Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
Release Date: Q1 2007
For the last two years at E3, Sigil has gone out of their way to pontificate about the current crop of MMOs being too easy, and damnit, hardcore is where it's at — retrieve your corpse uphill in the snow, both ways stuff. Vanguard: Saga of Heroes was going to be the title for that hardcore crowd.
When Sigil told me this year that they were backing off from needing two sets of armor — one to fight with, the other to reclaim your corpse with — and level-losing death penalties, I was thrilled. Finally, someone there "gets it." Now, don't get me wrong; death penalties should hurt and not be so light that it's just a quick ride back to your bind point, but taking up to 10 hours to get your body back after a mistake is horrendous game design. I've suffered through enough lengthy corpse runs in EverQuest to last me until I die for real.
Now, Vanguard's death penalty will allow you to choose whether you lose XP or suffer an XP debt. That's the case unless, of course, you don't have enough of a buffer to absorb the loss, at which point you just get hit with the debt. One touchy issue they are still working through is what happens to your gear. The theory they talked about at E3 was that you'll respawn with most of your gear, but you might be missing a bag that'll be on your corpse; you can go get it, or wait a while (up to a day), and it'll come back to your inventory.
Sigil continues to flaunt their crafting system, feeling most crafting systems are A+B=C, and they are hoping to offer more of a challenge. In Vanguard, as you craft, you'll have to make choices that affect the quality of the finished piece (what sort of plane you use, how hot the fire is, etc.). Occasionally, the AI might throw a "complication" in the works, on which you'll need to spend Action Points in order to overcome. Not having enough points or choosing to not allocate them will affect the quality of the finished piece; for example, it might be a very sturdy piece but look like it was crafted by blindfolded jugglers. Complication is an apt descriptor, since crafting looks complicated as heck. It seems more robust than any other game's, and I'm curious to see how the hardcore crafters take to it. If you're just cranking out sub-parts and aren't overly concerned with the quality, it is possible to avoid the lengthy steps.
For player housing, you can purchase a plot that can support a certain sized house, which you'll buy from a crafter. You will only be able to build in specific areas, so the city sprawl you see in Star Wars Galaxies will thankfully be absent.
Groups of crafters will be able to build ships, which, naturally, you use to get from one port to another. However, ship travel does not look easy; wind direction affects travel speed, and sea monsters can attack you as well.
You can be one of 16 classes, and the classes are based on an archetype system (Fighters, Casters, etc.). You choose your class at start, and they are hoping that the hybrids don't suffer as they do in other games. For instance, they want their Paladins to tank as well as Warriors. There will also be lots of armor quests for each of the classes.
In terms of combat, Sigil is hoping to get way from the hit 123123123123 endlessly mode, and instead, they want to make combat more reactionary. You'll be able to chain up attacks to get one devastating attack, which it sounds very similar to EverQuest's Heroic Opportunities system. Spellcasters will be able to deflect or throw back a spell at who cast it. Of course, that NPC might be able to throw it back at you, and you can throw it back at them. Look everyone, it's spell-tennis: game, set, match.
There's also been a lot of talk about Vanguard now being published by Sony Online Entertainment. A lot of the designers used to work at SOE, and Brad McQuaid and Jeff Butler, Sigil's founders, were lead designers on EverQuest. The fan response to this has been interesting. Most of the uproar seems to be players believing that now SOE has its mitts in it, the hardcore-ness of Vanguard is going to be dumbed down.
People are reading too much into this because McQuaid and Butler left SOE on good terms. Previous publisher Microsoft has done poorly in the MMO space and has either cancelled or sold off all of its MMO offerings. Sigil and Microsoft were a bad fit, and there were rumblings that Microsoft wanted to make Vanguard a Vista exclusive.
Bringing Vanguard back to SOE makes sense all the way around. SOE publishes MMOs made by other groups, such as Perpetual Entertainment's Gods and Heroes. Also, a Vanguard customer is a potential lost MMO subscription for SOE, so why not get a piece of the action? Sigil gains SOE's marketing and distribution arm, and rolling it into SOE's All Access Pass means more players will be playing it as part of their subscriptions. It doesn't take a MBA from Harvard to see the win-win on this.
I'm cautiously optimistic about Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, and while Sigil remains mum on release dates, the game is currently heading into a widespread beta. Keep an eye out for it as next year's E3 approaches.
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