Tenfold Hate

Vanguard Week Two: An Overview
December 17, 2007, 1:08 am
Filed under: Vanguard: Saga of Heroes

Admittedly, I didn’t clock in as much game time in Vanguard this week as I did last week. I enjoyed the time I did spend playing it, but it didn’t quite scream to be played like other games have in the past. I haven’t yet found the answer to the question, “Why Vanguard and why NOT WoW, EQ2, or LoTRO?”

I rented a wyvern and took a bird’s eye tour of Qalia, but otherwise I’ve just been knocking off quests with my blood mage feeling like I’ve done this all before in a slew of other games. If this was my first MMO, I’d probably be in love. But it isn’t.

Vanguard is a fine game. There’s just some intangible that’s not quite sucking me in. For all of their faults, both WoW and LoTRO have a stylized, coherent feel to their respective worlds. I’m just not getting this from Telon. I’m not a big PvPer by any means, but I do miss having a vaguely meaningful way to mix things up a bit when I want a breather from kill and collect quests. And frankly, if I am going to pursue the pure PvE route, I’d much rather do it in Tolkien’s world than McQuaid’s.

Admittedly, I was never a big EQ fan. I know this is the closest thing to blasphemy that can cross an MMORPGer’s lips, but it just wasn’t for me. I have a wee bias against EQ’s brand of high fantasy. I think rainbows and unicorns are the stuff of little girl’s bedroom wallpaper, not high adventure. Vanguard is a little darker, a little grittier, but also a little too similar mechanic-wise from what I’ve played in the past.

I can be a little testy about this stuff. I loved Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. When San Andreas was released, I tooled around with it for a couple weeks then dropped it like a hot potato. Outside of a few different mini-games, it was the same old song and dance beneath the surface. The same can be said for most video game sequels. This is one mark of Nintendo’s genius. The Mario games are all similar enough where there’s some level of brand continuity, but they’re always offering enough new elements to keep things fresh and appealing.

The whole fantasy MMORPG genre sometimes feels like those too-numerous-to-name, competent but unspectacular, sequels pumped out by any number of console game makers. So you like Pac-Man? You’ll love Ms. Pac-Man!

I hope I’m not sounding too negative here. But I think for any fantasy MMORPG released at this stage of the game, there has to be an answer to the question, “Why this game and why not EQ2, WoW, LoTRO, GW, et al?” In week two, I have yet to find the answer. I hope I do.

Perhaps I’m spending too much time daydreaming about the copy of Tabula Rasa I hope to find under the Christmas tree this year. Perhaps my real life WoW cronies’ proposition to start up a weekly casual play group this winter has got me nostalgic about peeking my head back into Azeroth.

After a year of licking my wounds from raid burnout, maybe I feel like if I’m gonna go back to a familiar playstyle with gear-oriented advancement systems, I might as well do it in a game I had a year-and-a-half invested in rather than under the guise of a “new” game.

But for now, I’ll keep plugging away at Vanguard and having a perfectly okay time doing it–unless either Funcom or Mythic decide to drop beta invites in my stocking. But I’m not gonna hold my breath on that one.

Hear Ye! Hear Ye! Christmas Comes Early in Telon
December 12, 2007, 10:52 pm
Filed under: Vanguard: Saga of Heroes

Vanguard Game Update #3 went live tonight. This is a biggie, including the introduction of Ancient Port Warehouse and Overland raids, further optimizations, a Khal revamp, new areas for player housing, and holiday content. Hopefully, the long-promised Trial Island is not far on this patch’s heels.

Welcome news for all those level fifties anxious for new content–and they threw some bones to the rest of us peons, too. Player reception to this update should be a fair indicator of whether Vanguard has a bright future or is just treading water until the axe finally falls. It’ll also serve as a good barometer of SOE’s true level of commitment to their red-headed stepchild.

My game is still patching, so not much else to add at the moment. Get the gory details over at station.com.

Vanguard Week One: An Overview
December 9, 2007, 9:09 pm
Filed under: Vanguard: Saga of Heroes

Today marks my first full week as a resident of Telon. My bloodmage reached level 14 this afternoon. There’s no shortage of quests at these early levels. In fact, they seem to pop up in huge clusters. I’m finding by the time I’ve made my way through 3/4 of them, I’ve dinged, run to town to buy spells, and then come upon yet another cluster of quests that pull me away from the region I had been exploring. I guess I’m not a completist when it comes to these things.

