Review: Vanguard's free-to-play option brings Telon to the masses

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At a Glance
  • Sony Online Entertainment Vanguard: Saga of Heroes

Vanguard: Saga of Heroes was one of the long-awaited MMORPGs of 2007, coming from the original designer of Everquest and promising "old school" challenging gameplay with modern graphics and interface concepts. Despite multiple release delays, it was still shipped in a very buggy condition, with features promised on the box not yet implemented, and hardware requirements well beyond the standard desktop machine of the time. Recently, it has made the conversion to free-to-play, which is tempting enough to bring back some of the original players and possibly attract new ones.

Graphically, Vanguard was well ahead of its time, and implementation issues made even higher-end machines of the day sputter when running it. Years of code tweaks, and hardware improvements, have changed that; the game runs almost too fast on my mid-range hardware, I sometimes turn too fast or overrun a goal.

The landscape views, in particular, are outstanding. These are no painted backdrops showing you things that aren't part of the world. If you see a mountain or tower in the far distance, you can run to it. There are countless points where even a jaded player (I've been at this since Kesmai in 1990) will stop and stare. On the down side, many of the character models are stiff, and the cities are filled with people who just stand there, with minimal or no idle animation.

Gameplay in Vanguard is easily recognizable in general: Pick a race (limited if you're F2P), a class (ditto), and head off to gather ten rat tails, gearing up all the while, so you can gather 10 giant rat tails, and so on. Vanguard shines in the depth of character development. You don't just have your armor; you have a different set of clothes for Diplomacy, and another set for Crafting, and a fourth for Harvesting. You do switch between them automatically as you engage in different tasks. Your mount can be equipped with different horseshoes, saddles, and so on. Crafting is far more complex and interactive than in most MMORPGs; you must make constant choices throughout the process as complications arise or resources are expended.

If you can see it on the horizon in Vanguard, you can walk to it.

Combat consists of clicking the appropriate buttons in the appropriate order, though there is complexity here, as well. Different attacks set up conditions on the target which can be exploited by other powers, and those who master the various combinations, especially when they cross class boundaries, will have an edge.

Diplomacy is a type of gameplay that no other MMO duplicates. You perform it as a card game, slightly akin to Magic, and you earn cards (thus expanding your options in a diplomatic encounter) by questing and adventuring. Successful use of diplomacy can turn on region-wide buffs, so it has some direct impact on the world.

Another factor that might surprise those used to newer games is that death in Vanguard hurts. You lose some experience points when you die, though you can recover most of them if you make it back to your tombstone.

Also, nothing in Vanguard is instanced. The whole world is open. This can make things feel more immersive... and it can also lead to multiple groups of players "camping" the same dungeon spawn.

Vanguard has had only sporadic content upgrades since release. Many areas are unchanged from when I first played back in 2007. With the seeming surge in population since the F2P conversion, this might change, but large-scale updates are unlikely.

The Free-to-play model is extremely intrusive. Rather than have one or two classes reserved for paying customers, the bulk of character choices are off-limits. Quests are limited to 15 at a time. Vanguard gives you constant small reminders that free players are second- class citizens. Other F2P games, such as Lord f the Rings, offer more for free and are less prone to constantly throw up "You can't do that!" reminders.

Vanguard was launched with tremendous promise, and many planned features, such as a fourth continent and strategic warfare, never emerged. The current version is mostly identical to the launch version, with the bugs fixed and missing content (such as flying mounts and visible helmets) added. Those looking for a game that offers more of the classic style of older EverQuest, but with modern graphics, should check it out. Given that it's free to try, if you even suspect you might like that style, check it out.

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At a Glance
  • Vanguard is an immense MMORPG which has languished for years due to a poor launch. Shifting to free to play has brought in a population surge, and it is well worth checking out.


    • Great graphics
    • Huge world
    • Deep gameplay


    • F2P limited in odd ways
    • Content updates rare
    • Steep learning curve
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