Five years in the making, Vanguard: Saga Of Heroes is the brainchild of an A-Team of MMO developers, including some major players from the development team of former genre-king EverQuest. Sadly, somewhere along the line this baby was dropped on its head, leading to a hollow, mind-numbingly dull MMORPG grind that stretches the boundaries of good taste and sensible design decisions.
Vanguard has been promoted as a 'core' MMORPG, harking back to the days before World Of Warcraft and Everquest II 'mainstreamed' the industry. Cutting through the hype of both fanboys and PR-types, this is referring to the days before instancing, quick levelling and fast travel, which have apparently removed all sense of adventure from the genre.
The world of Telon is a nostalgic stab at the old-school EverQuest format, dropping teleportation and fast-transport across a world crammed with content in favour of grand, meandering environs that lead more naturally to built-up areas. While in EQ's case this style of gameplay was pursued in the innocent exploration of a new genre, Vanguard's whimsical wandering feels synthetic when combined with its pragmatic quest-to-level progression.
In fact, the vast, unknown world that Sigil Games have created feels pointless when you witness quite how much of it is filled with repeating textures and the same handful of enemies. Soon enough you realise that Vanguard's 'exploration' actually means a succession of 15-minute jaunts across endless vistas of angry flora and fauna. It's a recipe for disaster when combined with a vicious levelling curve somewhat reminiscent of the original EverQuest.
Worse still, the content is spread drastically thin across the three major continents. Having to provide hundreds of hours' worth of questing for 19 races has clearly troubled the developers, and after your umpteenth 'kill X of this' and 'deliver this to here' quest you'll realise just how two-dimensional the game really is.
And all along, Sigil have forgotten to make it charming. Vanguard desperately wants to be a fantasy epic, but only succeeds in being shallow and uninteresting. The game makes you walk great distances to do things you can do in many other games, with little hope of an endearing storyline or character to lighten the mood. Yes Telon is big, but it lacks any of the innate charisma of Azeroth or Norrath, and it shows in every town, quest and NPC.
TRAGIC: THE GATHERING
The much-vaunted 'spheres' of crafting and diplomacy are an equal let-down.
While the diplomacy card game is an interesting diversion, it all too quickly becomes repetitive beyond words. Crafting is worse still, hiding a hodgepodge of constant clicking behind a facade of three-stage forming and 'complications' that become tiresome far too quickly.
To top this off, as of going to press Vanguard veers between unstable and unplayable on many computers, even those that run WOW or EQII smoothly. The graphics are lush, but even on the 'highest performance' setting they can bring competent computers to a jerky, pitiful halt. With bugs galore and a stinking, stuttering engine, it becomes even harder
to be positive about this game.
While taking inspiration from many of its peers, Vanguard fails to understand the keys to success. It's a classic case of quantity over quality, sporting so much repetition and needless grinding that it can hardly be called an adventure. In a world of well-made, fun-packed MMORPGs like Guild Wars and WOW, Vanguard is in no way recommendable to anyone but masochists and those with more time and money than sense. Sadly, Sigil's vision is dead.
Vanguard: Litany of Errors
- Graphics are good on the right system
- Diplomacy is reasonably fun
- Shockingly unstable at present
- Repetitive, unbelievably dull questing
- Charmless, barren world
- Hellish EverQuest-style levelling curve