There are a lot of ways in which being a fan of Vanguard is frustrating. The dreadful launch and swift collapse, the major bugs, glitches and performance issues that weren’t fully addressed until a year and a half after the game’s debut, and the lack of development afterward stand out. But most dissatifying of all, in a way, is that shadow of the game that could have been, still visible in the game today out of the corner of your eye. A little of that would surely have been realized had the game been a bigger hit, but much else was never envisioned or was designed out at some point during development.
In many respects, Telon comes closer to my ideal of what a fantasy MMO setting ought to be than any other virtual space. It has its deficiencies in art design, but it’s huge, epic and interesting, it has great lore and an almost pure high fantasy backbone. Aberrant elements like steampunk Gnomes (of which I am very tired,) while they are present, have minimal impact on the setting’s flavor as a whole. It has, at least for me, the strongest sense of place of any MMO setting, and I think that’s very important.
Too, Vanguard has a unique Diplomacy system that makes the world more interactable and strengthens player’s ties to the world and its characters, and a very strong crafting functionality that could easily form the backbone of a robust player-driven economy. That would require two things, though: support from the rest of the game mechanics and a significantly more robust player population. Neither of those things is likely to happen now, despite SOE’s recent overtures toward applying some long-needed development to the title.
Vanguard really fails in the face of its potential in a couple of places. For one, sandbox ideas and a setting eminently suitable for them lie atop the mechanical foundation of a themepark in an unsatisfying way. I maintain that there’s nothing about the sandbox that necessarily precludes the themepark and vice versa, but where the mechanics of progression are strictly molded by the latter approach, there’s little incentive for development to extend sandbox functionality or for players to explore those elements.
There’s a considerable audience out looking for a sandbox game – big enough to have made Vanguard a much larger success than it has been – had this been understood during development. While there is a lot of sandbox flavor to the game there isn’t as much mechanical support as is needed to reveal much more sandbox play than folks got out of vanilla-era WoW. As fine and worthwhile a game as Vanguard is (and I continue to believe that the only two MMOs worth paying a subscription fee for are Vanguard and EVE Online,) it’s left its potential behind. What I really want, and will never get as such, is Vanguard II, something from an entirely different group of developers that see Vanguard, what it did wrong and what it did right, and integrate its successes with successes from elsewhere, both inside and outside of the limited sphere of MMOs, where tunnel vision is so common.
That prospect is unlikely, but wishing for a game with the spirit of Vanguard but none of its impediments (that of its reputation as an unplayable mess most of all,) is not entirely pie-in-the-sky. Indeed, I can see some of the same ideals that peek their noses out in Telon in Skyrim – latest in a series that lacks the tortured history of Vanguard. It’s true to say that Skyrim would not be effective as an MMO, but would it not have been splendid to see Vanguard with more of the virtues that the two games share?
Comparing the two – both wondrous virtual worlds, one thunderously successful and the other mocked and ignored for its failures – is something I think you could get a surprising amount of discussion out of, because even though the two games are very different, with widely variant goals and gameplay, there is a large amount of kinship in the strengths of both. Is it all down to the execution, I wonder? Or did Sigil simply (and ironically) misjudge what players want out of a virtual world, falling into the same trap as so many others in following the market leader’s example of gameplay?