Vanguard Review - He Said, She Said
Mar 03, 2008 11:31:38

VanguardI tasked myself to do this for VirginWorlds some time ago and part of the reason why it was taking so long is because I really did not know how to tackle this review. It was not because I had writers block or have not been playing Vanguard...it was because nothing but only minor details would change from my previous review. Now, don't get me wrong, Vanguard has gone through some BIG changes since I wrote that review last year. It's had three game updates which saw lots of content and performance changes....but I'll be tackling this review, as always, as if I were a new person coming in and experiencing it for the first time. Of course, mileage may vary. To counter my noobishness and to give a bit more "oomph" to it all, I've asked Jaye to give me a hand and turn this into a kind of "He Said, She Said" kind of review.
So let's handle this a different way then. What I'm going to do is critic my own review from last time. Where I was off? Where I was on...and what has changed since last we left Vanguard.

Jaye: I've written a lot about Vanguard over the past year and a half, but during that time, I never wrote a full review of Vanguard, and that was done by choice. I enjoyed a lot of things about the game, but much of the criticism against Vanguard was warranted, especially right after launch, and it's hard to give it an enthusiastic recommendation when the game is still not finished. I appreciate Darren inviting me to contribute to this review, because it gives me a chance to discuss how far the game has come, as well as the huge hole that it's still trying to crawl out from.

Getting into the Game
If you stick to Thestra, you'll find it pretty easy to be introduced into the world of Vanguard. You pretty much have your standard newb quests of kill this..get that. You'll find yourself getting up to levels 6, 7, 8-ish pretty quickly. Another thing you'll notice as you level is that getting a level means quite a bit in Vanguard. When you do level and get more spells, there is a noticeable difference in the power that you get. I like this. It gives me more of a sense of accomplishment when I see and feel a real difference in my character's power. I hope Sigil keeps this model for as long as they can.

You're given quests for all spheres within the game when you start out: adventuring, crafting and diplomacy. Each of the introductions to these spheres is very well done and I really had no trouble getting the hang of either of them.

Darren: Still the case. Actually, I re-rolled a Bard this time around and kind of wish that I had that class as my first choice back in the day. This is on heck of a class to play and has one of the more interesting mechanics that allow you to build your own songs. If you want a buff for both speed and damage, just build your song accordingly. You should still be able to get up to level 8 pretty quickly but since I started again in Thestra, the newbie experience did not change that much for me. This is not because it was bad, but because I've already done it. I chose Thestra because, as far as I know, it still has the most content to date.

The new user experience in Vanguard right now is not all that different from any other MMOs...and that's a good thing...trust me. You get your usual starter quests that you see in most MMOs....but, in VG you also get introduced to the other two spheres: diplomacy and crafting. Diplomacy is not really my thing, but I can see why people like it. Point is...there is lots for a player to experience right off the bat.

Jaye: The starter areas in all three continents are about equal. Each area not only introduces you to the three spheres through questlines, but also provides you with some nice lore on your particular race. All three continents have plenty of things to do from 1-20, although the content in Kojan drops off after that, and you have to head to either Qalia or Thestra from there. Qalia and Thestra both offer lots from 1-40, but the 40-50 content out there tends to be either buggy (like Temple of Xennumet), grindy (like Lucent farming), or overcamped (Hegnarian). The addition of Trickster's Haven was a nice fun dungeon for the low 40s, but overall, the last 10 levels are a real test of endurance. Ironically, a common complaint heard from Vanguard players is that there is too much content at the lower levels, and it's impossible to do most of it before outleveling it.

State of the Game
Essentially, Vanguard is still in beta right now and will probably remain so until we only see patches once a month or quarterly. I'm not really pleased with the current state of the game to be honest...even with the really nice additions from Update #1. The game is still kinda clunky and classes seem to be tweaked almost weekly, so you can't really get into a good rhythm I find.

So, as of today, keep that in mind when you purchase the game. If you have a high tolerance for a good game with bugs, broken quests and questionable performance then go get Vanguard.

