After nearly five years in development, Vanguard has created much buzz in MMO circles. Originally billed as the game that hardcore World of Warcraft players would want to leap into after getting tired of grinding Blizzard’s end game, and later toned down (if not the game, then at the very least its marketing) to appeal to a wider audience, Vanguard’s lengthy development has clearly had its share of ups and downs. But despite any hate you may have heard on message boards in the days and weeks leading up to its release, Vanguard is actually quite fun.
Diving straight in to character creation, the range of options among the 15 diverse classes and 19 varied races clearly establish Vanguard as a game targeted toward those with previous MMO experience. Many of the differences between the classes seem miniscule at first, though, so choosing the one that’s right for you may take some trial and error. For our primary character, we chose a Vulmane Necromancer, a wolf-man with the power of the underworld behind him. He’s reminiscent of a Warlock from World of Warcraft, with spells that prevent enemies from getting close enough to do you harm, and a pet by his side to do your bidding.
Vanguard’s tutorial quests are fantastic, and an absolute necessity for players new to the MMO genre. Easy to find, start, and finish, they do a first-rate job of easing players into this complex game and its slick interface. As a result, figuring out how to bind your abilities to hotkeys or scrolling through the quest log is extraordinarily simple. Travel is a cinch, too, since the little compass located at the top center of your screen acts as a waypoint marker for quests. You’re going to need this too, as the game world Telon is massive and many quests require some serious legging.
Vanguard also includes one of the most innovative features we've seen in an MMO in some time: diplomacy. Diplomatic battles are waged through parley, the equivalent of a fight, but with words. Parleys are won and lost by the use of cards that you use to argue against an NPC. You will be able to choose up to five verbal attacks in the form of cards in which to conduct your verbal duel. This is certainly a level of game play that we’d not expected, and the idea of not having to leave town in order to have a good time was a feature that grabbed us immediately.
When we finally did leave town we were a bit concerned. The player population at the moment isn’t that huge. Couple that with the size of the world, and you’re setting yourself up to rarely see another player. After a couple unsuccessful tries and some time learning the odd invite system, we managed to get a group.
This is a good time to point out that, frustratingly enough, this is a critical step - soloing doesn't seem to be much of an option. Vanguard practically forces you to party up, and further forces the players to get along with one another. It's not just due to an onslaught of quests that had monsters respawning much quicker than a single player could kill them. That's here, but it's deeper than that. For example, the MMO staple "instances", in which a game creates a dungeon or battle just for a small group, don't exist here. It's the quests versus everyone at once, and everyone at once vs the quests, for better or worse.
Telon is gigantic. The idea of playing in a world that feels equal in size to the one we live in is astounding. Moreover, it's an outright visual treat. When we were first given the opportunity to peer over a cliff and see a bayside city, we were astounded. There is quality in architecture that we hadn’t expected to see even from up close, yet we were seeing from far away.
Vanguard has everything to offer. Every inch of landscape is worth stopping and looking at, whether it be a gigantic stone cliff or just the blades of grass on a hillside. However, this vision shattered when we attempted to run the game on a machine with less juice. Vanguard chugged on a rig that had anything lower than a dual core processor and a 256MB PCI-E card - it puts your hardware to good use, but requires plenty of horsepower.
Vanguard has a huge amount of promise, thanks to innovative features that could satisfy everything from a diplomat to a hack and slash addict. The world that it all takes place in is amazing on terms of size and beauty. However, this is a hardcore MMO designed first and foremost for devoted players with lots of time to invest - just to get to level 10 will take you a few days, whereas you can hit that level in WoW in a long afternoon. If you're not looking for a game that will take you on the long haul, maybe World of Warcraft would be a better fit.