Almost everything you kill in this game impacts your reputation with one faction or another, either positively or negatively. I’m not sure how significant a role reputation plays in the game at so early a stage. I just hope it doesn’t come back to bite me on the butt down the road. I’m of the mindset that reputation should have positive repercussions for those with outstanding rep with a particular faction, but it should never be used as a glass ceiling to prohibit players from obtaining certain crafting patterns or access to a dungeon. I don’t have time for that type of silliness.

I had my first opportunity to try my healing shoes on for size in a small group quest outside the Neamsong Bunkers this week. I did okay, considering my group was composed of a sorcerer and a rogue. After our first wipe, I quickly learned that the traditional healing spells in my toolbar were just not energy efficient if I was gonna do a halfway decent job keeping my small band of adventurers alive. “Entwining Vein” is my friend. The spell drains life from a foe and transfers the hit points to an ally, allowing the bloodmage to mend allies and mutilate enemies all in one handy incantation.

The fun factor of this game, admittedly, has been much higher than I expected and technical difficulties on my new comp have been virtually non-existent. I did experience two crashes to desktop, both this weekend. Neither made me a happy camper. Otherwise it’s been smooth sailing.

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Getting My Gnomish Feet Wet in the Adventuring Sphere
December 6, 2007, 11:21 am
Filed under: Vanguard: Saga of Heroes

My bloodmage dinged 10 last night in Vanguard. I was able to purchase his beginner’s mount with what silver I’d squirreled away from harvesting ore and stone and selling vendor trash. I was also lucky enough to have an uncommon lowbie chestpiece drop off one of the mobs in the library outside Mekalia which garnered me a wopping silver piece.

So I reached level 10 in four nights of casual play (2-3 hours an evening)–and that was with plenty of experience loss and mucking about not knowing what the hell I was doing. I acquired a new combat form that I haven’t had the chance to experiment with and it seems a bunch of new tabs popped up on my taskbar.

I made my way to Kahl, which is the human city on Qalia. There’s a lot more action here player-wise, but the city struck me as a little sparse in character, lacking the coziness and flavor of my toon’s gnomish home in Mekalia. I guess humans just aren’t as touchy-feely as us gnomes, embodied well in some very cool Kahlian architecture I spotted. The entrance to the town’s harbor is flanked by two imposing statues that really lend a harsh, militaristic feel to this port city.

I’ll have to find some trouble to get into there once I’ve had my fill of questing around Neamsong Bunker. I need to break in my new mount, so I’m opting for the open plains and plateaus until the novelty of not having to run everywhere gets old.

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Eating My Words
December 4, 2007, 3:02 pm
Filed under: EVE Online, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes

It was a busy weekend. My new comp was delivered, I got it up and running, spent Sunday afternoon installing a couple games, and blew a good part of my evening behind the keyboard. I threw down an unhealthy chunk of change on this new rig, including the purchase of a 512M NVIDIA 8800 GT graphics card–NVIDIA’s “affordable” answer to their DX10 compatible cards. This baby runs like a dream.

I’m having a ball as a born again newbie in Vanguard. Adventuring is basically what we’ve come to expect from fantasy MMOs. Very fun, but nothing that strays too far outside the norm. I must say, the classes are very fun and diverge a bit from the standard fantasy fare. I created a gnome bloodmage and have not yet begun to uncover a fraction of all the cool things this very unique and fun-to-play class is capable of. From my initial experiences playing one, they seem like some Frankenstein coupling of a necromancer or warlock with a cleric or priest.

From the minute chunk of Qalia I’ve seen so far, the world is just beautiful. You really have to walk around and look at the amazing vistas and broad horizons yourself to really get a sense of the “open world” feel that the Vanguard team really nailed. Screenshots just don’t do the game justice. Gone are the flat, washed out, bland browns that darkened my screen last January when the game was released, but I’m not sure if this is due to optimization or my new video card. I’d imagine it’s a little of both. I can’t wait to level a bit, make some friends, and group.

The canine and feline player character avatars are still awful looking, but outside of that you can see where the team has made some significant strides over the past year. I have gotten sucked into diplomacy–after a year of bitching how translating the concept of diplomacy into a “stupid” card game is a cop out. It’s addictive, it’s fun, and it serves as a great way to delve into the drama, double dealings, and intrigue of Telon society firsthand.

Let’s see if this game can suck me in for the long haul. I’m gonna hold off on any real impressions of Vanguard until I can clock in a few more weeks of play. There are unicorns in the game, so I promise not to like it too much.

And here is where I eat my words. I downloaded the 14-day trial of EVE Online. I have always talked a lot of smack about this game. Not because I have anything against EVE. On paper, I’ve always considered EVE to be one of the few against-the-grain, outside-the-box MMO’s on the market. The chip on my shoulder has always been towards sci-fi MMOs. Or so I thought.

