With the change in management last week, there have been thread after thread of things that the Vanguard community (and even some non-Vanguard players) want to see put into game. Hats! Hairstyles! Flying mounts! Weapon Racks!
Above: Tar Janashir at dusk.
I also want all those thing eventually (although I’m indifferent to weapon racks), but right now, Vanguard needs to be treated by a triage unit of crack developers who can revive the game. Back before Vanguard was released, I wrote an entry giving three ways Vanguard can learn from Everquest 2. Although it’s been a bumpy road getting here, I am very hopeful now that Vanguard, in fact, will learn from Everquest 2.
Out of all the issues in Vanguard that need immediate attention, the two biggest are performance and raid content. Performance is most important out of the two. Right now, it’s not even a situation where people with tin can systems are suffering. EVERYONE is suffering – from hitches, to memory leaks, to falling through the world and dying, to random and repeated crashes to desktop, to huge pauses in the game when a mob is targetted, to GMs needing to show up at a multi group raid to turn everyone into skeletons so that the players don’t lag each other out. These are common problems happening on solid gaming systems, and it’s been 5 months now with little improvement. It goes without saying that this is a massive obstacle to Vanguard being a successful game. Everyone knows it, I’m sure the developers do, but if we don’t see improvement soon, we’re going to need a lot more GMs that can cast skellie form.
Besides those two, there are three broad areas that need to be treated in order to get Vanguard back on its feet and ensure a solid relaunch if one is planned. First, there needs to be a solid plan to address the needs of Vanguard’s demographics, not only now, but in the future with the hoped for influx of new players. Second, “The Hook” needs to be tweaked and polished up. Lastly, there need to be more tools and features that make it easier for players to “build a community.”
Above: A Look Inside River Palace.
Instancing – Based on the fact that Vanguard has had a rough start, it’s safe to say that the server populations are going to be top heavy with high level players over the next several months. There isn’t a steady influx of fresh players to the game, and those who have stuck around have either reached level 50 by now or are closing in on it. Add to that the fact that there is no raid content live yet, and the conditions are ripe for a huge bottleneck. While it may be extremely unpopular with the current playerbase, I believe that Vanguard needs instanced raid content.
Before I get stomped on, I need to add that I have always preferred non-instanced content. The nostalgic in me always felt that the instancing in WoW and EQ2 couldn’t compare with the thrill of completing open-competition content in Everquest. More importantly, competition over content, for better or worse, was a big community builder, because there’s no better way to get guilds to know each other than a race over spawns. One reason I chose to play Vanguard was because the content would not be instanced. But right now, personal philosphy on style of raid content needs to take a back seat to the realities of Vanguard’s lack of live raid content and ever increasing high end population.
There are tons of reasons both for and against instancing, but the fact is that you can’t debate the concept without taking into consideration the reality of Vanguard’s health. More and more guilds are patiently waiting for raid content to go live, and if it’s released as non-instanced, one-guild-at-a-time content, it’s going to be extremely difficult for guilds to tough it out months longer because of a bottleneck.
The only scenario where non-instancing could work is if there was enough content to keep every raiding guild busy. That would take an enormous amount of time and resources to implement though, and given the fact that there is an overwhelming amount of other problems that need fixing, it doesn’t seem realistic. As a believer of non-instancing, I could get on board with instanced content in Vanguard if it’s creative and challenging, and I think even the staunchest opponents of instancing would come around as well.
Above: The Immortal Sanctum in Pantheon of the Ancients.
Mentoring – The other big issue involving Vanguards demographics is the fact that, if there is a successful relaunch, there will be a “generation gap” between the old guard, who played from launch, and the new blood that arrives to give the game a second look. That gap needs to be anticipated and bridged as smoothly as possible. The best way to do that is through a mentoring system. I’ve seen many threads suggesting that recently, and as I wrote back in October, it’s one of the best features of Everquest 2. It allows a higher level player to drop down to the level of the person being mentored. All abilities and spells are scaled down as well, and while the mentor takes a bit of an experience hit, the person being mentored gets an experience bonus for each person that is mentoring him.
