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March 31, 2007
Vanguard Review: Does Vanguard Really Add Up
 

By: G. Lance Brazell Aka: -Avalon-

Vanguard advertises many great and wonderful new things to the MMO industry, but as of a couple of months after release, does it really deliver what it hoped for yet? They wanted to add a new level of player made items such as houses, boats, and more. There are other things, like fellowships, caravans, and the like. Are they in, and how do they stack up in the modern world of massively multiplayer online games. The whole of the game is broken into 4 spheres (most say only 3, but I think that if really thought about, there is a fourth). Each sphere has its own tools, worn equipment, and skills.

Harvesting

There isn't much new here. Players collect their tools and their harvesting outfit and set off into a dangerous landscape full of all sorts of monsters and such. Harvesting is its own sphere in its own right because it requires a completely different set of equipment down to the pants the character is wearing. It is broken into several different basic categories: Quarrying (for rocks and gems), mining (for metals), lumberjacking (for wood), skinning (for hides), and reaping (for plant based items). The biggest hardship in harvesting is in the fact that players sometimes, depending on starting area, have to track down the trainer who could be hiding in a crevice in a town full of hills, or have to run 5-10 minutes away from where the player started to the bottom of a hill and look behind a rock to find him.

The characters start by getting a simple quest to go chop down basic trees or mine some rocks. Then, The characters get a quest to combine them, and finally have to choose a primary and a secondary harvesting skill (and turn off the other three), based on the simple quests which have only shown the player the basics of one of the five harvesting skills. The good news is that players can always go back and switch to a different harvesting skill at any time. The bad news is twofold. First, when players re-specialize into another harvesting skill, they lose all of their points in the other skill that they subbed out, and then start back at 1 for the new skill. If a player ever decides to go back to the skill they originally had, they will do this again, and be back at 1 for the original skill, having forgotten everything they ever learned about it, having had some sort of strange lobotomizing procedure done when they switched the first time. Secondly, since, currently, there are harvesting trainers only in the major starting city locations, players will most likely have to travel a good 15-20 minutes to get back to them and start their harvesting up. So, if a player has decided to level up as an adventurer, and then pick up harvesting later on, they will find they must do a great deal more traveling to obtain their skills than if they had started back when they were level 10 or less.

There is a bright new part of harvesting though. In Vanguard, players are not limited to pretty much solo gathering of the many resources. They can team up with someone to collect the items, as other players can harvest the same resource with each other for a better result. If a player is teamed up with someone else who knows the same skill, they will gather much more of the resource, and also have someone to hang out with the whole time. If they do not have that skill, they will need to purchase a specialty tool that allows them to help harvest that specific resource, but cannot harvest it themselves.


Crafting

For once in my personal MMO history, there is a game that I have become addicted to in terms of crafting. Vanguard has made crafting a truly complex and well-thought out endeavor. To start with, players have three basic skill-paths for crafting: Outfitting, Artifice, and Blacksmithing. There is of course the usual beginner's tutorial to teach players the very most basic parts of crafting, and then they throw them to the wolves to pick up everything from there until they reach the end of their first tier of crafting.

To craft, players have to have gathered basic resources such as metals, wood, or hides, and then get other basic supplies such as oils, fuels, adhesives, cures, etc. Players also need to know recipes to forge these items together using the unique process that Sigil has created for crafting. The classic sequence is a 1+1/1+1 method, where players first supply the basic item (1), then modify it using a two step process (+1/1) to increase the progress and quality, then finish the item (+1), all to build an item. There are several sub-abilities for each step along the way with different costs and specialties of their own. The enemy of any crafter are the points. Those pesky things keep many crafters from completing a recipe just to get some junk to sell and continue crafting. The reason is that Sigil threw in complications along the way, examples are snagged threads, broken tools, and heat exhaustion, all of which can be overcome if the player wishes to spend the extra points to work them off. If they are not worked off, those complications will cost any other ability either extra points or reduced quality.