All I’ve done so far is create my character and run through the instructional demo provided at the intro. Man, was I impressed. EVE has the best character creation I’ve ever experienced as far as giving the player a social, political, and economic context by which to enter the game world. Controls seemed easy enough to pick up, even though I seem to suck at them.

I forgot what that learning curve was like when you pick up a new game and are unfamiliar with all of its intricacies. I could very well be punch drunk from so many months of not playing anything. So I’m gonna keep my mouth shut about these two until I have some significant play time under my belt. All I have to say is, it’s good to be back!

Will Instancing Rear Its Antisocial Head in V:SoH?
December 2, 2007, 12:07 am
Filed under: Vanguard: Saga of Heroes

A recent post by Vanguard developer Avarem on the Sony Vanguard forums reveals that the game’s first level 50 raid dungeon, Ancient Port Warehouse, could be instanced. On the surface, this may sound like bad news for diehard subscribers to the much maligned V-word. There they go, further watering down Vanguard and making it like every other fantasy MMO on the market. But I genuinely feel this is not their intent. There are a lot of features we’d like to see incorporated into MMORPGs that just aren’t technologically feasible quite yet. Let’s not forget that designers have to work with the tools they are given until the next wave of technology closes the gap even further between what can be done and what we can imagine.

I view anything out of most developers’ mouths–SOE or otherwise–with a good deal of healthy skepticism–but I think the way SOE is handling this will not spoil the open world feel that so many active Vanguard players hold dear. Let’s face it. With Vanguard’s as-yet-to-be-resolved hiccups, it’d probably be near impossible to negotiate your way around APW on a busy weekend night when you could potentially have 15+ groups (270+ players) concentrated in one area. Even if the server could handle it, your screen could very well become a slideshow–something pretty unwelcome when you’re in the middle of an important fight with 17 guildies reliant on your mad skills.

But make no mistake, this is not your granddaddy’s instancing. They are introducing a compelling twist that I think will maintain the game’s integrity. The instance will not be limited to one raid group. They’re shooting for instances that can hold about 10 raids simultaneously, thus negating that Skinner Box feel prevalent in so many other MMOs when you step through a dungeon door to find its corridors populated only by you, your closest acquaintances, and NPCs.

When the current Vanguard producer went on the most recent SOE propaganda-cast and threw out meaningless lines like “we’re bringing the sexy back,” I wanted to throttle my earphones and scream, “How about bringing tails to the hineys of your canine and feline avatars?” In my eyes, SOE has a lot to prove in their handling of this game.

Call me crazy, but I do think their proposed handling of APW is a very promising sign.

T.G.I. Rambling
November 30, 2007, 11:36 am
Filed under: Gaming, MMORPGs, Pirates of the Burning Sea, Tabula Rasa, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes

Looks like a slow end to the week–and the month–MMO news-wise. After a largely PC-less 2007, I scraped up my end-of-the-year savings and ordered a new gaming rig with what scratch isn’t going towards Christmas gifts.

I work for a college out here, so we have a built in week off between Christmas and New Year’s. My plan? Spend as much of that week as possible making up for lost game time. I’m talking skipping showers, ordering takeout, phone off the hook, chainsmoking, tinfoil on the windows, trucker speed taking, Depends undergarment wearing-style gaming. Okay–not quite that obsessive, but I’m excited nonetheless.

First on my agenda is taking that second crack at Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. The upcoming revamp alluded to in the SOE producer’s letter will either provide the game with an overdue jumpstart or sink it altogether. Either way, I want to give Vanguard the old college try before it’s finally cast out of the limbo it’s lingered in through 2007 and either crash lands or sprouts wings. I’m all too weary of SOE’s promises of the great things to come in the “future.” Guess what? The future is now. Poop or get off the pot.

January brings PoTBS, which, coupled with Vanguard, would give me cause to get a Sony Station Pass for the first time in my MMO career. I had this one on preorder from Amazon but canceled after sinking a bit too much change on this new comp. Looks good, but I’m back to holding out until the initial round of “first impression” reviews hit the net.

If Sony’s incapable of holding onto my subscription dollar I might even give Tabula Rasa a shot. Despite my love of Lord British’s Ultima saga, my irrational disinterest in sci-fi MMOs has kept me from this one. But a lot of bloggers and podcasters whose opinions I really respect seem to be having a lot of fun with this game. At the end of the day, I can’t help but feel that whatever games get me through the winter are just filler to pass the time before WAR and AoC go head-to-head in the spring.

Mostly though, I’m enthusiastic to get back behind the keyboard to write about playing games, rather than the long-winded, theoretical pining and speculation you’ve had to contend with so far from me.

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