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» Vanguard Saga Of Heroes (PC)

Vanguard: Saga of Heroes

The current direction most MMOs are taking is cloning World of Warcraft. While this is to be expected due to its huge success we are left to wonder if that is what we consumers really want. I personally like WoW, but I'd much rather play a game that is a bit harder, doesn't allow so many instant traveling options and is as a whole more hardcore. I'm absolutely positive that I'm not the only one who harbors such feelings, because Sigil sure as hell wouldn't create a game like that just for me.

Flight-paths are for wusses

One of the first things you have to know about Vanguard is that there is almost no hand guiding throughout your adventuring. Except for a few tutorial pop-ups at the beginning of the game which explain the mechanics of the various game spheres (more on that shortly) you will have to figure out things on your own. You want to get a mount? Go ahead, figure out where to buy one and do whatever you want to do. Interested in exploring the land? As far as the developers are concerned you can go wherever you want and do whatever you like, just don't expect to survive for long. Want to get from point A to point B? You've got your legs, so use them! When you go stronger you'll be able to use a horse or even a flying mount, but you'll still have to get to point B by yourself – no fancy autopilot flight-paths.

Still interested? If your answer is yes than you'll be glad to know that Vanguard has a lot to offer. The game world is probably the biggest handcrafted (as in not randomly generated) world ever created. Take a look at some of the screenshots. After that, try to imagine that it often takes you around 5 minutes to get from where you are standing to what you are looking at. Personally I think that is great, as most MMOs I've played didn't really get the feeling of scale quite right. There is another, far more sinister reason for the size of the land though. Seeing how you have to »manually« travel around it takes a great deal of time to cross one of the continents. This way the pace of the game is drastically slowed down and unless your destination is close, you are looking at at least half an hour of traveling to get to it. This may not be the most user-friendly decision, but it is in line with the whole philosophy of the game.

The three spheres

The game is divided into three (almost) equally important parts: Adventuring, crafting and diplomacy. Whereas adventuring is fairly standard fare, both crafting and diplomacy are distinctly unique. All the spheres are independent and players can focus on only one or all of them at the same time.

Diplomacy

Gameplay wise diplomacy is nothing else then a card game, similar to Magic or Pokemon. You have a hand of 5 cards which you use to move the progress bar to your side. As long as the bar is on your side of the playfield you lose one match point per turn – getting to 0 points being the objective of the game. The catch is that most of the cards that move the bar to your side give the opponent points of one or more of the four types, which are then used to “pay” for the more powerful cards (which move the progress bar by larger amounts). The mechanic forces you to try and keep the bar on your side while at the same time being careful not to give the enemy too many resources to work with. For every match point you lose the diplomatic conversation you are having progresses forward and losing a round will finish the conversation prematurely. These conversations are often used to raise ones reputation with a certain faction and get items, but they are also a great way to learn the lore of the Vanguard world. Since I’m an avid roleplayer I just loved the way the developers handled this.

Crafting

The scope of crafting in Vanguard is close to the one found in Star Wars Galaxies back in the day. This means that crafters play a major role in the game universe, as a lot of things are dependant on them. For example, if a player wants to build a house he first has to buy a lot from an NPC and then hire a player crafter to actually build the house. And even the crafter will most likely need help from other crafters to get all the components made. The chain doesn’t start here though, as crafters are dependant on resource gatherers to provide them with resources. Luckily the crafting and harvesting skills are separate and every character can specialize in one crafting (outfitter, artisan, etc.) and two harvesting classes (skinner, woodcutter, reaper, etc.). Harvesters will supposedly also be needed elsewhere, as certain areas will require them to remove cave-ins and such.

Adventuring

The adventuring aspect of the game is very similar to WoW. Skills are learned by trainers every two levels (at least at the start, later on new skills are learned at greater intervals) and quests require you to explore places, kill enemies, collect stuff of enemies and pick up objects scattered around the world. Unlike in WoW though, dying has serious consequences. First of all you lose every single item in your possession that was not soulbound to you (you can’t trade soulbound items with other players, so you can’t just soulbind every single piece of equipment). You also lose a significant amount of experience (you can’t lose levels though – you inquire xp debt in the case you lose too much xp). After that you have to choices. You can summon your tombstone to you and by doing this damage all the equipment, or you can travel to the point where you died and pick up the items, thus preserving them and getting back a large portion of the xp you lost. A lot of the content (at least in the lower level areas) is accessible to solo players and Sigil said it would be possible to level up all to 50 (the highest level) by playing on your own. This path of advancement is slower than doing group quests though, so grouping once in a while is recommended. Thanks to the good LFG tools it is also quite easy to find a group.