Darren: Overall, I would call the game stable...but I still struggle with the word as it relates to Vanguard. My view of making that call with this game may be beyond my reach. I would really recommend that people troll the forums a bit to get a better idea on the general stability of the game....but I really had no issues with Update 3. Oh, one bug that is...well, bugging me....is the constant flickering of bushes. Drives me up the frackin wall to see vegetation disappear and then reappear on me. Makes me think I'm trippin.

Performance...performance...performance. That was a HUGE issue when I wrote the first review....now not so much. If your main beef with Vanguard was that it wouldn't run over 10 fps on your rig, then I suggest you give it a go again. They've made a complete 180 on that front. It use to run on my machine at around 25-ish fps....now it runs at around 40. I think if there was a motivational poster hanging around the Vanguard team offices at SOE, I think it would read "Performance...the other white meat".

Jaye: I think it's important to rewind a bit and look at the past year for Vanguard, because it really puts things in perspective.
Launch was a disaster. The game basically only was finished up to level 35, and the first few weeks were best described as chaos. Performance was horrid, there were tons of huge bugs, and there were many areas that were completely empty of mobs, quests, and content. Patches arrived at a frantic pace, and there were several band-aid fixes. But the short term attempts to entice people to stick with the game, such as the back-to-back double experience weekends, ended up compounding the problem, as players were now pushed into empty content, and the game itself was still a mess.

The game went on to suffer through the famous parking lot staff cuts, severe duping exploits, and lots of dramatic revelations about what had gone on behind the scenes. By the fall, there was a second round of staff cuts, which saw the removal of the lead developer (Dave Gilbertson), as well as the head of the Diplomacy sphere, (Steve Williams) and two of the lead lore developers (Williams and John Hegner). Not only was the staff now cut in half (again), but it seemed clear that they were still so mired in fixing the nuts and bolts of the game that they couldn't focus on the areas that make Vanguard unique and interesting (diplomacy and lore).

Based on the roller coaster of a year that the Vanguard team has had, they have made an impressive amount of good changes. Of particular note, performance is a lot better. There are tons of bug fixes. New content was added, such as Trickster's Haven and the Ksavari Gulch revamp. Raid content went live with the release of Ancient Port Warehouse and a handful of overland mobs. And both helmets and flying mounts are going live in the next update.

But after a year, there is still so much that sorely needs attention. The biggest issue that continues to plague Vanguard is the AES (Advanced Encounter System) The idea behind it was that players would be able to trigger certain events and content that would be locked to their party. It was supposed to be the answer to instancing, but it never really seemed to work properly, and a lot of the content that uses it has been buggy and broken. Pantheon is the most notable example of that. This was one of the best dungeons for levels 25-35, and personally I felt it was one of the best in the game. Groups were tasked by the avatars of the gods with performing a series of fun trials, ending with a challenging scripted event. Sometime over the summer, it became so buggy that it was basically unplayable, and it still has not been fixed. The devs have said that they plan to work on it soon, and it might entail a revamp of the zone, but the delay boils down to a lack of manpower, and there are still so many other areas of the game that need attention.

Graphics
Honestly the graphics in Vanguard really don't appeal to me that much. I guess I've been spoiled with the lush graphics that I found in Lord of the Rings Online. Vanguard is supposed to be state of the art when it comes to graphical prowess and I find myself saying "meh" quite often to a very dull looking world. The colors they use for foliage, and rocks , trees etc, just look wrong for a state of the art game. OK, I know I said that the game is essentially still in beta so yeah, lots of the textures may still be undergoing changes...but still, my first impression is not a positive one even when I keep that fact in mind.

Darren: Still the case for me...but I have heard that some people like the graphics in Vanguard, so this may be a matter of taste and in most cases, it is. Player character models and animation still bug the crap out of me, but I've never seen monsters done better in any other game. Spiders, Trolls, Treants...all monster models look absolutely spectacular. Special effects from spells are very well done. Do you still need a kick-ass machine to see all the pretties? It helps. Right now, if you can run EQ2 on balanced then you should be able to run VG on balanced as well.

