Trengal Keep… Without a Net

One side effect of the venture into Wailing Winds Asylum was that shortly after completing it, Mengku received a gift from a random friendly player; a yellow weapon that was about a 300% DPS increase from what he’d been using. Thus equipped, he’s been a bit more potent. That’s good, because upstairs from level 10 the challenges of Vanguard become more pronounced.

After ridding the world of some Gulgrethor filth Mengku is now level 14, has three very nice songs in his repertoire, and is disposed to venture into places like the Tomb of Lord Tsang, perhaps the premier dungeon on the Kojani isles. However, as he’s continued to mature I’ve started thing about how I’m actually playing Mengku. He’s doing a lot of work with his bow, for example. Mostly this is just for pulling, as the Bard doesn’t really have any archery-specific abilities. When enemies close it’s melee time.

Given that this mix of ranged and melee seems to be my preferred playstyle in Vanguard, my thoughts naturally turned to Ardwulf himself, who has been sitting in the second half of the twenties for four years or so, and a 28 for at least a year. A quick hop in to work a bit of the start of the Unicorn mount chain gifted me with a couple of deaths, despite the three and four dot mobs involved being low enough to grant me no experience. Getting killed and taking the XP hit without getting any back is a bad cycle — clearly, I was out of practice with the Ranger. So I went in and did a thorough ability audit, adjusted his rotations and made some small upgrades to gear. He hasn’t got all that much money for whatever reason, but I was able to scrape a couple of things out of the brokerage.

Venturing back down to the Trengal Keep area, it wasn’t long before I’d gotten a blockbuster 2-piece drop off a random mob, found myself in a TK dungeon group, and hit level 29 without even completing any quests in the area (though I did make progress.) And my retuning was effective. Our TK group consisted of a Monk, a Rogue and me (a Ranger,) so without a healer it was fairly harrowing and there was a full wipe near the end. It was also an incredible amount of fun.

It does seem like the population has ticked up a bit, although we’re in an SOE-wide double XP weekend and that may have something to do with it. In mere months, though, Vanguard is going to be free to play and at the very least Telon is going to feel absolutely packed with people. Imagining three or four group all clawing their way through Trengal Keep and other mid-level dungeons has me pretty excited.

Music, Death and First Group

After pulling some new bags out of the mailbox Mengku ventured forth into the Blighted Lands east of Jalen’s Crossing. There lay the Wailing Winds Asylum, which is more a tranquil cliffside retreat in keeping with Kojan than the depraved nuthouse you’d expect. I thought this was kind of cool, but while there are some constructs keeping the inmates within, there’s still crazy people running around, and once inside roving mobs make dangerous adds common. Hilariously, almost instantly upon reaching level 11 I died and left a tombstone and all my stuff in a slightly inconvenient place. Bards aren’t all that tough and are far from their best when solo, so I was glad to group with a Warrior of similar level, and together we completed the short chain there, including taking down the mini-boss at the end.

Small as it was, this was my first group on Mengku. Vanguard really sings in group play. Not just because there is a lot of great group content (which there is) or because the best rewards are gotten through group play (also true) but because the classes and the combat system have a synchronicity to them that makes characters more effective in a group than they are alone, even aside from the extra firepower. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and when the group is highly proficient the effect is even more pronounced. When you’re dealing with five and six dot mobs like the raid bosses or overland raid targets, it needs to be.

I also rented a flying mount to scout out the local area, particularly the Arks of Harmony floating high above Jalen’s Crossing, and snap some screenshots. It’s sometimes said that Vanguard’s graphics are dated, which is true in some technical respects, but as far as I’m concerned the game still looks fantastic, and even great screenshots don’t do it justice. Only when you get in-game and hear the music and see the waving of the grass and trees with the wind does it have its full impact.

One of the great things about Vanguard is its fantastic soundtrack. I have yet to hear another MMO soundtrack that’s as effective, although several games (WoW, Guild Wars and AoC) have individual pieces on par with it. To me it adds tremendously to the atmosphere and sense of place. It’s one of the reasons I can hop into Vanguard just to hang out.

Since I have the whole soundtrack, one of my back-burner projects is to do some sightseeing in each area that has its own theme and make videos along the way featuring the music. Kind of a project which will hopefully happen at some point. Meanwhile,I have a couple other things in mind ramping up to the f2p launch.

Vanguard: MMO on the Rise?

When I returned to Vanguard I played a lot on my recreated Mordebi Psionicist, doing Crafting, Diplomacy and Adventuring first in the Cliffs of Ghelgad and then in the area surrounding Khal. I farted around with a couple of other characters as well. I did see a few players here and there, but not that many, and never more than one or two in any single place.

Tonight when my Bard rolled into Jalen’s Crossing for the first time there were three players there. (“Hey, three other players! Wow, awesome!”) When I logged to jump over to my Psionicist and make some bags, I found half a dozen players in the Crafter’s Forum alone (“Gee, there’s a lot of people on right now.”) and about ten player boats parked out in the harbor (“The hell? What’s going on?”) And at Stupid O’Clock in the morning, no less, not at or even near peak time.