Certain parts of the world will only be accessible to higher level characters by means of a flying mount or by boat. Just like the previously mentioned houses the boats will be player created and will use as transportation means to out of reach islands and underwater areas. The exploration factor is well defined from the early moments in the game, but it really takes form at later levels with huge dungeons and hard to reach places.
PvP is also a part of adventuring. If you create your character on one of the PvP servers there are two possible scenarios. If you chose a FFA PvP server expect everybody to want to kill you. This frenzied attitude is bound to die down soon, but at the moment it is “kill or be killed”. Team PvP servers are a bit better, as you can only kill players of the opposing faction (each of the 3 continents has a good and a bad faction), but even there you aren’t safe anywhere. The authors said that they’d implement guards to prevent killing in towns in the near future, so hopefully that will help somewhat as well.

When creating a new character you have 19 races to choose from. Yes, that is not a typo! Other than the classic human for each of the continents and the standard high and wood elves you can play as an orc, a goblin, a vulmane (humanoid wolf), a gnome and some other unusual races. The choice doesn’t end there however. Your choice of class is limited to 15 classes split into 4 groups – defensive and offensive fighter, healer and caster. For the first time ever I had the pleasure of playing a healer that was not only self efficient, but actually very fun to play. And even though there are so many different classes they are all very unique to play. The blood mage healer class for example is capable of doing some serious DOT (damage over time) while at the same time taking advantage of the offensive spells to heal himself and his companions.

It’s a beautiful world

If you took my advice earlier and had a look at the screenshots you know by now that the game is amazingly good looking. The draw distance is close to the one in Oblivion, which means you can see about a mile or more away. And the level of detail is breathtaking most of the time. Some areas may look a bit boring, but considering how huge the continents are and how detailed the textures and models are that can easily be overlooked. Behind it all is the Unreal engine, which does an incredible job of displaying the world load time free. There are still some issues when crossing chunks (in game zones) which reset the camera and freeze up the game for a second or two, but I’m sure they’ll be ironed out soon enough.

The amazing looks seen in the screenshots have a high price though – the hardware requirements are astronomical. If you want to play on the highest settings you’ll have to have at least 2 gigs of memory and having a dual core won’t hurt. Your graphics card should also be in the in top 10% or you’ll be forced to start lowering details. Luckily the engine is very scalable, so you can play on older hardware as well, but you’ll lose eye candy such as the depth of field blur and long draw distances.

The sound effects in the game are well done and it is easy to actually feel as if you are there. One area the game really shines though is the music. Each chunk has its own distinctive music so you won’t get tired of listening to the same music all the time. The songs are very well written and give you that epic feel, especially if you just happen to be looking at a huge monument or something of that nature.

Conclusion

Throughout the review I did my best not to write about the current status of the game. That is because at the time of writing this the game has only been out for a few days and there are many bugs still present. The developers are fixing them at a daily rate and just yesterday there were 3 server restarts so they could apply minor patches. So yes, right now the game is still rough around the edges and if that bothers you, you should wait a few months before trying it out. Personally I haven’t had any real issues except for the random monster teleporting a few hundred meters away and then back again. Others were not so lucky and came across broken quests and even technical issues such as memory leaks. But at the rate Sigil is patching the game up I expect it to be in a polished state quite soon.

So who would I recommend the game to? Those who enjoy a good challenge and want exploration to be an important part of the experience should definitely give Vanguard a try. And let’s not forget about the people who (just like me) like well designed worlds with plenty of lore behind every settlement and cave. Pacifist MMO players will also find plenty of things to do in Vanguard. But regardless of which aspect of the game attracts you the most be sure to expect some bugs, at least for the time being.

Gameplay
16/20
Vanguard has a lot speaking in its favor – the crafting and diplomacy aspects are well designed and are just as important as adventuring. Exploration and quests are also very well done. Unfortunately there are a lot bugs present at the moment.
Graphics
18/20
This is by far the best looking MMO out there. The characters are all highly detailed and the country side is almost as good as the one in oblivion. You might need a futuristic PC to run it though
Sound
19/20
The music, I just can’t over how good it is. I’d actually be quite happy playing the game with no sound effects and just the music playing in the background. That is not to say that the sound effects are bad though!
Value
17/20
Just as most MMOs it will take months before you run out of things to do. With 19 races, 15 classes, 3 spheres of play and thousands of things to own (horses, wyverns, boats, houses, etc.) you can expect Vanguard to last a long time.
Preference
16/20
You have to answer two questions here. Do you like MMOs? Do you like to have a hard time and to be constantly on your toes? If you answered yes to both questions look no further.
Overall
86/100
The final score you can see here is not exactly fair. It is slightly higher then what the game deserves at this point, but it is also lower than what it would deserve in a months time. If it weren’t for all the bugs it would easily have been a 90+ game.

 



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