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Vanguard: Saga of Heroes Review

Vanguard: Saga of Heroes pack shot
Developer:Sigil Games Online
Publisher:Sony Online Entertainment / Koch Media
Genre:MMORPG
Platform:PC
Official Site:http://vgplayers.station.sony.com/
Release Date:January 30th, 2007 (UK)
Reviewer:Craig Laycock (Cragtek)
 

Vanguard reminds me a bit of a boy racer's banger: plenty of ideas and fancy tricks under the bonnet, but still somehow less than the sum of its parts. It's outrageously difficult, clumsy to control, is littered with outrageous design decisions, full of bugs and does absolutely nothing to satisfy any sort of boredom. But, having said all that, you can't help but sit back at times and concede that it's a bit cool too.

It's frustrating, as the neat innovations are a chink of light which could have separated this game from the rest of the market and made it stand out from the army of clones, but instead they sadly feel like they're propping up the empty husk of the rest of the game. It's almost worth playing Vanguard though, just to get a wistful sense of what might have been.

Vanguard: Saga of Heroes screenshot 1 Vanguard: Saga of Heroes screenshot 2 Vanguard: Saga of Heroes screenshot 4 Vanguard: Saga of Heroes screenshot 4

At the start of the game, things look promising. You're immediately confronted with a nifty character generation screen, with seemingly hours of fun to be had tweaking noses, ear lengths and jaw sizes. I can't deny that there is some genuine enjoyment to be had in making a character who looks a little like Phil Mitchell off Eastenders.

Taking Phil into the big, bad world however is where it all starts to go awry. Not ideal for an MMOG, you might think. You'd think right. The confused, lost and staggering Mitchell brother look-a-like was bludgeoned to death by the ghost of a farmer within the first five minutes of gameplay, with experience he didn't even know he had gained going down the pipes to boot. Worse was to come. After another five minutes of trying to find his way back to the start point, our Phil was given a stern telling off for crying out for assistance by a particularly petulant member of the community. It seems our fine actor Phil was being accused of not being in character. Callous.

These initial moments of true horror, loneliness and fury were compounded by the whopping 20gb of space (and approximately 2 hours) the game requires to install. Add to that the additional patches which needed to be automatically downloaded and you'll be seeing red mist before you've even hit 'play'.

Vanguard: Saga of Heroes screenshot 5 Vanguard: Saga of Heroes screenshot 6 Vanguard: Saga of Heroes screenshot 7 Vanguard: Saga of Heroes screenshot 8

And then there's the performance issues. Even on a high-end machine, the frame rate inexplicably drops to a snail's pace - and it's a bit hard to see where exactly all the juice is going. Despite all the hype from Sony and Sigil about the engine, even on high settings the game looks drab, disappointing and distinctly last-gen. Reduce them further and you'll be looking at a bleak sight indeed. This is no Oblivion.

On the difficulty front, you'll be tearing out so much hair you may as well ring up for your wig fitting the minute you insert the install disc. Horrific penalties for dying, including massive experience drains, seem over-the-top and barbaric, especially when you're still trying to find out exactly what you're supposed to be doing. And don't even think of trying to play this game solo - group work is a must if you want to advance through the horrendously steep ranks.

I'm sure there are some nice people out there in the world of Vanguard, but they seem few and far between. Perhaps it was the server I was on, perhaps not, but the social side of the game smacks horribly of inaccessibility. I saw countless curious newcomers to the game ignored, put down and even reprimanded for not speaking totally in character - certainly on a different scale to the occasional 'tut' of mild discontent you may hear from some of the more uppity role-players in World of Warcraft. So perhaps Sigil can't be totally blamed for the bewilderment I felt on entering the game, although the steep learning curve was in no way helped by the questionable tutorial system.

Vanguard: Saga of Heroes screenshot 9 Vanguard: Saga of Heroes screenshot 10 Vanguard: Saga of Heroes screenshot 11 Vanguard: Saga of Heroes screenshot 12

But I did say there were some good bits, and there are. Vanguard does make some breakthroughs and introduces some exciting new concepts to the mix; the most interesting and playable of the two being crafting and diplomacy, the latter element in particular standing out.

With diplomacy skills under your belt, you'll be able to 'parley' with NPCs in order to gain additional information on quests. You can coerce them, intimidate them and more through a clever mini-game involving a deck of virtual cards. Put your tongue back in and close your mouth, because it really does work.

Not only does your top-trumping (it is a bit more complicated than that) earn you advancement on your quests, but large-scale diplomacy battles of wit can see city-wide bonuses distributed to all players. Now if that doesn't fill you with a warm glow, I don't know what will. And it's fun too. Probably the most fun element of the game, so perhaps they should release that instead.

Crafting is similar to other games in the MMOG mould, but as well as fuelling the player economy by producing items in that way, you can also take work orders from NPCs in order to earn a bit of money regardless of customer base. Handy and rather fun too, in a methodical kind of way.

Summary

But for all these whiz-bang innovations, the game simply cannot escape the fact that for 90 per cent of the time it's as boring as watching paint dry. Or a soliloquy from Phil Mitchell on Eastenders, for that matter (sorry, soap fans). It suffers from a fundamental lack of actual things to do and, unlike other titles in the genre, doesn't actively seek to address this problem.

Perhaps, in future, improvements can be made and Vanguard will stand glorious atop the MMOG tree: but these improvements will need to be made sooner rather than later if Sigil is to catch up with the market leader 'World of Warcraft'.

So like that boy racer's banger, all that is left for Sigil Games to do is put their foot down and hope for the best. It's either going to be blazing glory or a horrible wreck - only time will tell.

The bottom line
5.5 / 10

Good stuff

  • Genuinely innovative
  • Huge scale

Not so good stuff

  • Horribly steep difficulty curve
  • Graphically dull in most places
  • Not enough variety to capture the imagination
  • Feels unfinished


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