Jaye: If there is one thing that Vanguard nailed, it was taking Keith Parkinson's amazing artwork and making it into a stunning virtual world. (Yes, I love the graphics of Vanguard) The world really inspires you to explore, because you'll often see an interesting structure far off on a cliff or down in a valley, and actually be able to reach it, rather than hit a zone wall or an impenetrable mountain. The downside is that many of these nooks are still devoid of purpose - no questlines, no unique mobs, and no loot tables.

Overall, though, there is a vertical depth in Vanguard that is not found in other games. It makes a huge difference if you're able to run the game on higher settings (and more are, thanks to the performance improvements). If you try out Vanguard and only do one thing, make sure you rent a flying mount at least once, because it's an amazing experience.

Music
The only music set that really stood out to me was when I was in the High-Elf area...everything else really grated on my nerves. If you recall, I have a crazy theory that music should be "seen and not heard".

Darren: I've changed my mind....I like all of the music in Vanguard. It's grown on me. Well done music crew. Something kind of stuck out in my last visit; the grunting, "hmmms", and "ohhhs" that NPCs make...especially when crafting. Man, that gets on your nerves really quick. My feeling is they are place holder sounds. Check that...I hope that they are place holders.

Jaye: The music is great, and really adds to the mood of the world. I agree about some of the voice sounds. I never liked the screaming that my ranger would do as she whacked the mobs.

Quests
Questing is OK and really follows the standard MMO template. There seems to be a good balance of solo, small group and group quests in Thestra right now. There are reports that the other continents are not so lucky.

Darren: It's still the case. The only difference is that the other continents have been flushed out more. Jaye tells me that Qualia is kick ass when it comes to quests and I'll agree. I was questing in Qualia with my 27 Ranger and there are plenty of hubs there. This might be a bit off track, but might I say that flying in Vanguard is kick-ass.

VG offers the standard quest templates of get this, collect that and has a smattering of dungeons all over the place. The dungeons themselves are extremely well done. They are huge and have that epic feel to them...with no small thanks to the afore mentioned monster models.

Jaye: Questing in Vanguard is ideal for those who play in pre-set groups. There is plenty for the solo player to do as well, but the real fun gems of content are aimed at groups. Questing in Vanguard is difficult, however, for pickup groups, because the best dungeons tend to offer very linear questlines, and it's hard to find 5 others who are A) of the right class balance for a successful group B) close enough in level range and, on top of that C) are all on the same step in the quest series.

Overall, though, if you get some good groups, dungeon crawling is a lot of fun. At level 18, I was porting up to a floating island to fight the boss of the Fallen Lyceum - the same floating island that had been hovering over my head while I worked on the early steps of the questline. At level 45, I was sporting a cool power suit that looked like it was right out of Tron, and jet-packing around a huge room to battle a borg-like boss mob in the Temple of Xennumet. In short, there are lots of fun and creative questlines in Vanguard that have a real epic-feel to them.

The Future of Vanguard and Final Thoughts

Darren: Like I said in my Predictions of 2008 post, I am of two minds with Vanguard. One part of my mind says it's too late for this game to dig itself out of the hole it has found itself. That part of the brain looks at what's in the field now and what's coming down the pipe and says, "ouch". The other part of my mind finds something in Vanguard very appealing. This part of my brain also looks at what SOE has done with it's other games and thinks that VG will only get better by leaps and bounds as time goes on. I went with the later part of my brain...I do think that Vanguard will shape up to be something special. I honestly do think that by the end of the year, we will be talking about VG in a very positive light....despite everything that is being thrown at it.
...and this is still true:

Now, should you get this game? If you are a big fan of EQ or EQ2 then I would say yes, you need to get the game and take a good look at it. If you have no patience for buggy games AND are a fan of EQ or EQ2, then I would say wait for another 6 months or so.

