Today SOE announced the details of the plan under which Vanguard will operate under its new f2p model. So we have a new producer’s letter, the obligatory free to play benefits matrix and an accompanying FAQ. No launch date for the new model has yet been announced, but the aforementioned producer’s letter says we’re “approaching the final stretch.” I expect that means 2-3 more months, giving us a release in August or September, likely coming in before the end of the announced “Summer” date.
The membership matrix is shown above, but let’s dig in and take a closer look at the plan and the details we know — and don’t — so far.
- Membership Levels: One interesting aspect is the lack of an intermediate tier of membership between free and subscription (“Gold”) accounts. Looking over the details and comparing the Vanguard f2p matrix with those of EQ and EQ2. This is a little bit of a surprise, but it shouldn’t be; EQ2′s plan in particular is a bit confusing for the newcomer, although that’s probably less true today than it was when EQ2 went free. Some of the benefits one might have otherwise expected under a “Silver” plan have been rolled into the free package, while others have been kept for Gold players.
- Available Races: Those available for free are Halflings, Half Elves and the Thestran, Qaliathari and Mordebi Humans, with the rest purchasable in the store. This is not surprising; if anything, it could have been one race per contiennt, so I’m not entirely displeased with the options that will be available to free players. But then, I tend to favor human characters anyway.
- Available Classes: Those available for free are the Warrior, Rogue, Cleric, Sorcerer, Disciple, Necromancer and Monk. One fear I had going into this was that the free plan would sequester all of Vanguard’s great and novel classes behind the paywall, leaving us with the straight and relatively conventional Warrior, Rogue, Cleric and Sorcerer. While those classes do have some interesting twists in Vanguard, Classes like the Bard and Necromancer are more interesting and unique. So it looks like they met me halfway on this: the Necro and Disciple are unique and desirable classes with great underlying mechanics, and the Monk is interesting as well.
- Currency Cap: Even at the Silver level, the currency cap in EQ2 is low enough to cause problems in the upper level ranges. Vanguard’s cap of 1 plat seems pretty high, in contrast; Ardwulf is level 30 and has seldom exceeded 10 gold, let alone approached a plat.
- Gearing Limits: Free players are restricted to “Common” items. This one is the big variable; if by “common” we mean only the very lowest level of gear above vendor trash, then it’s nearly a game-busting limitation anywhere north of level 10. I would guess that there will be some kind of purchasable token (probably cheap if EQ2′s method is anything to go by) that will let you equip higher tiers of items.
- Quest Journal: Subscribers will get the current limit of 50 quests, while free players will be capped at 15. Given that this covers all three spheres and the quests therefrom, free players will need to manage their quest log very carefully.
- Miscellaneous Restrictions: Free players cannot form (but van join) guilds, can receive (but not send) in-game mail, have a limited set of social commands (/say, /tell, /group and /guild) and are barred from Caravans, Brotherhoods, Fishing and Housing. Only the last is significant, and since Vanguard’s housing is open-world, it’s really kind of neccessary for it to be limited to subscribers. One open question is what happens when a subscriber lapses to a free account. Does their house just vanish? Or is it locked until they can re-subscribe?
- Existing Players: Former subscribers get full access to their existing characters made prior to the f2p conversion, without having to unlock anything. Good call; anything else would have been met with great umbrage.
- There are, as of now, no known restrictions on crafting, diplomacy, harvesting or boats. Although gear is a question, and some crafting is dependent on dropped mats that will be hard to impossible to get without doing raids that may be off-limits depending on how the gearing limit shakes out. Otherwise, free players will enjoy open access to the huge open world and all the game’s content and can level straight up to the cap of 55 in all three spheres.
There are no huge surprises either way, based on these details. The model is closely akin to those of EQ and EQ2, with more of the range of classes and races available to free players and with the currency cap less of a thumb-in-the-eye issue. We still need a date, of course, and more details need to be made clear. And we also need to see the cash shop in action to find out what kind of stuff is available there. But I am tentatively happy with what I see so far, and relieved that f2p is finally, finally on the horizon for Vanguard.