October 31, 2006
Recently, my home city of Leth Nurae, and all of Thestra actually, has been closed down for some tweaking and polishing, so I was on the hunt for a temporary home, and I settled on one of the most unlikely spots for a high elf — Hathor Zhi, home of the dark elves.
I certainly didn’t intend to pay a visit to the dark elves, but the hustle and bustle of Khal was not my cup of tea, so I had wandered out into the desert looking for a challenge.
One thing I enjoy about travel in Vanguard is that you can see things for miles, and what you see in the distance, you can actually get to. As an aside, I had been playing a dark elf dread knight the week before, and was familiar with the terrain of Hathor Zhi, but didn’t really know what was out in the distance because the cliffs were too high to see over, and I hadn’t made an attempt to travel to the end of the canyon to leave. So I chuckled to myself when I stumbled on that very same canyon while running around the desert. All I could think of is that those little dark elves below had no idea of the vast world looming right over them!
I approached the dark elf dwelling with caution, because I expected more than a little hostility, but to my surprise I was able to enter and do a few quests for them. I’m assuming, though, that when Vanguard is released these dark elves might have a change of opinion about high elves.
Anyway, one quest that I was really eager to do was a quest to get a cloak, because I was tired of watching everyone and their brother running around with one while I still had a big gaping hole in that inventory slot. I was having trouble finding the mob I needed to kill to complete the quest, but thanks to the help of a kind dark elf dread knight (who would have thought that I would use the word kind to describe a dark elf!), I was able to complete the quest and don my new cloak, as well as gain an unlikely friend.
Soon after, I made two more friends while working on another quest to kill Tryndykavlen, a wurm that was up on a plateau surrounded by some rather nasty dark elves. As we cleared the plateau and wrapped up the quest, they asked me where I got my nice cloak! So I did a little act of “pay it forward,” and walked them through the quest. It’s nice to get quests done, but I enjoyed the opportunity to meet new players as much as the quests themselves. While there’s a lot needed to make a solid “community,” the seeds to grow one seem to certainly exist in Vanguard.
Eventually, I made my way across the canyon to Fortress Dragonweir, and talked to the dark elf commander about the army that had been massing near their walls and preparing for an assault. Minutes later, I watched helplessly as an army of undead lined up on the road outside the fortress gate, led by the Aekor (another dark elf faction).
After seeing my screen light up like a Christmas tree with all the names of the invaders attacking me, I summoned my corpse at the altar and decided that, while I had a nice time visiting the dark elves, I didn’t like them enough to keep hurling myself into battle, and death, in order to aid them. (As an aside, I returned the next day to the same spot outside Fortress Dragonweir and did not see the army. I don’t know what triggers their mobilization, but it’s nice to see dynamic content like this in a “newbie” area.)
Besides, I had word that an old friend had surfaced in Mekalia, city of the gnomes, and I had a long journey ahead of me if I was going to get there in time to meet her.
Here are the links to the full-size screenshots for anyone interested:
The vast Qalian Desert overlooking Hathor Zhi.
Hunting Tryndykavlen with two new friends. (The wurm in the picture is actually the necromancer’s pet, summoned from the corpse of Tryndykavlen. You can see his other pet, an Abomination, nearby)
A creepy skeletal stone hand, part of a storyline quest. Yes, it is part of a full skeleton, and yes, I did get to see all of it above ground.
Posted by jayernh under Archive,Vanguard Level 1-10 | Comments (1)
October 20, 2006
Recently, Brad McQuaid, the creator of Vanguard and CEO of Sigil Games, invited beta testers to send their impressions of Vanguard to him, and if approved, they would be posted on this thread on the official forums.
Of course, this was something I couldn’t wait to do, and I was fortunate enough to get approval for my piece. Hopefully this will be the first of many! *Standard disclaimer* I am still bound by the NDA, even though this write up was exempt.
Immersive — it’s the “Holy Grail” of online gaming. How do you make a game that’s challenging enough to keep people absorbed, yet at the same time not have it so tedious that it becomes overly frustrating, or even boring.
I recently got a chance to play Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, which is in phase three of beta, and I wondered whether it could deliver that same freshness that I felt when I started playing Everquest 7 years ago.
Above: Sensing Danger somewhere in Thestra.
As I started out on my high elf ranger, I immediately noticed a few things. First, it is once again dangerous to be a newbie! As I quietly stalked some novice poachers outside Leth Nurae, I noticed a large, watery looking, ent-like mob named Foulspring. I lowered my bow and waited for a closer look as he approached, and out of the corner of my eye I noticed a couple of other players gently sidestepping him. I realized, all too late, that he was about 7 levels above me, and he was extremely angry. Suffice it to say, he killed me in one shot.