At the end of the first tier, players will embark upon a quest to specialize who they are and what they craft. Since I am playing a blacksmith, my choices are weaponsmithing and armorsmithing. In other skills players have multiple choices that lead to making all sorts of things. Two of the more innovative items that can be built are houses and boats.

Other games have had them, but not in quite the same way. Houses can actually be crafted in Vanguard. It requires decently high levels in artifice, collecting a lot of wood, and a lot of rock. A player can buy the land then hire on another player to build his house, and put their specialized house on the land. I say specialized because everything in Vanguard comes in a wide variety of styles: Thestran, Kojan, Qalian, and a basic style. So, theoretically, players could have a guild hall, built by a professional Qalian artificer, which looks like a sultan's palace in the middle of the very Dark Age looking Thestran continent.

Boats are a great addition to any MMO, and more awesome is the fact that they can be crafted by players. The boats come in the same styles as all other crafted items in the game, but can be tiny, small, large, etc. Depending on the size of the boat, players will be able to sail into different places around the world. Places that can be navigated are the wide oceans, the many bays, and even streams and rivers that run far inland to allow a player access to hard to get places with ease.


Diplomacy

This is quite possibly the most innovative part of Vanguard is the new diplomacy system. Finally, someone has introduced a way for players to talk to the various non-player characters wandering around the world in a real game-changing manner. The effects of these interactions can be anything from as little as earning a little bit of extra coin, getting some prestige, and having someone killed, all the way up to things like reducing prices on vendors, giving bonuses to crafting, harvesting, and the like, all across the region.

Diplomacy is done by playing a card game a lot like a very complex version of War mixed with Pinochle, or if you have played it, Magic: The Gathering. Diplomacy has four suits: Reason, Logic, Flattery, and Demand. There are also different forms of conversation such as inciting the person, getting into a gab-fest of gossip, and some others. To play this game players have to develop a strategy made up of five cards. Then they talk to the NPC and begin a battle of wits with cards.

To win, players only need to keep their score above zero by the end of the game. This is done the easiest by keeping the score at one or more for the majority of the game. The cards played will build up certain suits for the player and the opponent at the same time, while gaining overall points for the player's side to win. Some cards will require a great deal of points in a particular suit though, so the player needs to be very careful about their strategy building. Overall, I think it is a great new way to spend time while you are in the city.

Adventuring

The most important part of any MMO as far as most people are concerned. This is the ability to wander around, kill monsters, and gather up a hoard of treasure and renown. Vanguard does not disappoint in this area, at least not too much.

With fifteen classes, and more than fifteen races, players need not worry about lack of choices for character creation. And since the classes are all very different in their styles of play, and the races each have good variations among their benefits and disadvantages, there is no end to replay ability. That is, if a player has time to do so, since the advancement rate in Vanguard is skewed pretty heavily in the direction of a hardcore player that has some time on their hands to spend leveling up their character.

Players can solo pretty effectively from one all the way to about 20-25, but then most character types begin having strong difficulties without a group to back them up. For that brief introductory period, the player is given a tidbit of info and help along the way as far as game mechanics goes so players will have to figure out the majority of how to perform different actions all on their own.

These tidbits do get players on to quests that give a decent back story of why they are there and what they are doing in the story of Vanguard, which is a very well thought out, in-depth, storyline featuring Gods, cataclysms, wars, and all the other good stuff any fantasy world worth being in should have. What are missing are the directions to help players find that storyline.

Once past the beginner's areas, the game explodes outwards, as if they were confining the player in a small closet since they were born then throwing them into the vast wilderness of Africa with only a few pieces of info to guide them on their way. At first this may seem extremely daunting, but after a week or two, players learn the basics of travel and how/where to go at each point in the game.

 Harvesting 5
7.5
 Crafting 9
 Diplomacy 9
 Adventuring 7

Summary

Vanguard has a lot to offer in areas with crafting and diplomacy, but adventuring seems to get a bit tedious with the long travel times and slow advancement rate that requires that most players adopt an old time method of grinding and lather-rinse-repeat. Harvesting helps to break up the monotony of killing one after the other though, and since it is required to harvest materials so that a player can craft, it all ties in together fairly well overall.

 
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