Tobold's Blog
Friday, January 12, 2007
Vanguard tourism

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.
Instanced player housing does seem to be the more elegant solution - Anarchy Online and EQ2. Trying to remember which door you have to go in is still preferable to not having room for a house at all.

Even in SWG, where the design meant there was easily enough room for everyone, many times over, the problem became a social one, with vast rambling deserts of houses, and very few actual players in any of them. (Second Life has a similar feel - houses all over the place, but never anything *like* total occupancy)

MMO houses are an optional toy thing, not a survival requirement like Out Here, so are best kept out of the way some place.

Well done on the LotR invite...that's actually one I'd consider breaking my own 'stay away from betas' rule over!
Your "Tourism" experience in Vanguard sounds identical to what I saw in SWG a couple of years ago. I remember walking away from the computer in abject horror after a 1/2 hour speeder run across the northewestern section of Corellia where I didn't see a SINGLE FREEKING MOB.

I hate to say it but I suspect this is SOE's fault. They just don't give a crap about quality. All the bad things I keep hearing about EQII and Vanguard were all the things that sucked about SWG. Crappy graphics that take a really expensive computer to run, lack of quests, lack of vision in the world design, areas totally empty or unfinished, game features unfinished and/or broken.

You'd think they'd quit throwing money down the toilet hole.
Player housing reflects the reality of real estate. In the real world, prime locations command prime prices, and they are affordable only by the elite. Maybe a game could offer employment to non-guilded non-elites as housekeepers for the elite homes.

Instanced housing removes some of this scarcity, but it also removes some of the motivation. If you can't show off your mansion in the middle of Stormwind, why bother buying it? :)
While it is popular to blame SOE for everything evil in the MMO world, it is still Sigil's game, SOE is just publishing it.

Sigial is running out of money and their financial backers (whoever they may be) do not want to put in more money at this point. In the end it has been Sigil's responsibility what they would do with the pile of money they have received.
You might want to do some more touring before concluding how much housing available. You missed a lot of the plots in the North Western section of Qalia. In the North Eastern section of Qalia are many islands with nothing but house plots. I don’t think any of the south Qalia zones are open yet to tell what they have. Each of the other continents have large sections of housing. Overall I have found more area devoted to housing than area currently populated with MOBs. Now if they populate the completely unpopulated areas with MOBs instead of housing this will change substantially.

The number I saw officially is currently 3000 plots and they will add more based on demand. As you could tell for the North Western area you visited they could add quite a few more plots.
My reaction to the 1/27/07 release date I heard earlier this week was:

Are they insane?

I can only assume this was thought of by the same people who moved EQ2's release date to be next to WoW and ended up eating their shoes.
/agree with kaziel - PvP in WoW is really awful. The gear is nice, and actually the way you earn honor points over time is perfect for people who can't raid.

But the battlefields are a joke. Horde wins AB and WSG almost all the time and Alliance (at least since the recent flag bug) wins AV almost all the time. Totally unbalanced.
Sounds a lot like the Vanguard I remember.

I was surprised to find Vanguard was still running, and a week ago I decided to give it another shot. There are many, many more quests, the world is much more heavily populated with NPCs and there is a lot more to do - unless you pick the last continent, Kojan.

My thinking was I would try Vanguard, laugh my socks off at Brad's "if we build it, they will come" mentality, and go back to something else.

FYI - Vanguard wasn't developed by SOE, they merely stepped in to publish it when Microsoft pulled out.

I last played SOH in beta. I hated the classes, I hated that everything that was broken was defended as "hardcore" by the fanbois, I hated the lag, I hated the fact they had shot for the moon with the graphics without appearing to worry about whether or not you could hold your breath long enough to reach the destination.

I logged into Vanguard with the box I'd just built - 2.4GHz Quad Core, 2Gb DDR2 1200, GeForce 8800GT.

Before doing anything else, I threw settings into Ultra High. Its rare for an MMO to visually please, but this managed it. Then my PC blue screened. That's a Windows issue, so I spent a half hour solving that - Vanguard has been, if nothing else, a great help in making my box completely stable.

I also had an issue with my nVidia drivers, but once I upgraded to the latest, it was fine.

I ran into a number of bugs in my first play session and it was really hit-or-miss whether I would play. It is not a game aimed at the solo player. I decided not to close my account, and the next day at work a colleague chimed in that he'd like to give it a try.

Two nights later, we started new characters and set out. Yes, there are some bugs, annoying bugs, bugs that shouldn't be there on release never mind year 1!

But somehow - we didn't throw our hands up in frustration. The world was very pretty, and we discovered the "Brotherhood" option which shares exp between members wehther they are on- or off-line so you can keep your exp synched even if someone takes a day off, and the "Random for Magical" need/greed loot system that kicks butt.

End of our first group night, it was definitely hit or miss - we'd bumped into so many quirks. But we decided to give it one more night. By the end of the second night, we were getting hooked:

. The combat system has depth, elegance and so many nuances that you won't be falling into a pattern any too easily,
. Each class plays out its combat skills a little differently, making alt play quite interesting,
. The rate of advancement is good, maybe even too fast,
. There are well thought out quests with depth and fun components, sometimes they run into "oh, the game isn't 100% upto this" issues, like the Ra'Jin Rooftops quest - which is a blast to do as long as you don't get snagged by lag, then its a total bitch.
. You can team up for harvesting to make it less tedious and more productive, and more easily weave it into your gameplay - unlike other games where everyone else just stands around idly while you crack rocks or something, they can join in and it pays
. The lore is largely tucked away in the "diplomacy" system, which can make a fun little aside
. Horses, boats, camels, flying mounts, all make things to shoot for, as does equipping your horse with shoes/saddles/barding, etc.

Been playing now for a week, I've definitely gotten my $39.99 worth and at this stage I'm considering a subscription.
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