SOE's fantasy MMO reaches its 6th anniversary, ZAM takes a look at what's on offer.
Vanguard: Saga of Heroes celebrates its sixth anniversary today after a year of drastic change.
Having gone free-to-play in August 2012, SOE’s hardcore fantasy MMO (that isn’t named EverQuest), is undergoing a lot of other changes beyond its revenue model. After the many stability issues the game originally suffered from, there has been a hefty undertaking to improve the game in all areas, one that is having obviously positive results.
I had the chance to go on an adventure through Telon with Producer Harvey Burgess and Game Designer Cory LeFever, who spoke of the 6th anniversary and the changes that have been brought to Vanguard.
Upon entering the Isle of Dawn, the beginner area, there is a pleasingly nostalgic feel for anyone like me who has been playing MMOs for more than a decade. Yet, beyond the urge to jump into the past, there is definitely an appeal with the sheer size of the game and the fact you can pretty much get to everything you see off near the horizon (something claimed by many MMOs but rarely fully realized).
Isle of Dawn itself was revamped for the launch of F2P, in order to streamline the early part of the game and introduce the players to the three spheres of progression: Adventuring, Crafting and Diplomacy. Vanguard is a game full of options and LeFever stressed how the new player experience was an important aspect in improving players’ engagement with the MMO.
Vanguard’s player population has grown since the move to F2P and then again after becoming part of Steam’s massive library of games in mid-October 2012. Even as we ran around in the EST afternoon, players passed by and questions and LFG requests were evident in general chat.
The free-to-play model used in Vanguard has been overhauled itself, with Burgess and crew looking at the formerly restrictive model and opening it up to players in order for them to get a better experience of the game.
“When a couple of us came onto this team, people had already started working on the free-to-play idea, but after we had launched that we really went back in the community, looked at feedback, looked at what F2P was and actually did internal play tests on free-to-play accounts, we realized we were limiting a lot of the game that makes Vanguard, Vanguard.”
Now players who take up the F2P option can play any race or class (there are a lot of combinations available) and also can take part in the robust housing system, where each player’s house exists in the actual game world.
The accurate accusations of stagnancy regarding updates and content have long since faded into history, with Burgess promising weekly patches that will range from bug fixes and general polish to new raid bosses and areas.
LeFever spoke of 17,000 new items that have been brought into the game in the past year to add further evidence of just how much work has been put into Vanguard and how much more is to come. Burgess added that the small development team that has taken over the game’s development is very much focused on bringing polish to the game that he admitted was lacking at its launch.
We hopped over to City of Brass, a Middle Eastern themed area with giant Djinn roaming malevolently along with some evil looking fiery wildlife
Again, the sheer scale of the high-level area was obvious and the lack of instancing means that guilds that are up for a challenge can race each other to the bosses and treasure that lie within. The raid system is an interesting take on the classic EQ style of open world raiding, where zerg is made untenable by a lockout of counted participants (up to 24).
Overhead a swirling fiery vortex (a link to the Plane of Fire’s involvement with the city’s lore) makes a foreboding backdrop and though, of course, we are not dealing with Crysis 3 graphics, the design team has done a lot with what they have to work with to make an area enticing to the adventurer. Twelve new group bosses lie in City of Brass plus a 12 person raid boss which had all been created from scratch. Burgess explained that new textures had been created for many of the NPCs, to ensure that the area was something players had not seen in game before.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Vanguard, from my point of view, is its commitment to community. The game is focused on group content, something that MMOs have been moving away from for quite some time, but it is reassuring to see games that emphasize the social aspects of MMO. Burgess repeatedly referenced the community of Vanguard and just how important they have been not only in providing guidance in redesigning the game but also in making the game a pleasure to play.
His words were exemplified by the amount of times in /OOC chat that queries were made and answers were provided without snark or recrimination. Noobie guilds are prevalent and new players are nurtured and respected with more regularity than one expects from many modern MMOs.
If you jump into Telon right now, you can grab your anniversary gift box from your friendly neighborhood historian and take part in the collection quests that lead to some special limited in-game items.
On its sixth anniversary, Vanguard is a game that has seen a big improvement on its original state, which holds a lot of appeal for some old-school MMO adventuring on an epic scale. With the player base growing and supporting the game with its own enthusiasm and knowledge, there seems to be plenty yet to come.