saieno's Vanguard: Saga of Heroes (PC) review

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Vanguard Review - 2010 - In it to win it?

 Let's get the obvious out of the way, Vanguard had a horrible history and a horrible launch. However, much is changing for what many consider the spiritual successor to the original EverQuest. The community is fighting back to make sure their favorite game is noticed by those who blindly call Vanguard a 'broken and bug-littered game'. Efforts like and articles on help promote Vanguard in a positive community effort. With new features added since launch, like mentoring, riftways, class revamps, and new high-level raids, Vanguard isn't going down without a fight.

Vanguard has certainly improved over the years, anyone saying otherwise is willingly ignorant or has yet to actually play the game within the last month. The first and most noticeable change, is the performance and quality increase since the launch of Vanguard. While playing the game across Windows XP, Windows 7, Ubuntu 9.10 (WINE 1.1.32) and MacOSX Leopard (DarWINE 1.1.32), performance was always solid and never slowed down. The only issues I came across were BSOD on Windows 7 (until I changed Sound to Generic Hardware) and the rain not displaying in Windows 7, which really wasn't an issue given Vanguards other great qualities.

I could talk about the history and horrible launch, but this is 2010 and those events took place nearly three and a half years ago and are hardly relevant. So what is Vanguard today? In all respects, Vanguard is the spiritual successor to EverQuest. This basically means that Vanguard is not for World of Warcraft fans who expect to hit max level in two days, or for players who expect crafting to be a one-click affair. This isn't to say that Vanguard is harder than other games, it just has much more depth than your average MMO. The biggest mistake many new players make is assuming they have to rush to max level (55) as quick as possible, however the 'end-game' in Vanguard starts at level 10.

Vanguard is a game filled with tons of amazing creatures, beautiful vast landscapes, and a novel or two worth of lore for everything in the game. There are five different spheres for you to advance in, each with their own equipment pages in your inventory. I'll go over these and their details below, but first lets go over the races of the world known as Telon. There are 19 races, featuring Humans (Thestran/Qaliathari/Kojani/Mordebi), Dwarfs, Halflings, Elves (Dark/Half/High/Wood), Humanoids (Vulmane/Kurashasa/Raki), Barbarians (Varanjar/Varanthari), Orcs, Goblins, Lesser Giants, and Gnomes.  

 Flying a Wyvern towards the port city of Khal.
 Flying a Wyvern towards the port city of Khal.
While the character models aren't nearly as detailed or good-looking in games such as AION, Age of Conan, and EverQuest 2, once in-game they fit exceptionally well with how the world looks. However, many of the player models are essentially the same body scaled with a different head or texture, leaving the humanoid races without tails. I find most of the animations to be quite realistic, especially with two handed weapons and dual wielding. It was a bit awkward getting used to the animations though, as many current games feature insane acrobatics, with characters flailing around while jumping and spinning wildly. Vanguard is certainly a nice change of pace from those ridiculous over-the-top animations, keeping action sequences subtle but engaging.

Adventuring is the most popular sphere in the game, since most people who play an MMORPG expect to be adventuring majority of the time. There are 15 classes to choose from, each broken into Protective Fighter, Offensive Fighter, Healer, or Arcane Caster archetypes. These include Dread Knight, Paladin, Warrior, Bard, Monk, Ranger, Rogue, Bloodmage, Cleric, Disciple, Shaman, Druid, Necromancer, Psionicist, and Sorcerer. Although there are some similarities between classes in the same archetype, all classes play very differently from each other. While the general idea of a class can be inferred by the description, playing each class feels different and unique from other games, which is quite an accomplishment.

Of course there are thousands of quests and areas, each with their own detailed descriptions and lore. You will have to read quest descriptions for information on how to complete quests or find locations, though there is a quest tracker that will help. I did come across a few that were bugged or broken, but petitioning a GM quickly cleared up the matter. There are also hundreds of dungeons in Vanguard for all level ranges, the first of which starts at level 4. Many new players miss out on the great starting dungeons when they begin on the Isle of Dawn, but the Isle of Dawn is a nice glimpse at what Vanguard is. However, many will say the Isle is a bad representation of the actual game, and favor the racial starting areas to give a better sense of the world and progress. To give you an idea, the Isle of Dawn is large in its own right, but each continent in Vanguard (Thestra, Qalia, and Kojan) is at least 100 times larger than the Isle. Did I mention there are no instances? 
Standing in the rain on the Jharru Flats.
Standing in the rain on the Jharru Flats.
Crafting is probably the second most popular sphere, since other games have had crafting as well. The difference is that Crafting in Vanguard is just as involved to level as Adventuring is, and if you really want to be a good crafter you need to master all three continent styles. Most other games allow you to Adventure and craft on the side to make some extra cash, in Vanguard though crafting takes dedication. A huge change from other games is the complexity of the crafting process, which gives you time to think your way through a balancing act of quality, progress, and action points. You also won't waste any of your own materials (except utilities, which are very cheap) since you level up crafting through Work Orders. These are quests that focus on leveling, outfitting, and rewarding your crafter sphere, without having to make the same worthless item a million times for experience and then try to break even.