A mentoring system facilitates instant contact between higher and lower level players. This is great for Vanguard veterans who want to group with friends who are either casual players or new to the game. It also helps guilds who are looking to recruit new members, with events like mentoring nights that help break the ice between higher level and lower level players. In Everquest 2, which also had a type of trivial loot code, it even allowed players who had outleveled a quest to go back and complete it, since the “trivial” quest drops would no longer be trivial.
The fellowship system is well intentioned, but it’s been pain in the butt buggy for so long that it now has lost its purpose. Mentoring is much more flexible, offers many more benefits, and is just what Vanguard would need if it were to have a relaunch. After getting to use it in Everquest 2, I just can’t understand why it’s not in every game – it’s just a no brainer.
Above: Mysterious stones in the Liath Desert.
For all its faults, Vanguard has a lot to offer, but it needs to do a better job of hooking in new players during the first night or two of play. In short, content needs to be made more accessible to players, and it needs to be easier for new players to accomplish things in game during their first few weeks of playing.
Hot Zones – One problem is that low level players are scattered all over Telon, so it’s hard to find others to group with. That’s magnified right now with the low server populations, and it’s driving away new players. The riftway network has helped a lot, but adding in Everquest’s notion of “hot zones” (hot chunks?) would help even more. In short, certain chunks would have temporary experience increases, which could be periodically updated to rotate in new “hot chunks.” (They would need another name though, hot chunks just sounds gross to me) This helps direct player population to certain areas, which helps make grouping easier, and it makes the world feel a bit more busier.
Nix Low Level Progressive Quests – I love the questlines in Vanguard, and while it makes sense to have long, progressive quests in the mid and high levels, with heroic and legendary rewards, it has been a big hinderance to low level players who are trying to group.
Trengal Keep is the worst example of this. It’s a fantastic dungeon, and it’s usually a popular place to find other people in their 20s. But for someone lfg’ing to find a potential hunting group, not only do they have to be of a compatible class and level, they also need to be on the right step of the TK questline! Some nights, you’d have a better chance of seeing the planets align than get a group in TK.
Progressive quests like the TK line need to be changed so that you can do them in any order. Perhaps have a requirement that you need to do 1 – 5 in order to get the last one, but only because the reward is so good for the level. The quest sharing feature is already in game, and coupled with flexible quest lines, people would have a much easier time grouping.
Smooth out the 20 – 25 content – Content is pretty abundant at low levels and through the teens, but it drops off in the early 20s. There are a few quest hubs, like Donovan’s Roost and Coastal Graveyard, but they need something large, like River Valley (high 20s) and Cragwind (early 30s). Both of those have dozens of solo and small group quests, which means players are likely to hang around a few levels. This helps maintain the game’s hook, smooths out the early 20s leveling process, and builds community because players start to see the same faces night after night.
Above: Fighting Aanaku Vor’dan in the Tar Janashir Tomb.
You can’t “build” community, but there are ways to make it easier for people to interact and feel more immersed in the world of Telon. These are not immediate priority features, but they would be great to have down the road.
Enhanced UI – Everquest 2 had some UI features that are so great, I’d put them in the “no brainer” category like mentoring. They had a “completed quest” section of the quest journal, which was great when keeping track of long progressive quests or if you loved following lore. The quest journal also was increased, which Vanguard desperately needs. Lastly, Everquest 2 added in a “guild recruiting” window, which allowed guild leaders to post recruiting information into a searchable database, for players seeking to join a guild. This would be great to have in Vanguard, since the dozens of guild threads on the dozens of fansites are outdated, bloated, and hard to sort through. Given the fact that there might not be server forums, this would be especially important to have in game.
Lore Forum – I know, I know, why have a nerdy lore forum when we aren’t getting class forums?! But there is lore out there and having an official forum to share and discuss it would really help the game. The Everquest 2 lore forum is very popular, and there is definitely a well-established community there. It has done so well that lore-specific quests were put in game, and players were given hints about them in the forum. The world of Telon is full of amazing vistas, exotic settlements and fascinating structures, and their background story begs to be told. Add to that the dearth of lore from diplomacy, and you’d have a very healthy and active lore forum.
There are many things that Vanguard can learn from Everquest 2, and hopefully a few of these suggestions make their way into the game. But if there is one lesson that Everquest 2 can teach Vanguard, it’s that you can have a rough launch and rebound to become a successful, and healthy, online roleplaying game.