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The best MMORPG that never was the best MMORPG

On my first day of re-evaluating the current state of Vanguard: Saga of Heroes I have to say that I'm disappointed... but for the worst possible reason. If Vanguard was a bad game, that'd be fine, it's time to move on. Unfortunately, Vanguard is a good game that I'm not allowed to play due to technical problems I'm having.

Why do I have the audacity to suggest Vanguard is a good game? Because Vanguard does a number of things extremely right that most MMORPGs either lack the vision or the talent to pull off:
  • An alive feeling MMORPG world.
  • This is brought about by the sum of its parts: A far off clipping plane, good looking weather, "chunks" instead of "zones" producing a more seamless-feeling world, player-owned ships anchored in the river, player tradesmen performing work out in the open, player diplomats influencing people in the streets, and many other things.
  • Player skill matters.
  • Most MMORPGs' balance is one of persistence: It's not about how good of a player you are, it's about how many helpless mobs you've ground beneath your feet. Vanguard is one of the few MMORPGs that are well enough balanced for player influence to matter. Here, adequately leveled mobs fight back, and only a group working together like a well-oiled machine has a chance of success against that 5-dot juggernaut.
  • A PC Gamer's MMORPG
  • Final Fantasy XI also has a living feeling world balanced in such a way that player skill matters. However, FFXI will always be gimped by its PS2 compatibility and console-hobbled interface. Vanguard is a game that benefits from a powerful rig. Playing it on my Q6600 CPU was a much different experience than my single core Pentium 4 650. Plus, the interface is pretty advanced, and apparently third party mod enabled.
  • A really nice looking for group interface.
  • Most MMORPGs rely on players finding groups the old fashioned way: Searching /who lists and sending /tells to everybody in the appropriate level range. Dungeons and Dragons Online showed us a better way: A two-way "Looking for Group" and "Looking for More" mechanism that lets players not only put themselves up for grouping but also to contact existing group leaders, saving that leader a lot of searching. Vanguard's LFG/LFM GUI interface is, if anything, even a slicker implementation than DDO's. I easily found myself in a group within ten minutes on both my attempts to find one. Why do so many other MMORPGs insist on living in the stone age when it comes to the all-important aspect of allowing their players to meet other players?
I was well fished in by these aspects and others in Vanguard. Nearly my entire Saturday went down the tubes with the kind of blissful disregard for reality's obligations that is a MMORPG junkie's secret shame.

Unfortunately, over the space of this single day, my MMORPG gamer's bliss was transformed into a MMORPG gamer's bittersweet torment.

This reversal of fortune was thanks to several technical issues that remain with the game even now, 8 months after release:
  • Many kinds of client instability.
  • Compared to release, Vanguard's stability has improved - I only crashed one or two times all day. However, there were stranger technical issues yet to take it's place: GUI windows that were corrupted, only to snap back to their proper texture a second or two later (or, in extreme cases, when I moved the window). Complete client lockups lasting about ten seconds, once that resulted in my hero suddenly dropping dead (perhaps having been projected as running off a cliff during the lockup time). It's quite possible that some of these client stability problems are my fault because they're the kind of thing you can expect when your video card is misbehaving. However, given that the game playable most of the time, I'm more prone to believe that the lack of communication is occurring in the software.
  • Eyeballs!
  • If your camera is forced through your avatar's head, when you first reach the character login screen, or shortly after zoning into an instance before everything is drawn, you're treated to a view of two glassy orbs floating in mid-air. Basically, the eyeballs (and at times other facial features such as gaping teeth) render before anything else, and this can sometimes be ghastly. You can probably get used to it in time, but what an immersion-breaking eyesore! *cough*badpun*cough*
  • The Grind
  • To an extent, I'd have been willing to overlook the grind so long as I am still having fun. However, I have to confess that only getting 1 adventure level (under level 15) and 2 trade skill levels (under level 10) from a full day of playing seems a tad sparse to me. What do you suppose the odds are that I'm going to suffer through such a plodding pace of content revealing?
It was mostly the instability issues that made Vanguard so difficult to deal with. It might be an overheating problem but, if so, Vanguard's the only game that pushes my video card that hard. (I don't even overclock it.) I'm going to try a few things on my side to get rid of them, whether or not it's a problem with my system in particular, there's no way I'm tolerating my hero dropping dead because my client locked up on me.

It's a pity, there's an excellent game to be found in Vanguard. Unfortunately, now as in release, that excellent game is obscured by its imperfections.
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