Vanguard: Saga of Heroes is a Massively-Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (MMORPG) that has been out for around two years. I have been following the game since it was in the beta stage, where it gets player tested for bugs and other issues before it is commercially released, and have always thought it sounded innovative and fun. Unfortunately, when the game launched, it was plagued by performance and stability issues, gameplay imbalances between the character classes that players could choose from, unfinished or bugged quest lines, and a whole host of other issues. All of this resulted in a lot of negative press and subsequently many of the 200,000 people who purchased and subscribed to the game quit in frustration.
Fast forward two years. I stopped playing World of Warcraft and Everquest II, and began looking for a new MMORPG that could hold my attention. While browsing gaming sites, I stumbled upon Vanguard again, and thought I’d give it a second look. I decided to do my homework before I subscribed, since I still remembered all of the problems the game had when it launched. After visiting the game’s official forums and browsing the various threads, I learned that a good deal of the performance and stability issues had been fixed, player classes had been largely rebalanced, and quite a bit of new content had been added to the game. Unfortunately the game’s subscriber base never quite recovered from the rocky start, and so the server populations were greatly diminished and the several servers that the game initially had were merged into four remaining ones, with two “normal” servers, one for EU timezones, and one for player versus player (pvp) combat. The development team had also been largely reduced, and the game is apparently not really being marketed anymore.
With all of that said, the remaining developers seem to be doing an outstanding job at continuing to fix problems and still are able to add new content to the game on a fairly regular basis. In fact, they have just finished and introduced a free 14 day trial that sets you out on an island and lets you advance your character to level ten in adventuring, crafting, and diplomacy, in order to have a first hand look at what Vanguard is all about before you shell out your $15 monthly subscription fee.
Since I had been interested in the game for so long and it now had a free trial, I figured I had nothing to lose by downloading it and checking it out. It took me about 30 minutes to download the trial, and then I was ready to go! Or so I thought. I logged in, the music started playing…and then my computer crashed to a blue screen with some sort of error message. After making much use of search engines and internet forums, I was able to find out that my particular error was not the game’s fault, but rather I simply needed to update my video drivers. It was a relatively quick and painless process to update those, and then I was off and ready to go again!
The second time was the charm with this game, and I came to the character selection screen. I was able to choose a first and last name, a race, and a class, or fighting profession, for my character. A few minutes and clicks later, and my halfling cleric was born. Then I was taken to the cusomization screen, where I was able to change eye color, hair style and color, basic clothing style and color, and a myriad of other little details, ranging from how far apart the eyes were, to what the shoulder mass of my little halfling was. These steps provide a level of customization that I haven’t really seen in any other game I’ve played, and even though some of the changes are minor ones, it really does give you a sense that you won’t run into a carbon copy of your character out in the game world, which is nice.
After the character customization comes the server choice. Being in the United States, I ruled out the EU server, and since I hadn’t heard great things about the player versus player server, I ruled that one out as well. I was left with the remaining two U.S. servers and just picked one randomly. Finally, I was ready for the actual game.
It must be said at this point that my computer is a couple of years old, and wasn’t exactly cutting edge even then, so I had to adjust some of the graphics settings down so my video card didn’t explode, but I was still able to appreciate the level of detail that has gone into this game. From the blades of grass and trees swaying in the breeze, to the rain and ambient insect noises, it’s clear that this game was meant to be immersive, and in my opinion it delivers. Each non-player character (NPC) you interact with has something to say, and the quests you are assigned to do have a nice flow to them, and all the while they are educating you on the game lore for the trial island. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep that first night, as everywhere I looked and everyone I interacted with introduced me to some new game mechanic or advancement of the storyline. In short, I was hooked.
The other players on the island seemed to be a mixture of new people to the game, like me, and others that have played for much longer, but were starting alternate characters for some of the rewards you apparently get after completing all of the quests on the island. For the most part, the in-game chat was filled with people asking game related questions and usually getting friendly and helpful replies. There was the occasional immaturity, but that is really to be expected, since it is a game. By and large though, the player community on Vanguard seems to be a little older and a lot more mature than most other games I’ve played, so that was a big bonus for me. I was able to join a couple of groups of players to finish up the more difficult quests, and each time everyone was polite, helpful, and patient with me as I asked questions and was still figuring out how to do certain things.
After a few days of giving this game entirely more attention than I had planned, my little halfling was at level 10 and ready to explore the rest of the world. I still had several days left on my free trial, but after weighing the pros and cons to subscribing, I found that the pros far outweighed the cons, and I figured for the price of two movie tickets (excluding popcorn and drinks) a month, I was really getting a lot of value, so I took the plunge and paid my membership fee. One huge download later, and the rest of the world was opened up. I definitely foresee a lot of fun and a lack of sleep in the weeks and months to come!