Harvesting isn't so much a sphere but you do need to level the skill by reading books on how to gather higher tier materials. The interesting thing about harvesting in Vanguard though, aside from your equipment helping with how much material you gather, is your group can also assist in gathering as long as they have the basic tool. Needless to say, gathering groups are very common, and usually bring lower level and higher level adventuring players together. Fishing is similar to harvesting, though it's far more engaging than you'll find in other MMOs. If you hated clicking that stupid cork in WoW for hours on end, then Vanguards fishing system will be a refreshing change. Player-skill is definitely a factor, and its just as fun and relaxing as real fishing can be. Sadly it isn't available on the Isle of Dawn, but its certainly one of my favorite time wasters in Vanguard.

Diplomacy is a brand new concept to MMORPGs, and it's a mechanic that should be taken and abused by all other games. You're probably wondering what a Diplomat does, and what makes it such an amazing progression path. Lets just say, Diplomacy is like politics in a card game. Doing quest chains rewards you with tons of back story and lore. Outside of the quest lines, Diplomacy is mostly about Civic Diplomacy, which has a diplomat getting blackmail from around the city and using it to manipulate NPCs to give certain buffs to people who enter the city. These could be Adventuring, Crafting, Diplomacy or Gathering buffs, and there can be more than one at a time. Diplomacy buffs give a card for the duration of the buff, while the other sphere buffs raise stats.

 A group fighting on the continent of Kojan, with the Arks of Harmony floating over head.
 A group fighting on the continent of Kojan, with the Arks of Harmony floating over head.
The graphics in Vanguard are simply awe-inspiring. The style, look, and feel of the game is based on concept art from the late Kieth Parkinson. Looking through his fantastic gallery of paintings and then playing Vanguard seems to make his paintings come to life. Every blade of grass sways in the wind with the trees, while the draw distance allows for impressive vistas. The great thing about Vanguard is you never feel like you've been somewhere twice, simply because of the many landmarks the game has. Giving directions like "Take a left at the big tree, then go past the tent to the lake..." are easy to follow. Spell effects also look great, and really fit the look and style of the game. The environmental effects really catch my eye as well, such as smoke or mud geysers. Off in the distance I might see two stacks of smoke from some burning huts, realistically rising steadily and dissipating. Literally makes you stop and stare in wonder, it's really hard to describe, but perhaps it has something to do with the scale of the world.

The music and sound effects in the game are amazing. I was lucky enough to purchase the Collector's Edition for $20, which came with the soundtrack. Nearly every track screams fantasy, and every one fits seamlessly with the world. Sound effects in Vanguard are also impressive, especially with the amount of variety and creativity. The first time you gather some legs from a spider, the sound will naturally make you cringe from the sickly detailed sounds.

Death in Vanguard has a very nice balance between meaningful and meaningless. When you die, you can wait for someone to raise you or release to an alter. Once at the alter, you can either summon your corpse and lose 10% of your exp while suffering a durability hit to your equipment, or run back to your corpse losing 1% and taking no durability hit (aside from the damage done during battle). You can also drag corpses and give people permission to drag yours, while some classes can summon you to them and raise you. It's a system that promotes team work, but that doesn't mean you can't solo in Vanguard.
 A kojani style sloop, caravel, and galleon docked in Khal.
 A kojani style sloop, caravel, and galleon docked in Khal.
Vanguard has an absurd amount of mounts, the most common of which is horses. By as early as level 10, you'll find yourself with a cheap horse, tack & barding, and horseshoes to assist in traversing the huge world of Telon. Each race also has a mount specific to them, which requires an allegiance to their city and platinum coins specific to that city. There are two versions, one at level 30 and another at level 50. There are also Boats in Vanguard, which are built by crafters, and fully customized every which way you want from the paint to the adornments. There are also a multitude of flying mounts, which are permanently obtained around level 45. Many are available for rent around the world though, to help assist with travel. 

Many things certainly impress me about Vanguard. It's challenging, makes you feel powerful and important at all levels. Khegor's End is a great example of a Dungeon done well...and it's for levels 15-20. It's an extremely large and epic experience, on par with what other games might consider end-game. They also give importance to players who enjoy Diplomacy and Crafting, giving them their own equipment, titles, and quest lines. It goes back to being a little old school, with the recent trend in MMOs being simplicity and instant gratification. In Vanguard, there is definitely a feeling of accomplishment when you do something, and you truly fear death.

It's easy to ignore anything positive about a game that just three years ago was unplayable, but Vanguard is not an experience to be missed. The population is rapidly growing again, thanks to the efforts of a very dedicated community, so why not give it a try? World of Warcraft will be here a while, EverQuest 2 isn't what it used to be, and announced titles such as RIFT, FFXIV, and TERA all advertise the same exact graphics and gameplay. Games with the depth, beauty, and content such as Vanguard is a dying breed, especially in this new age of Facebook and Browser-based games. Give it a try, ignore the doom and gloom from naysayers, and see how it is for yourself. If you've tried it before, then try it again, MMOs are always changing and evolving.

Other reviews for Vanguard: Saga of Heroes (PC)

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