It’s probably about time to offer up an overall opinion on the state of Vanguard, as I promised some time ago to do. I’ve only been re-evaluating the game for a couple of weeks, but those weeks included a lot of playtime. So I feel comfortable at this time in offering a final opinion and a recommendation for people to try the game, or not.
Vanguard is unquestionably in far, far better shape than it was at launch. Despite that, it still has some distance to go, and I don’t think I’m alone in hoping that 2008 will be a year of great improvement, and in being disappointed with the progress made in 2007. But the game is playable now – highly playable, in fact, and despite the fact that there are still some prominent bugs and troublesome content issues, I think it’s a very good game.
Diplomacy still needs to be fully fleshed out and better integrated into the world content. Crafting needs to be tweaked heavily and streamlined a little bit, but the bones of it are pretty solid. Various dungeons need to be fleshed out and new dungeons and overland encounters need to be added. The world needs to be more populated with content in general, the travel system needs some work, and aerial and aquatic content needs to be introduced. Kojan needs to be finished. Housing and ship-building both need to be greatly expanded, and ship-based encounters, quests and content need to make an appearance. The quest journal needs a major overhaul, and the character models are in dire need of improvement. And performance is still not where it should be.
But none of these are game-busting, and all of those systems and elements are working adequately well now taken as a group. For anyone with a particular concern for a small number of them, I suspect that Vanguard will not yet measure up. But the largest issues, poor performance to the point of unplayability even on high-end systems and wretched client stability, have improved remarkably as of right now, and the other critical problem, the lack of high-level content, is getting fixed as well. There are still bugs and broken quests, but as I’ve pointed out before, both WoW and EQ2 (in my opinion the best and most polished MMO available right now,) have both of those things, and even EQ2 was in better shape than Vanguard at launch. And both have had over three years in release to address their issues. It’s possible (not certain, but possible,) that in three years Vanguard could be an amazing experience. That will require a dedicated and capable team, and strong, competent leadership from the heads of development, which SOE has the experience and resources to provide.
And yeah, I know about SWG, the NGE and the CU. Mistakes constitute experience as much as successes do, as long as you learn from them, and Smedley is on record as admitting those were big mistakes several times, implying that SOE has done so. So I think there’s reason to be positive about the outlook for Vanguard moving forward. That doesn’t mean that I think turning Vanguard into the unequivocally terrific game I think it can be will be easy or that such is inevitable – it’ll take a lot of correct decisions on the developers’ part to make that happen, and that’s far from certain. But there’s plenty of hope to go around, and meanwhile we have a pretty decent game that’s a lot of fun to play and boasts a number of characteristics that make it distinct from other MMOs.
Now, Vanguard is not a genre-redefining game, and never has been. Anyone who comes into it with that expectation is doing themselves and the game a disservice. It’s a game firmly in the fantasy MMO tradition dating back to EverQuest, without sharing the problems and frustrations found in that game, and incoporating many of the innovations that have been developed since then. If you’re happy with your current fantasy MMO, whether that’s WoW or EQ2 or EVE or whatever, it’d ring a little hollow for me to say that you’re better off switching to Vanguard. But Vanguard is innovative in a number of important respects, and what it promised to be and could become is the ultimate evolution of the current generation of MMOs, with its seamless, instance-less organic world, variety of content and multiple detailed spheres and areas in which to advance a character. If those things appeal to you, give Vanguard a shot some time over the next few months – you can score a copy of the game cheap on eBay (less than $10 in some cases.) It’s worth playing.
As for me… well, I’ll see you in Telon.