Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Early Vanguard Trial Impressions

Vanguard - despite its reputation as a harsh, old-school game with a dwindling population - has been vaguely on my list of things to try someday for a while now.  I'd been hoping for a free-to-play relaunch, but SOE has taken that option off the table, and honestly I may be better off with the $20 Station Pass offer anyway; if it's not worth paying $5 more than I'm already paying for EQ2 many months, it's not worth my time, and this way the game doesn't get hit with all of EQ2X's cash shop antics.

The game's free trial is back online now that the dust has settles from the SOE hack, so I decided to take it for a spin. 

Searching for character
The refreshingly varied list of character races include cat, wolf, and fox people, along with goblins, giants, and other fantasy staples. 

I wanted to try out a class with a good reputation for soloing to mitigate the difficulty, since I don't expect to be grouping much more than I do in other games (read: not all the time).  My first attempt was a Necromancer, your typical ranged DPS with pet.  I somehow keep forgetting that I hate to play ranged classes with pets because I end up feeling like my job is to watch the NPC do the work of actually fighting mobs, and this lasted about four levels. 

My next attempt is Disciple - a melee healer, with normal mana-based heals supplemented by heals on a melee combo point-like mechanic.  This is going much better, and it's moderately likely that this second character will stick, if for no other reason than because I'm not prepared to spend the time it takes to test drive all of the game's classes.  (Many classes don't get key abilities until a good way through the game's level curve.) 

It's worth nothing that Vanguard classes appear to be ahead of their time - DPS healer archetypes like the Disciple and the Blood Mage are increasingly popular in more recent games like Warhammer and Rift. 

Complexity for its own sake?

The character sheet has six panels, half of which have multiple tabs, and some of which aren't where I expect to find them

On the one hand, I can definitely see what appeals to players who miss the old school days.  Vanguard has a crafting system like EQ2's, only this version features more steps, components and subcombines.  There's also a "diplomacy" minigame in which a number-based card system is used to model players negotiating with NPC's.  Adventurers can expect a group dungeon before they hit level 10.  On the other hand, some of the complexity feels redundant. 

Almost anything the player does advances multiple skills, factions, diplomacy standings, etc.  Characters have four separate sets of gear, stats and exp (adventuring, harvesting, crafting, and diplomacy, with an extra tab for your mount and appearance gear), each of which can be further equipped with containers of varying types.  I failed a crafting combine early because I got an error message saying that I needed a "rigging tool" to fix something that had happened, and I made the mistake of buying a second toolbelt to put the missing device into.  Apparently you can have more than one belt, but you can only use the tools from one belt in a single crafting effort per combine, - I ended up losing my materials because a tool I needed was in a belt I didn't realize was inactive. 

Some of this stuff isn't more challenging or more strategic, just complex for the sake of complexity.  One wonders if the game's notoriously rough launch might have gone a bit smoother if someone had asked whether some of these stats and tabs and mechanics were really adding to the game. 

Does the trial play to the game's strengths?
A familiar looking quest system
On his new Vanguard podcast, Ardwulf suggests that the game's "Isle of Dawn" free trial area demonstrates how the game plays, but fails to capture how the game feels.  Having started the trial, I definitely see what he means.  The starter quest series (one each for adventurers, crafters, and diplomats) are linear and just like every other quest-based MMO out there these days.  The confined trial approach locks players out of the open sandbox world that Ardwulf and Quert claim is the game's best feature, instead putting a generic questing experience with somewhat generic lore (all of the game's races, which have lore of their own in their subscriber-only starting areas, have to be willing to take these quests) front and center. 

I'm probably going to spend a bit more time with the trial before making any decisions, but it looks like players need to upgrade to a real account to get a real view of Telon.  That's an unfortunate situation for a game that is looking to attract more players.

An early quest calls for players to loot a toolbox.  If you were there in the real world, it would be easy to see (and you'd also be free to mistakenly bring the questgiver any of the other abandoned tools in the area).  In your standard 3rd person MMO interface, the primary challenge in this quest is figuring out which small part of the landscape will accept a mouse click.


kaozz said...

I recently got the station access deal just so I could play EQ2 and VG. It is a decent price even if you fiddle around with one on the side.

I agree with Ardwulf, the world has a much different feel than the trial. I enjoyed the game so much more once I left the island.

Another thing with the trial is that the classes seem to open up after 10, they seem to round out and flow much smoother. Especially the necromancer, it is probably one of the roughest at the low levels.

I always had thought VG was some hardcore group game. While it is aimed at groups it isn't as harsh as I thought and I quite enjoy it more than I thought I would.

Hope you enjoy the trial, if you do decide to sub I think you will enjoy things more so upon leaving and getting a chance to see what a huge world is waiting outside the island!

Ardwulf said...

I hesitate to apply either the "old school", "hardcore" or "sandbox" labels to Vanguard becuase people will tend to read more into them than I think is appropriate. I guess I would say that Vanguard is old-schoolier, hardcoreier and sandboxier than most current and recent titles.

Had Vanguard had a more active development life, I'm guessing that some of the redundant complexity that you point out would have been polished right out of the game. On the other hand, I think it might also have resulted in the ease level of the content generally increasng, and having kept that is a part of Vanguard's charm.

Thanks for the shout-out on the podcast, by the way. We may be talking again about this on the next show, but my recommendation at this time is to start your first character on the IoD, but subsequent characters in the less consistent but also less linear and more organic racial starting areas.

Magson said...

You can swap your active toolbelt while crafting. It takes a few action points (low amount, but I don't recall exact number) and then you7 usually have to switch back to your "main" toolbelt afterward, but the option is there.

Sadly, it's been long enough since I've played VG and crafted with the need for the 2nd toolbelt that I don't recall how to do it. I recall it being easy enough -- probably just a right-click -- but I don't recall for sure.

FWIW, I live the idea of the game, but I've never gotten a character past level 14, and believe it or not, I've only ever gotten 1 toon past the IoD. I really do prefer the playing in the racial starting areas, it's just the IoD has such amazing gear for the level that it's hard to justify starting elsewhere -- from a mechanics standpoint anyway. From a lore and imo "fun standpoint" I think the IoD really fails.