Vanguard: Saga of Heroes Review

Vanguard: Saga of Heroes is the latest to try and dethrone WoW as the King of MMORPGs. With a team listing numerous successes on their resume and some key figures behind the original EverQuest, for many it seemed like an ambition that may finally be met. A unique three-sphere system allowing players to play as they wish (crafting, adventuring or diplomacy), an incredibly ambitious long-term plan and some really unique class ideas pointed towards a success. Like many MMOs before it, though, Vanguard suffers from some initial faults holding it back from being considered a great title — for now.

If you’re looking to try Vanguard after coming from a WoW background, be aware of one fact: if you want to become successful in Vanguard, you’ll need a lot of free time. Like EverQuest, Vanguard brings back the days of huge timesinks, requiring hours a day in order to really get anything done. (We’ll need a more clever name than VanCrack, though.) For the MMO faithful who have a few titles under their belt this isn’t anything new. But for those who have been baptized and thrive in WoW’s waters, Vanguard may not be the right choice — it’s definitely not casual-gamer friendly.

That being said, Vanguard is a game that MMO enthusiasts will most likely enjoy. Since it isn’t based on a pre-existing license, Vanguard doesn’t have the ability to just throw players in an already created universe and sprinkle in tidbits of lore. While that hurts most games by essentially taking the story aspect out of the experience, the team behind Vanguard has done an incredible job of creating a rich world. Every race has a unique backstory and for the first time in a while it’s actually enjoyable to read the walls of text accompanying some of the quests. At times, however, it does seem like several people worked on the main areas independently of one another. While starting areas like the Kurashasa’s are filled with entertaining quests and incredible details, others like the Lesser Giants’ seem to be lacking.

The class system in Vanguard has been exquisitely designed. The only problem is, you may find yourself unable to pick between several toons because each class has something you really like about it. Even the healers are fun to play in Vanguard (as of now, clerics are one of the top played classes on every server). Looking to break the Holy Trinity of Classes mold, Vanguard introduces many classes which act as hybrids rather than cookie cutter examples of healer/damage/tank. For example, there’s the disciple, which is a healer that needs to actively attack its target using martial arts to fully heal others; the dread knight, which is one of the protective fighters but also one of the most potent debuffers; and the druid, which is a combination of DoT spells, minor healing, semi-pets and calamities/wonders (think better-than-average spells with a long recast). However, this also backfires at times. If you play a blood mage or a disciple, some people won’t let you in the group because they’re looking for a "real healer" (the cleric). Eventually, this close mindedness brought over from past MMO titles will (hopefully) be dispelled; but it’s up to players to dispel it.

Where Vanguard truly shines is the three sphere system. For most gamers, the game will begin and end with adventuring, which is just the fancy word for fighting. You know, kill X mobs to level to X and get X spell or item. By introducing a crafting and diplomacy system which will eventually be fully on par with adventuring, Vanguard looks to transport gamers back to the days of Ultima Online and Asheron’s Call, when you had freedom to do more than just kill to be successful.

The crafting system derives its basic concept from past games, doing nothing too original or groundbreaking. Like WoW, throughout the world you’ll spot nodes you can harvest, depending on which harvesting professions you choose. Using these materials you can create armor, weapons, boats, houses, etc. — assuming you have the skill and knowledge required. Unlike previous titles, though, Vanguard simplifies leveling up your crafting, providing you with work orders you can receive from an NPC. These provide you with the materials and recipe to craft a certain item, which will net you some money and crafting skill. While you’ll obviously want to craft your own things later on, for beginnings and novices it’s a nice way to make some extra cash and level up without having to worry about harvesting X materials to craft an item. As you gain crafting levels, you’ll be able to create larger and better items. With items ranging including houses and awesome weapons (which supposedly will be on par with loot drops of a similar level) you’ll be just fine if you want to do nothing but craft all day.

