Friday, May 2, 2008

Vanguard - If Only...

I mentioned earlier we had picked up Vanguard. Gamestop had the collector's edition on sale for $19.99. We have Station Access, so considering we are already paying for the subscription that wasn't a bad deal at all.

I had intended to hold off on posting until I had reached higher levels, but after three weeks my highest is only 16. This is only partly due to experience gains being slower than other games, but mostly due to trying out various alts as well as crafting and diplomacy. Here's my take on some areas of the game:

Character Models - Character creation is still limited. There are 4 hairstyles and 4 faces. Despite the limitations, the models are decent enough looking and I was able to find combinations I was happy with. If nothing else, I definitely like them better than EQ2 models. The run animation for females is one of the best I've seen anywhere.

Gameplay - Quests flow better in some areas over others. In Halgarad, I had more quests than I could complete before outleveling. In Tursh, I ran out of quests at level 7 or 8. Those offered me were red. So I had to grind mobs to catch up. However, combat experience is not too bad, so it is feasible to level without questing. But for low levels, the differences in the starting towns will not be such an issue in a few months. They will be introducing a starting isle where you will remain until level 10.

But I do like the overall gameplay very much. It's much more my style of play. I don't feel annoyed by the quests as I did with LOTRO. They are usually completed not far from the quest giver and more often than not involve evil enemies rather than animals. The game presently is very soloable. Veterans complain it's too easy now and classes are overpowered. But I disagree. I think it's quite fun and hope this part doesn't change. Dungeon mobs are another matter though and do involve bringing friends.

Classes - I'm finding several classes to be very fun to play. My shaman had to pick an animal patron at level 15. This determines what pet I get, as well as what buffs. I went with the bear. The disciple is also fun. It's sort of a healer/monk class and she solos really well. The bard was probably one of the more interesting bard classes I've played. You compose your own songs to create a personalized buff. My highest level is a druid. Vanguard's druid is not a healer, but rather is classified as a spellcaster. They do have a minor heal though and from what I see so far are very effective soloers. With all classes, there are counterattacks to watch for so you can do some tremendous damage, or stop the npc from casting a spell, etc. I think it's a nice added element.

Travel - Travel is longer than most other mmo's, even with the new riftway system they introduced. It used to be you had to run to the main hub on the continent and take a boat to get to another continent. But now you can get there through the riftway. The riftway is a stone that brings up a map and it shows all the areas available and the level range. This is pretty handy for finding places to go in your level range. Unfortunately the regular maps in game don't show you where these riftways are. You just come across them eventually in your travels.

Speaking of maps, the game maps are some of the most vague I've ever seen and sometimes aren't very helpful at all. It's just basically a brown blob with some dots indicating only certain areas. There are no roads displayed and if you're in a large city trying to find your way around, it's still just a brown blob. I remember trying to find a trainer in New Targonor. I could see the dot where she was but never could figure out how to get to that spot. I ended up gating back to my starter town in frustration.

But back to travel, at level 10 you can purchase a horse. It's 10 silver which is actually a lot at that level. I had 25 silver. The mount is 40% run speed, but if you buy 5% horseshoes and a 5% bridle, you bring it up to 50%. Since my shaman had 30% run speed, we decided to not spend all our money on this and wait for the faster horse at 20. So overall, travel is not unreasonable.

Economy - Occasionally, we could find a nice affordable item on the broker, but for the most part it was just slightly out of our price range. On the plus side, most every piece of armor I put up for sale will sell. I price them very reasonably as I'm just happy to get more than what the vendor pays. So either there are a lot of new players or a lot of vets making new alts, or a combination of both.

Crafting - Crafting is complex and can be quite frustrating. You have a set amount of action points and have to click on various buttons in order to both make the item progress and give it durability. It starts out at grade D so the higher the grade, the better the finished product. If you run out of action points before completing, you end up with nothing. I lost some rare components because of this and found it very aggravating. When I first get a recipe, the best I can do is grade C. It seems I have to outlevel the recipe quite a bit before I can reach grade A.

One nice aspect though is that you can level doing tasks for the taskmaster and it doesn't use any harvestables. So technically you can level without having ever made a real item. But the crafting process is slow and does feel grindy in comparison to adventuring.

And if I could offer one suggestion....make the darn fuels stack to 200 or more rather than 25. You go through nearly 25 making one item.