There is a sense of spontaneous danger the moment you set foot outside the safety of the starting city, which makes leveling a challenge right away. Encountering a higher level mob roaming around an area means you have two options: either stay on your toes and fight smartly, or round up some help and take him down. What’s great about that is that whichever choice you make, your experience will be all that more memorable, and you’ll end up with a real sense of accomplishment when you are able to either outlevel the area, or defeat the “uber” foe.
The other reason it’s important is that it adds a sense of mystery to the game. I remember endless debates about whether killing bixies in Everquest caused griffons to spawn. And for the longest time, people swam around Lake Rathe wondering if the rumored Kraken would suddenly show up and swallow them whole. What causes Foulspring to rise up? What causes him to go away? (other than killing him) There is a certain charm in trying to get to the bottom of these questions. I look forward to more confrontations like the one I had with Foulspring.
As I continued to poke around, I noticed is that there is a real attention to detail. When you cut down a tree to harvest it, it really falls down. When you go to work on your blacksmithing, you don your heavy leather apron and toolbelt. When you strut around town, conversing with the locals, you sport the latest (and most accepted) fashions. And, of course, when you go out adventuring, you gear up.
Above: Strange Floating Rocks near the Cliffs of Ghelgad.
The armor is especially eye-catching, and there seems to be a real effort to make armor have a very realistic medieval feel to it. I’m only level 5 and I’m already happy with the way my woolen and ragged leather armor looks on me. I got a nifty looking crossbow the other day, from a newbie monster, and I was amazed at how smooth the animation was when aiming and firing it. I can’t wait to see what the good stuff looks like!
Along with the artistic detail, I noticed that there has been a lot of thought put into the starter quests in each racial newbie zone. There’s always constant banter about “learning your class,” but in Vanguard, you really feel like you “learn your race” as well. In the Varathari quest series, your tasks help you understand the importance of horses to the Varathari people. In the Halfling village of Rindol Field, you are tasked with helping to scare away the Mischevious Brownies, in a very creative way. In the Dark Elf starting area, you learn the importance of being pureblood, and are even given the dangerous task of proving your own pureblood heritage. Even if you are someone who tries to click through quest text as fast as you can, and I’m guilty of that at times, you can’t help but pause to read through these storyline quests. It’s a very enjoyable way to enter the game.
As I wandered around Thestra, I noticed that Vanguard uses descriptive text to intensify the immersion. It’s yet another example of the attention to detail in this game. The messages I have seen serve to accentuate the ambiance, provide a narrative quality, and sometimes even heighten the danger.
Here is an example I noticed, “You have entered the halfling village of Rindol Field. A gentle breeze carries the tempting aroma of spiced potatoes to you from a nearby home.” Another I noticed near the farmlands of Tursh, “The scent of tilled earth gradually fills the air as you approach Tursh.”
These descriptive text message are not something that would be considered crucial for an online game, but the more I saw them, the more I missed their absence in other games. I kept waiting to see, “It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.” While the graphics in Vanguard are stunning, it’s nice to see descriptive text used as well, and it really adds yet another layer of immersion to the game.
Lastly, I noticed that the interface seems to allow a lot more focus on the ambience of the game, and a lot less on the mechanics of playing. You can cast while moving without interruption (same goes for range attacks), although you do move more slowly. Every time I have performed a successful cast while moving I feel like cheering, since it’s such a terrific change from other games. It makes combat more mobile, more fluid, and as a result, a lot more enjoyable.
Above: Taking aim in Leth Nurae.
You can also select a player to “bond” with, and he remains targetted below your name even after you switch targets, meaning you can heal or buff someone, while still in combat, without having to stop and switch targets. This is a great addition to the game, because now all classes can take on a more “attack-minded” role during combat, since they can fight and heal/buff at the same time.
But the most useful interface addition that I noticed was the fact that all mobs are listed on the right side of your screen, and if anything adds, it gets added to the bottom of the list. What that means is that you can more easily manage crowds of mobs without having to do it manually or by tabbing through. As a result, you can really dive into the intensity of the fight, and concentrate on group dynamics, instead of being stuck staring at health bars or spell icons all the time. I don’t know if there is a limit to how many mobs will be displayed in the “aggro queue,” but I was able to pretty much fill up my entire right side of the screen with mob names last week, so when you have a train you really know it!
As I wrapped up my evening of playing, I sought safety in the confines of Leth Nurae. I looked out at the soft hills and the imposing stonework of the city. The High Elf city has an air of tranquility and formality, and I was in awe of the delicate architecture of the buildings and statues.
I could get used to this, I thought, smiling.
Here are the links to the full sized screenshots:
Strange floating rocks near the Cliffs of Ghelgad.