Diplomacy is easily my favorite aspect of Vanguard — even if it’s not fully functioning yet. While crafting and adventuring are nothing new to the genre, diplomacy is something unseen before, adding a sense of awe to its presence. How it works is simple: you engage NPCs in parleys, and using cards from a variety of statements you attempt to lower the dialogue points of your opponent to 0. Each card has an amount it adds to the diplomacy marker on the side; whomever has the marker on their side after each turn lowers their opponents point total by one. It may seem like a simple casual card game, but don’t forget how addicting and fun casual games can be.

Of course, diplomacy serves larger roles beyond killing time. Eventually, you can move on to things such as Civic Diplomacy, and through working with other diplomats you’ll be able to adjust the levers of a city in order to give everyone in its reach a certain buff benefiting one of the three spheres. At this time, there’s no functioning PVP aspect of diplomacy, although in the past it was stated that the developers would like to allow players to duel against one another, which would add a nice touch to the system.

The world of Telon itself will be a hit or miss depending on which area you start out in, as previously alluded to. Split up into three continents (as of now), Telon is a vast world which takes a lot of time to traverse. The continents are based on a central theme (Thestra is Arthurian, Kojan is Oriental, and Qalia is straight out of Arabian Nights), each giving a unique playing world. Of course, if you pick a race like an orc your experience will be vastly different than people who pick a Kojani Human, largely due to the fact that you’ll be limited in your quest opportunities due to a lack of an abundant player base.

Unlike WoW, the dungeons in Vanguard aren’t instanced and are instead in the game world. In the days of UO, this led to a lot of trouble when people would intentionally train mobs towards the entrance of the dungeon, hoping to kill anyone inside. To combat this, Sigil implemented a "leash" system which disallows monsters from moving a certain distance past their point of origin. Of course, dying near the interior of a large dungeon is a huge pain, so be wary in your travels.

Visually, Vanguard will look okay on most computers, and beautiful on top of the line models. If there’s one problem I heard most often when playing and talking to other gamers, it’s that the requirements of Vanguard are either too large, or too sporadic. Many players meet the requirements to play, but due to some combination of effects can’t load the game at an FPS rate good enough to play comfortably. Others will be under the minimum requirements, but run the game smooth as silk (albeit on lowest settings). If you have a new computer with a good graphics card and a lot of memory, though, there’s really no online game that can compete with Vanguard at this time when it comes to visuals. Sadly, the only way to know for sure how Vanguard will run is by tracking down a 10-day friend code, which means you have to know someone who purchased the game and is willing to give it to you.

The toughest part about reviewing any MMO game (besides the large timesink) is the fact that there’s the initial period where gameplay is constantly tweaked in order to balance post-launch, and bugs are constantly being discovered. For its credit, Vanguard has had one of the smoother launches I’ve seen in an MMO. While there were (and still are) some bugs, there really hasn’t been any huge problem forcing gamers to write angry emails. At the same time, the constant tweaks to classes post-launch (some warranted, others possibly not) have already created a small community expressing distress at the reaction of the developers. For the most part, though, the team has done a tremendous job handling things as they come their way. They may not have done a perfect job, but as of now it’s obvious they really are trying, and (most) of the team leads on the various communities are doing a good job of getting the players’ voices heard.

It’s hard to score an MMO game. A lot can change within a week, let alone between now and this summer when someone decides to read this review to compare Vanguard against upcoming games like Age of Conan or Warhammer Online. As it stands at this moment, the score I would give Vanguard is reflected in the final score (if I were to base my score of Vanguard on future potential, I would easily give it in the 8.5-9 range). The game is fun and has some high points, but the huge time commitment required really hurts it and will eventually hamper the community greatly. The robust three sphere system and abundance of fun classes would have been enough to satisfy most hardcore gamers. Even simple tweaks such as providing "casual" and "hardcore" servers where XP rates are tweaked would help. Making it take that long to level up or accomplish anything satisfying is really just alienating an ever growing casual gaming player base, which most MMOs will need to survive these days. While Brad McQuaid has stated that Vanguard has plans laid out for many years, it will be interesting to see if it can sustain the player base required to keep such an ambitious title running three or four years from now, especially with a few huge license-based MMOs coming out these next two years.


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Author: Brendon Lindsey View all posts by

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