Diplomacy - My first day in the game I was offered a diplomacy quest and I found the whole thing confusing and didn't know what I was doing. So after a week or so I came back to it and actually read the tutorial this time. Initially, I thought it was something where you'd actually be having to choose the right words to progress. But in reality, it's a card game. My first experience with it was in Tanvu. You have to do a series of quests in order to gain more cards. One of the final quests involved an npc I just could not beat. I looked up the quest and saw lots of posts of people having trouble with it. The few that said they finally beat it listed the cards to have on hand. I sat there with my pen and pad and wrote down which cards he played in response to mine and tried every combination I could think of. After two hours I gave up. And I couldn't progress further without completing this quest.

Determined to have at least one character advancing in diplomacy, I gave it another go with my Qalia alt. This went much better. However, when she reached level 4 the only quests offered required me to be level 5. So again I was stuck. I saw posts on the forums about others not being able to progress past level 4 and added my own two cents to the post.

Ok one more try. Maybe it's just the area. I logged in my Halgarad character and picked up the first quest. But it was bugged and wouldn't advance. Another visit to the forums showed others with the same issue and a dev posted that we should petition it. So I did. And within the hour a GM advanced my quest for me. For now I'm letting her bonus experience build up before advancing. Hopefully, that will get me past level 4.

But geesh, diplomacy is one of their selling points. They should have had this stuff worked out by now. I think if it actually worked, it might be something fun to do once in awhile.

Geography - There are three continents - Thestra, Kojan, and Qalia and 14 starting areas within those continents. This world is huge. First impressions mean a lot and not all starting areas are equal. So far I think Halgarad is the best area to be in. Not only because there are plenty of quests but also because the city is straightforward and manageable. Some of the other cities are just too big and confusing.

My character in Qalia has to go to Khal for training. This city has an inlet of water separating the two sides of it and I'm constantly swimming back and forth across this place. Considering swimming itself is annoying...this constant struggle with the mouse to stay afloat...I just don't like this place. I did eventually find a tunnel that connects to the two sides, but it's out of the way and involves more running.

Each of the three continents has it's own flavor. Most of Qalia is desert which generally is not my cup of tea. Kojan is a series of islands and much smaller than the other two continents. Thestra is more your standard fare offering forests, mountains and open fields. Each of the three continents has its own chat channel and the Kojan channels are definitely less active. While I prefer Thestra overall, the main city of New Targonor is to be avoided like the plague. You have to run through a long series of empty tunnels just to get to the entrance. Part of the city is underground and you must take a lift down and run through some more tunnels. The other is above and is just a tight confusing maze. From what I hear everyone crashes here as did I.

Housing - I love being able to have a house but honestly don't know if I care here. One day I thought I'd do some exploring. There was a huge section of the map that had no markings indicating what was there. So I set out in that direction. What I came upon was a housing area. I'm not talking about neat villages side by side as in DAOC. Here I found maybe 5 lots and then I'd have to hike quite a ways with no paths or roads till I found another spot. Lots were ridiculously expensive with high upkeep. And then you have the cost of building. You have to find crafters to provide certain components just to build. There were some areas with houses, but for the most part just empty lots.

They were so far off the beaten path and so cost prohibitive, there's just no point. I think everyone should be able to afford at least a small hovel. Housing should not be an elite thing requiring you to go on a week long hiking trip to get there.

Community - I can only base my opinion on my server. Before I chose a server, I took a look at the Vanguard players site to get an idea where all the power players hung out. Those were the servers I wanted to avoid so found myself on the Halgar server. This is considered to be the European server. The general chat channel has been very pleasant. For the most part players only use it to look for groups or fill groups or to ask questions, so you don't see a lot of nonsense going on in chat. The grouping requests take place mid 20's to 50.

One of the things I've missed from my EQ1 days is being able to buff people, but it's back in Vanguard. I am constantly getting drive-by buffs wherever I go and give them out whenever I can. In my opinion this contributes to community and often leads to striking up conversations with strangers. I was chatting with a fellow in the crafting hall. He brought up how he struggled with crafting and we discussed in general how things were just a little tougher here. He said he liked it that way though because it keeps the kids out.

Performance - Here's the big one that I've saved for last. During the final weeks of beta it was not playable for us. It has come a very long way since then. I don't experience crashes often; however, my husband does. We have identical systems but he keeps his stuff updated while I'm a bit lazy about that. So maybe laziness pays off here. I have my settings at medium low and the game still looks good to me. I do have graphical glitches on occasion. I know my video card is not up to par. But really for the most part I've not had too much trouble and don't get aggravated over performance.

In spite of the flaws I've mentioned, I am enjoying myself tremendously and have gotten quite addicted. I'll let you know if I still feel the same way in a few weeks. If only they had more staff to work on this. If only they would fix diplomacy. If only they'd fix the bugged quests, especially in your early experiences. If only I could have a practical house. If only performance could be optimized further. Then it would be closer to being what it should have been all along.

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