Last Chance to See: Vanguard (Part 2)
In the last entry I started exploring Vanguard: Saga of Heroes and managed to acquire many, many bags. This time lets have a look at other bits and pieces of the game. First up, the amazing world of harvesting!
Harvesting is a skill area like Crafting and Diplomacy but it doesn’t have levels, just skill ratings. You can chose to level two of: mining (hit rocks spawning about the world), digging for crystals (hit other sorts of rocks), cutting down trees (which looks great, by the way), skinning animals, or pulling up random plants to harvest their cotton or thread or whatever it is one makes bags and clothes out of.
As with the Crafting, Diplomacy and Adventure there are special clothes and whatnot one wears as one harvests, along with tool belts to stick tools in (surprise!). Fortunately, Vanguard automatically switches between all these sets of clothes as you engage in the various game elements, but you do still end up carrying and wearing more clothes than Lady GaGa’s costume crew.
Hey, lets check out some screenshots! Here’s Pus Pus chopping and whacking and stuff.
Harvesting, while not a barrel of laughs, does provide a little bit of fun in seeing what might pop out the other end. There seems to always be the chance that some rare resource or other will drop. But, on the downside, there is this odd complication whereby you must right click on stuff you harvest to turn it into more refined items. For example, you get lumps of basalt and ten turn these into chunks of basalt at at 5:1 ratio. Or something. I can’t say I paid much attention as it seemed pointlessly complicated and I worked through it by right clicking on any pile as soon as I was done harvesting.
Pointlessly complicated, it turns out, can be an accurate description of quite a lot of Vanguard.
Lets take a look at my adventuring outfit and some stats (although, not all of them by any means!)…
In the chat window you can see some random combat skills that have gone up. On the right, the skills tab of the adventuring window (the crafting and diplomacy and other windows have a similar tab arrangement). Every time you do just about anything in this game some skill or other will go up. Sometimes skills I’ve never even seen before. If it were possible to poop in Vanguard there would probably be skills associated with it: “Your skill at metabolising food has increased to 47! Your skill at peristaltic movements has increased to 32!” Great! What do all these skills do for us? I’ve got no idea. Why is so much detail included? It’s never explained. It’s not like you’re going to boast about your skills in spell identification, are you? And if they all go up during normal gaming anyway, why bother with so much detail? I suspect that late game they might require some grinding, which makes me depressed every time I read the seductive yellow text.
Back to complexity: Have I mentioned that there are little buttons on your crafting skills sheet which, as far as I can tell, let you focus on increasing one sub-skill over another. As for which to chose? I’ve got no idea, I counted sixteen different skills associated with crafting and harvesting (only two of those are harvesting skills!). Rumour on Qt3 forum has it that certain tasks you engage in when crafting (the buttons you click on during the crafting process) require certain skills, so it can be useful to focus on building skills for the ones you use a lot.
Sure, there’s a lot of depth but I’m not really sure it would be a lot of fun to explore it. There seems to be a lot of detail that doesn’t really add much game play.
An area where the detail is appreciated is in the well constructed and quite entertaining questing system. Sure, there are your usual fetch and kill quests (and I’ve heard these feature on the mainland a lot more than they do newby island, and, yes, some of the quests even feature spawn tables!), but there are also a range of quite creative and interesting quest lines. What’s more, you do really need to read the quest text and pay attention to your surroundings – it does make a difference when it comes to getting through the stories without too much muddling around re-reading quest objectives. You can even discover quests through non-obvious general chat options with NPCs, it’s all quite a nice change from having everything up-front and obvious as it usually is in modern MMOs.
I also really appreciate the fact that interesting quests are part of the crafting and diplomacy systems. Now, we’ve addressed crafting, but diplomacy is worth a bit of an explanation in its own right…
…except I’m not going to provide much of one because the system is damn complex. But, I will try and break it down a bit for you. In essence, diplomacy is a mini-game where you play cards against your “Parley” opponent trying to turn a conversation in your favour. Each player has a deck of cards to chose from and to build their “strategy” hand (in the screenshot I have 8 cards in my strategy hand. Hand size changes with level). New cards can be won through questing or diplomacy, bought, and even found on NPCs you kill.
As for why you would do diplomacy, well, the rewards from diplomacy include special items, quests, regional buffs that help everyone in a zone, and tokens you can cash in for more special rewards. It’s a pretty fun system, and like crafting, levels independent of your adventurer level.
That covers the basics, but there’s a lot more to the system than this, and lots of it I don’t understand fully. For example: clothes give you status with various factions; you may need to build special strategy hands to combat certain opponents; there are higher-level interactions between questing and diplomacy; and so on. Regardless of the (perhaps excessive) detail, it’s quite interesting and I do enjoy the idea of working in an area of the game that is completely unrelated to bashing monsters and stealing their gold and XP.
Which, rather neatly, brings me to the topic of exploding creatures for fun and profit. Perhaps I can save us all some time by saying that if you’ve played EverQuest or World of Warcraft you’re going to be pretty familiar with the systems. Every couple of levels you gain spells/skills/whatever. Every few other levels you can increase some stats (these aren’t the same as the skills we discussed earlier. Stats are a whole pile of other meaningless words and numbers). Abilities are what you would expect – you click on them to explode monsters, usually in a fairly repetitive sequence. As with most fantasy MMOs, you tackle one creature after the other until enough are exploded to suit your needs.
Which reminds me, I wish to God that more games would lift a few ideas from the Superhero MMOs and let the player bash a half dozen or more bad guys all at once. It is so viscerally exciting to wade into a street gang in City of Heroes and with a few mouse clicks and button presses send the bad guys flying across the screen. Taking on mobs one by one by one is getting very, very old!
But let me not make you think Vanguard’s combat is completely tedious, it isn’t. Yes, it does follow most of the formulas, but it does also try and do a few new things. For example, most healers, I was told by a fellow player “hit stuff to heal stuff”. I don’t know what that means, but it sounds awesome! While many casters rely on mana, some don’t use a mana system and several other classes employ various other methods of powering their abilities. I’m told that the classes play quite differently, and so I applaud the now-dissolved Sigil team for taking the time to try and come up with something new, even if the click-by-click play can get a bit samey.
With Pus Pus level 9 and some way from hitting ten and not enough players on when I’m around to complete the final newby island dungeon I think I’m going to call this Last Chance to See here. I’m told other lands are exciting, but the effort required to grab a group or to grind out level 10 is beyond my interest.
My final message to you all is to consider giving Vanguard a go. You’ll have some fun for a few nights (hey, maybe more!) and enjoy some different takes on some standard gaming tropes. If you have gamer friends, I highly encourage you to get them all to sign up with you so you can take part in the “Brotherhood” system. Brotherhoods share experience between all members, whether they’re online or offline. It sounds like a pretty awesome way to explore the first 20-or-so levels of the game and I hope to hear of people giving this approach a go!
Until next time, toodle-pip!