Friday, January 12, 2007
My Vanguard: Saga of Heroes experience has its ups and downs. Yesterday was predominantly a down day, which ended me up being very disappointed. I had run out of quests with my level 10 cleric, and noticed that, unlike WoW, Vanguard doesn't have "bring this parcel to the next area where you will conveniently find the next bunch of quest givers" quests. So I saddled my virtual horse and traveled around the continent of Qalia all evening as a tourist, looking what else there was than newbie areas.
That started nice enough, with the discovery that in Vanguard you can mount your horse while running, you can cast buffs while mounted, and if you cast an offensive spell you automatically dismount, instead of getting a "you can't do that on a horse" error message. But while moving away from Khal I noticed that my framerate wasn't improving. It stubbornly stuck between 7 and 10 fps, which isn't the smoothest way to see a virtual world. And apparently that wasn't a graphics card problem, because the Vanguard lag meter informs you about "network fps". I simply couldn't get a better framerate, because the connection was lagging. Sigh!
Things went downhill from there. I did find level 10 and higher mobs, but it became quickly apparent that there were very few quests beyond level 10. I could have leveled up by just grinding dispersed random mobs, but that isn't much fun. What is definitely missing is the "Crushbone factor", the added kick from having an area in which quests, mobs, and background story fall together to make a unity that is memorable. Vanguard sure has some interesting landscapes and architecture, but they aren't well used. While riding around I found one huge city right out of Arabian Nights, but there were only a handful of NPC vendors there, and not much going on. I also found some other interesting buildings, including a huge temple in the wilderness, but there were neither mobs nor NPCs there. In some places I could ride 15 minutes in a straight line and not meet a single mob nor NPC. What good are empty landscapes for a virtual world?
In the north-western corner of Qalia I stumbled upon a deserted mountain, a huge area, which had a handful of housing plots. Maybe 20 in total over the area, with up to 6 bundled in clusters. At this point I realized that player housing in Vanguard will be a huge disappointment. There simply won't be a housing plot for every player, and as the plots and houses cost huge amounts of money, only the most leet or large guilds will be able to afford a house. This isn't really "player housing", it is more "guild housing for the elite". A rough estimate from the amount of world I've seen and the number of housing plots I've encountered tells me that there will only be a few hundreds of them, on a server with a prime-time population of 3,000 to 5,000 players, which corresponds to roughly 20,000 players per server total. Only a few, single digit percent of the population will end up with a house. Bleh!
The final nail in the coffin was the news spreading like wildfire on the chat channels that SOE had announced January 30 as the official Vanguard release date. I nearly choked on that one. Vanguard does have potential, but it solidly falls into the category of half-finished. No way will this game be in any state which could decently be described as ready for release in less than 3 weeks. SOE is shooting themselves in the foot here, releasing an incomplete game two weeks after the Burning Crusade is probably the worst possible move. Three to six more months would both much improve the game, and draw on a pool of WoW players finding that the expansion couldn't keep them playing forever.
So my current plan is to ride around some other continents, maybe make a halfling rogue or so to see how other characters play, and then abandon Vanguard in time for the Burning Crusade. For this Saturday I got an invite for a Lord of the Rings Online Euro beta stress test. It only lasts half a day, from noon to midnight, and as far as I know the NDA isn't lifted yet, but at least it will give me an opportunity to compare this to Vanguard. Because I don't believe in a "WoW Killer" at this point in time, and in the end the games coming out in early 2007 will have to fight it out between them who grabs the second prize.