Sensing danger somewhere in Thestra
Taking Aim in Leth Nurae
Posted by jayernh under Archive,Vanguard General | Comments (5)
October 18, 2006
A few days ago, Vanguard publicized their pre-order information, which brings us closer to a moer concrete release date. There’s still a while to go, but as I read about the game and pound out a foundation for my old guild’s rebirth in Telon, I thought about four important aspects of Everquest II that Vanguard could benefit from. Brad McQuad, the creator of Vanguard, recently posted about the latest publicity blitz, and one statement he made stuck in my head:
(Vanguard) contains content and quests and adventures for all sorts of people — casual players, ‘core’ players, and even those who spend a lot of time in these games raiding in large groups — we’re all about making a world that is inclusive, *not* exclusive.
Here’s how I think Vanguard can learn from Everquest 2, and make huge leaps towards the concept of an inclusive world.
1. PUT IN A MENTORING SYSTEM! Everquest 2 has come up with a lot of great things, but I think their mentoring system was the best feature they added to the game. (*NOTE* The linked guide is a bit outdated; the revamped version allows you to maintain all spells and abilities that you have at your level, and just scales them down to the level of the person being mentored. That eliminates the hassle of having to make a new hotbar of available spells and combat abilities every time you want to mentor someone)
Above: Boating in Vanguard. Screenshot is from the official site. Makes me wonder if there will be “booze cruises,” or even a Telon’s Cup race!
With all the different games out there right now, a lot of people have more of a pu pu platter mentality towards gaming – a little from column A, and some from column B. People aren’t as invested in one and only one game as much as they were 7 years ago when Everquest first came out. Playstyles are different for everyone, and everyone levels up at a different rate, no matter how hard you try to stay together in levels. Old friends from earlier games have long since scattered to various other games, and chances are they won’t all pick up Vanguard from the first release day.
It’s hard to catch up once a game has “left the station,” but mentoring makes a newer player feel less isolated and behind, because they can actually do stuff with their friends, rather than just read about it in guild chat or tells. Guilds who are in the process of recruiting can use the mentoring system as a way of helping new recruits and lower level members feel included in guild events, and in return the guild can work with new members to prep them for raiding and harder battles down the road.
Above: Impressive scenery from the Fallen Lands. Telon offers many different geographical regions, each with their own distinct climates and even their own weather patterns.
2. Make Vanguard playable on very low settings for the masses with outdated and slower computers. And get as close to WoW’s minimum requirements as you can. I remember reading someone’s blog who explained what he felt was the reason why WoW’s playerbase was so much larger than EQ2′s. He said that while people go on and on debating the game features, the content, the atmosphere, and the “SOE” factor, the “elephant in the room” was that WoW was playable on old, slower computers, and EQ2 was not.
I can attest to that, and while my experience is obviously not a good sample, I can say that I had several friends show a lot of interest in EQ2, but had to give up on trying to play it because it was just too much for their computer. I also met several friends in game who also ended up leaving EQ2 because the game was just unplayable for them.
I’m not a computer expert, and when I start to try to read technical stuff like minimum specs, the room begins to dim and everything becomes a blur. But all I can say is that I hope Vanguard is a game that can be playable even for people that don’t have very good systems. Even if the game at low settings looks like a bad version of stick figure theater, it’s better than the alternative, which is not having those players in game at all.
Above: Eerie combat shot with a nice view of some of the armor available in Vanguard. This screenshot is from Gamekult, a french Vanguard Fansite.
3. While raiding is all still speculation, there is word that there will be some kind of raid cap, similar to EQ2 (which is 24) and WoW (Which is soon to be 25 I believe). If there is one thing I didn’t like about EQ2, it was that the “raid math” didn’t work out properly. What I mean is that in EQ2, there were 6 different “tank” classes (Similar to the Protective Fighter category for Vanguard). There are 24 total classes as well, so that means 25% of the available classes in EQ2 are tank types.
Raiding, however, doesn’t really require that one quarter of a raid force be tanks. In fact, most raids don’t require more than 2 or 3 tanks, maximum. So instead of taking 6 tanks, raid forces would cut that in half (or more) and instead stock up on healing or dps. Obviously, that means certain classes are not only low in demand, but run the risk of not being needed at all, depending on the encounter and the available force.
I see already in Vanguard that there are three types of “tanks,” out of a total of fifteen. While the numbers will probably work out a little better with a lower number of classes, I hope that raid encounters are created in a way that closely parallels the proportions of each class category.
Vanguard seems to be attempting some pretty big things in an effort to come closer to an immersive world as anyone has done before. If they can find ways to eliminate the “ground clutter” type of nagging issues that all online games seem to face, such as the ones I mentioned above, they’ll be able to make a world that is truly inclusive.
Posted by jayernh under Archive,Gaming Commentary | Comments (3)