Jaye: Vanguard has come a long, long way. But when it was launched, it was in such rough shape, that it's still playing catch up, even a year later. Right now, it seems to be at a cross roads. It's a lot more stable now with the performance and bug fixes. But the question is whether it will go down the road of "cookie cutter" MMOs, or whether it will find its roots and focus on fleshing out areas of Vanguard that make it unique, like diplomacy and lore.

I invested a lot into Vanguard. I got interested in it during beta, and was so enthusiastic about it that I tracked down old friends from EQ and started up my old guild again. I also blogged extensively about the game, and even joined Troy on his Vanguard podcast. So I guess it goes without saying that I am a Vanboi.

Having said that, I haven't actively played Vanguard in about 3 months. For me, what it boiled down to is that, after around level 45, I wasn't enjoying the content. A lot of seemed to revolve around faction grinding and farming, especially if you plan to gear up to raid. I love raiding, and I don't even mind doing a little footwork to gear up, but I learned that I don't have the patience that I used to for grindy timesinks. I also feel that there are still so many areas that need attention, but that change is going to come even slower this coming year, because the staff is so small now. The team is definitely making progress, but there simply isn't enough manpower to do it quickly enough. I continue to keep an eye on the game updates, and my subscription is still active. So even though I'm not playing, I am still a big fan, and part of me still anticipates a return to the game someday.

In short, if you're someone who tried Vanguard at launch and gave up because of bugs and performance, or someone who has been eyeing the game and wondering if it's finally smooth enough to play, it is worth checking out now, but you will still need to have the patience to tolerate some rough spots here and there. If you are, though, there are plenty of fun things to experience that are definitely worth it.

D and J Out.

Submitted by Brent on Mar 03, 2008 11:31:38 CST (comments: 2)


Comments:


'nice re-review' by KazeDreams
Submitted on 2008-03-03 14:17:33 CST
Very nice review. I'm one of the people who stuck it out through the launch and I agree with many of the points you've made. Though I don't agree with your statements of 40-50 levels are a test of endurance. Now granted it has been a while since I was level 40, but there was a lot of content to go through thats not buggy and full of faction grinds, still is at 50 (not including raiding). You didn't mention the number of quests that can be found in Afrit, only a few chunks away from Tricksters and also Rahz Inkur which is right next to Tricksters. Hegnarian is no longer so heavily camped (his respawn timer has also been lowered to 2 hours from the 4 that he had at launch), at least not on Seradon, and grinding up faction for the three different swamp armor quest lines is extremely easy and doesn't even have to involve combat. There is also quests to be done in Nusibe Necropolis back on Qalia. In short, there is tons of content to do at levels 40-50. Now granted if your soloing, then I would agree with your statement of it being an endurance trial, but lets not kid ourselves, Vanguard is not a game to be soloed.


'45+ content doesn't make the game' by scytale2
Submitted on 2008-03-08 08:39:29 CST
I've dipped into Vanguard several times. I still find performance aproblem and bugs too. For instance bringing up the map will overload my 256Mb graphics card.

Most of the time a reviewer has to have played the game all of the way through and the latest frustration is likely to be the highest level content, as that's where the reviewer is at that point. Most people who played Vanguard never made it to Lvl 45, so it won't really be much of a problem, when you're talking about attracting enw busienss, which Vanguard definitely needs to do.

Frankly, I still don't think it can, because performance is still a problem. My PC is probably better than 70% of the market and I still run out of memory in EQ2 on Very high performance (not balanced), which causes a crash. EQ2 must suffer from exactly the same lack of market. GOing into a group causes a further drop in performance, even on the lowest settings.

Gradually, PCs will upgrade, so as maybe in a year's time perhaps 50% of PCs will be able to run the game.

Lastly, Vanguard is less accesible than WoW. It has new lore, is not just about fighting things and has no PvP to speak of. What Vanguard IS is a wonderful and beautifully creative virtual world, that millions would enjoy exploring, if they can get more than 10FPS.




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