Sunday, September 4, 2011

What I'm Working On: Vanguard

Tell that tree that I've had enough of its amateur shenanigans!
My "what I'm working on" update for Vanguard is less of a current work in progress than something I got done on the way out of town for vacation.

I was finally able to get off of the newbie trial island, hitting level 11 in both adventuring (Disciple) and Diplomacy.  The last quest area would have been very tough to solo, but was fine with a second person - fortunately, there are people running around the temple during peak hours.   

The Lucky Charm bracelet, for completing the newbie adventuring line.  The item is much prized because it goes on your diplomacy outfit but gives you adventuring stats, and cannot be earned in any other way besides completing the newbie island as a new character.  Also note that it will be sent into your diplomat bags automatically if there's room - I spent about 5 minutes trying to figure out where it went when I obtained it. 
As I had anticipated, getting into the game's real world did indeed make a big difference.  Unlike the generic lore of the starter island, the game's original starting areas have lore that is tailored to each race.  Meanwhile, parts of the game begin to make sense than they did while staring at page after page of UI's - for example, the equipment tab for your mount allows players to swap in different colored barding on the same mount model, where every other MMO just has the player buy multiple mounts that are pre-outfitted.  

Triumph of the horse that let me choose the color of its saddle-blanket equivalent.
For me personally, the thing that really stands out about Vanguard is the variety of non-combat quest options - the crafting and diplomacy quests are a refreshing change from the normal MMO world where violence solves everything.  That said, this area bumps into the area where my impression of the game and its older UI is the the weakest, namely travel.

Intercontinental travel is handled by a system of teleport crystals - for a very small fee, players can teleport to the location of their choice, and the NPC's will even offer breadcrumb quests to all the level-appropriate locations in the game.  Once you're actually in the zone you want, though, your only guide is a compass that does not indicate altitude, or even whether you're on the right continent. 

The second diplomacy quest once you're off the newbie island points players at one of the game's major cities, which I had never heard of and was not located on the continent I was on.  First, I went to the correct coordinates, which were clearly indicated on my map even though they were on the wrong continent.  Then I somehow missed a turn and ended up in the city docks, trying to figure out why I couldn't get to the coordinates which were up above on top of the cliff.  A few steps later, you're sent off to another city on yet another continent, and again it took me a while to figure out that the new location was not actually in the place the compass seemed to be pointing to. 

Fans of the sandbox and immersion may argue that this system is realistic (real people may assume that you know approximately where famous cities are) and leaves more for the player to figure out on their own.  Fair enough, and perhaps this would have impressed me back in 2005.  Today, the fact that it takes 5-10 minutes to ride my horse from the teleport point on the outskirts of town to a Fed-Ex quest objective that I actually know how to find (and will immediately leave for the next mission) is a dealbreaker by the second or third time it happens. 
A shiny flight beacon, for a "how to use the rental flying mount" tutorial.
Overall, I liked Vanguard better than I expected to, despite some arguably unfortunate design choices (such as sending free trial players to the highly generic newbie island).  On some level, complaining about sandbox in one of the last sandbox-like MMO's standing is like rolling on a "PVP" server and complaining about being ganked - if you don't like it, you picked the wrong place to play. 

And so, I wandered off without much fanfare.  Not because I was out of things to do, or because I hated the game, but simply because there were other things that I would rather spend my time on.  I guess that's a mixed review, but I don't especially fault the game for it, and I hope it sticks around for people who enjoy it. 


Stabs said...

I pretty much had the same experience a couple of years ago.

I rather enjoyed the newbie island and found many of the game's systems fascinating. After I left I found the vastness and emptiness somewhat daunting. It didn't help that I kept dying on my routine quests. I think some of the game areas were designed with an expectation that a population of players would be aggressively keeping the monsters down which of course they aren't now.

It's still a magnificent MMO experience, one of the most impressively made and beautiful MMOs.

Yeebo said...

Your post made me think of SWG in several ways. Love the last screenshot!