Vanguard and Skyrim

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?

5 responses to “Vanguard and Skyrim

  1. Oh no. I don’t think Sigil misjudged at all. I think it was generally agreed upon that Brad McQuaid OVERSOLD the capabilities of what Sigil could accomplish. Had they pulled off what he had promised, Vanguard might have turned the tide of the genre, but it collapsed under the weight of it’s own phantoms.

    I’m not as down on SOE as a lot of people are, but I would agree that SOMEONE should pick up the reins of a Vanguard II, built on the promises of the original, because I think NOW, it could be done. I think now it SHOULD be done.

  2. The short version of what went on at Sigil (to my understanding) is such: they wasted years and millions and accomplished very little, and built the game we got in the last year or less, and launched when they ran out of money. You can see it in the design, in places. The terrain is gorgeous and the character models and structures are entirely half-baked in a lot of the world. Some sights are breathtaking, others are so dull you’d expect to see them in a much older game like EverQuest. Some dungeons, like Trengal Keep or Coterie Infineum Sanctuary, are lovingly done and are amazing experiences, while others are a tunnel with some guys, and a bigger guy at the end.

    There is so little debate about whether Sigil overpromised and underdelivered that I didn’t think it worth explicitly pointing out. Well before launch, though, they’d been backing off on many of their most ambitious aims. A couple of these – like guild halls or the fully dynamic, worldwide weather – were actually delivered later by SOE. The player cities and such we never saw and never will. Again, you can see elements of the Vanguard that might have been here and there in the design.

    I love Vanguard. But I hate it too, for what it could have been. It’s kind of amazing that the game we got was as good as it was, really. In a couple of ways, though, its failure shaped the industry, the lesson learned being that reaching for the stars is doomed and will net you nothing. Ad Astra Per Aspera, I say.

  3. Completely agree with you on all your points about Vanguard. It’s second only to Everquest in my pantheon of MMOs and that only because I played EQ first and because VG didn’t get ongoing development.

    A lot of the enormous feature set that Brad endlessly bragged about before launch was a figment of his imagination (much like the vast feature set of David Allen’s earlier Horizons) so I don’t particularly regret their imaginary loss. What does annoy me, though, is the knowledge that, vast as the Telon we have is, the art team apparently finished as much again or more and that landmass is sitting there somewhere unused.

    Despite everything, Vanguard is still a superb MMO and anyone who hasn’t yet tried it still has a huge treat in store.

  4. I agree that Vanguard is th best Fantasy MMO, and it’s hard to believe that they fucked up the launch THAT much. I can’t begin to imagine how the game could be today if it had been a big success…

    I’m deep in Skyrim too at the moment and i sometime wonder how the game’s mecanisms would fare in an MMO. I guess it’s what Adventurine tried with Darkfall and think they half succeeded.