isn't any combat between them. So while it's a feature decision that might not be for me, I can see the freedom it offered the designers to only balance classes around PvE elements. The multiple diverse races and insane number of classes now made sense.
The closest thing to flaming I saw in this game were these birds.
However even in a world of PvE when it comes to content focused on raids, inequalities still rise up. The team behind Vanguard mentioned that they are deeply interested in player feedback right now as they are planning reworks of every class in the game to get them up to par with each other starting with the Druid. It seems the rise in playerbase is giving them the resources to finally start patching and updated the game as they have always wanted to so the next year should be a very interesting time in the Vanguard world.
Call me easy to please but I loved watching NPCs cut these trees down. Cool Beans!
The Features that set it Apart
As I played through I noticed a few features not often used in MMORPGs these days that I really enjoyed, perhaps simply because the designers put the effort into adding them when so many others simply don't put the TLC into their games to do so. The first I noticed and probably the one I was most pleased with was character stats improving based on what happens to the player. If you take damage, you slowly gain resistance towards that damage. Swing a weapon? Get better at swinging that weapon. It's not a major feature but it does break the monotony of feeling like your character isn't advancing in the slightest degree until those major level up moments when you suddenly just become a better fight. Kind of breaks the immersion and doesn't add any fun factor so honestly other MMORPG titles need to get on this.
The diplomacy, crafting, adventurer system also intrigued me. They take it a step further from most profession systems I've seen (with maybe the only exception being the eternally stuck in beta testing title Lime Odyssey). To truly master crafting or diplomacy you need to actually collect outfits with bonus stats directed towards improving traits needed in each. This has the nice effect of diplomats actually looking like diplomats and crafters looking like crafters while also offering that extra carrot for players to chase in their goal of becoming the ultimate whatever they always dreamed of being.
The diplomacy functionality is also pretty sweet. It functions like a card game (don't ask me exactly how. I'm sure there's more to it than a 1 hour player could figure out) in which you can earn various benefits to yourself and other players in the area depending on your choices. It adds a bit of RP immersion in as well in that you feel there are actually dynamic events occurring in your world that have impact on your character. I know I had 5 or 6 buffs on my level 1 starting character so there are certainly diplomats out there looking out for the giantesses.
The last bit of the game that left a lasting impression on me was the open freedom within the world. You never really feel like you're fully on a theme park ride as you go through the game. The world is huge and exploration seems like a major part of enjoying yourself in Vanguard. While the game certainly isn't for everyone, it offers enough different features that I can see a niche in the market that would absolutely love this title if they took the leap and tried it out. And with the anniversary events going on this week and the newly released City of Brass challenges waiting players at end-game, there's never been a better time to try this game for free.