Monday, February 19, 2007

Vanguard: Saga of Heroes and The Price of Setting Yourself Free

Originally featured on the Warcry Network, February 19th, 2007

It seems setting yourself free is in the world of Vanguard is a little more complicated than Sigil and SOE thought. 

Amongst a premature release and conflicting software, hardware, and the naturally buggy programming every MMO on the market experiences players are still making their way through the code and finding a world of adventure which brings even the most inexperienced players back to a day when things weren't so easy.

Like many of Vanguard's target audience - I was an EverQuest junkie. When I first started playing Vanguard, it all came back to me. Whether I'm using '/who 40 50' to see who the most prominent players with no lives are, or when I check my experience bar and find it has only moved about 2 inches after about an hour of grouping; I'm finding myself in a world which, for once, things don't come to me in - I have to go out and get them.

The main draw to Vanguard for me, and most players, was simple. The hype. I'll be honest, I read little about what the developers and company's released about this game and more about what the beta testers thought, and the hype that they (and the people that hadn't even played the game yet) inevitably generated. Everything from difficulty of gaining a level, to the death penalty, to the unique classes and skills were all major drawing point. Let's face it, the appeal of games like World of Warcraft is, to one extent or another, the ease of progression - I'm sure I'm not the only person who thought that you were either max level, or not enjoying the game. It seemed like level 60 (before the expansion) was more a standard, and to likeminded people - that takes a lot of fun out of the game.

I'm sure I'm not the only person who remembers hell levels, grouping for hours to maybe get 10% of a level, or memorizing only 8 spells at a time - let alone staring at my spell book while I tried to regain mana. But it's something more than that: Vanguard has the appeal to really draw the audience that seeks a challenge in MMO's today. Unlike games which require massive investments of your personal and social life to achieve anything in, Vanguard demands dedication even when grinding and completing the simplest of quests. As I'm sure many of you have figured out, death stings in this game, and venturing too far into a dungeon with a group usually converts the idea of a wipe to a 10% experience loss when you summon your corpse at the altar. A harsh, but true reality.

Moving past the draw of a game, onto a much more broad topic - what isn't working with the game, aside from the mechanics of the program itself. For starters, most of our computers. At this point obvious is an understatement when it comes to discussing the prematurely of the release of Vanguard - but to some of us that can still play, we're ok with that. To the rest of us; it meant upgrading our video cards, buying more ram, and perhaps even throwing out that old machine and buying something a little more up-to-date.

Launch, while going relatively without a hitch, left a community with a massive amount of expectations unable to properly experience a world which they had probably spent months, if not longer, anticipating. While the game was up and running, most of us were doing the same - in a manner of speaking. Up, as in not sitting at our computers, and running to the nearest computer hardware carrier in order to fix, or upgrade problems that MMO players fear more than patch day. The promises of efficiency in the client and memory leak mending are abundant, but if there is one significant difference in the launch of Vanguard versus very other MMO I've experienced (And its almost all of them) it's patches.

Even World of Warcraft didn't patch this infrequently. And while I agree with developers - that they would rather take time now fixing the big bugs rather then patch frequently and fix the small ones - I can side with players too; there is legitimate concern on the side of the consumer as to the drive behind Vanguard's programming force.

While these are all observations and generalizations towards the state of the game - there is one thing I can say with 100% certainty. Vanguard is a game that, while launched probably a little too early, has a tremendous amount of potential. The progression paths are unique, the dedication required is fierce and unwavering, and regardless of whether you have been playing MMO's since the first EverQuest Beta, or just picked up Vanguard on a whim, what is in store for this game rivals the concepts of any other MMO on the market.

For now, like many of you, I'll continue to play with that mindset - who knows exactly what the future holds - but done right, waiting all these complications out will be well worth it.