I am reluctant to jump to conclusions, but these anecdotes suggest to me that perhaps interest in Vanguard is on the rise. Could it be that population is already increasing just based on the news that Vanguard is going free to play? It seems possible given the crosstalk on forums and the like, but I haven’t any hard numbers to demonstrate it, and checking player populations with /who and the Player Finder tool is a dicey proposition. Nevertheless, I plan to do just that if possible over the next week or two. And even a small uptick now, before freemium has even hit, is suggestive.

Vanguard is an easy, easy game to be pessimistic about, given its history. Its population has seen increases before, during winback periods and when SOE offered everybody a month and a half of free time last year in response to the hacks, and those gains never stuck. But free to play and the promise of some future development is a literal a game-changer. If, as I believe, there are a decent number of people with warm feelings toward Vanguard but who haven’t subbed. I’ve heard a ton of people say they’d come back in a minute if there was development in the pipeline. Could those people be starting to trickle back in preparation for the transition?

It could be real increase, it could be just a blip, or frankly it could all be in Ardwulf’s imagination. But I have never, not even going way back, seen that many boats in the Khal harbor.

Ultimately, we will need numbers to prove whether Vanguard is on the upswing or not. Anything we can extract now is going to be very sketchy. Even after f2p goes live, SOE won’t release any information for months, and then it’s be translated into marketing-ese. But there is, thanks to Vanguard’s server architecture, a surefire way to tell, very granularly, whether the population is in fact booming. If the population of active players goes up by six or eight times, they’ll be need for another server.

I am inclined to think that the dream result of an f2p Vanguard with four to six active servers is edging into unrealistic. But extending those numbers, it only works out to maybe 20-30K active players. A small population by MMO standards, not impossible in this case but unlikely. At worst, though, we should see a packed Telon server, and that in itself would breathe new life into a game that’s languished and slowly withered for the better part of the last three years. It’s easy (yet scary) to dream big, but even the modest result would be a triumph.

Guild Wars 2, Vanguard and Launch Date Strategy

It is a great boon to a blogger to be blogging about whatever the latest hotness is. Right now, that’s Guild Wars 2, and I’m watching a ton of videos on it while trying not to spoil myself too badly. But I haven’t had much to say on it that’s not being said elsewhere. I am still excited about it, and plan to be pre-ordering it next week. But many of the videos make it look kind of conventional, and I suspect I will need to actually play — and not in beta — to see how the actual play dynamic, with the dynamic events and without the Unholy Trinity, works in practice.

I have not, in fact, been invited to the GW2 beta, which on the one hand is unfortunate and on the other may be kind of a blessing, since I played in both the Rift and SWTOR betas and left them feeling like I’d seen all I needed to see. GW2 is a game I hope to get a lot of play out of, and maybe if I avoid the beta I’ll feel it’s fresher when it launches. Of course, that’s totally a rationalization; if I get a beta invite of course I’ll play it.

From a blogger’s perspective GW2 is fun to write about because it’s full of unknowns. No one has a GW2 “comfort zone” yet. I’ve observed this because right now I am playing Vanguard more or less exclusively, a game that has a lot of unknowns concerning its future direction and the switch to freemium, but which I have always felt at home in.

The big event today was hitting level 10 on my Bard, along with 100 in both Harvesting skills and level 4 in Diplomacy. So training for harvesting and new Bard skills and then going to Tawar Galan for a mount and Tanvu for the IoD Diplomacy trinket took a lot of running around even using the Riftway. He’s about 10 hours played at the moment, but I haven’t done any crafting with him yet; he’s destined to be a leatherworker and I have a beefy stockpile of mats intended for that. That’s probably next on the itinerary.

With The Secret World, Guild Wars 2 and probably the WoW expansion also launching this summer, I hope that Vanguard’s move to free to play won’t get completely lost in the shuffle. We don’t have dates for three of the four yet, so it’s a worry. But given that, what would be the right time for the Vanguard launch?

I’m inclined to say that both GW2 and TSW are legitimately new and shiney, and the five year old Vanguard isn’t likely to grab much of that audience. The aging WoW, crowd, on the other hand, is a different story. If Vanguard can be pitched as “old school” not in the context of EQ but of WoW, then I think there’s opportunity there. And I think such a pitch has solid ground to stand on. In that sense, the ideal launch date might be four to six weeks after Mists of Pandaria hits shelves, which by my reckoning will be about three to five weeks after the loudest mouths are tired of it.

Free to Play Vanguard: Why?

As anyone reading this blog should already know, Vanguard is going free to play (freemium) some time this summer. Details are mostly still pending, but the major variables are the details of the model, the exact launch date and the content package that SOE is going to release alongside it. The big picture, though, points to a healthier game after all is said and done.

A couple of SOE MMOs have gone away lately. The big one is/was SWG, of course, but you can’t necessarily say that was shut down because SOE wanted it shut down. But there’s also EverQuest Online Adventures, shuttered at the end of last month, and that’s a call that can most certainly be laid at the doorstep of Smed and the people making the decisions at SOE.

SOE does not seem to me to be a daring company. I know that they considered launching a freemium server for EQ2, their most popular title at the time, to be a big risk, but viewed from the outside it was anything but. The success that SOE has claimed for it and the subsequent total conversion of EQ2 to freemium looks like it was inevitable to me. Too, their freemium model is very conservative, aimed at giving free and microtransaction players a good taste of the game and allowing for casual play but definitively steering them towards a subscription if they want to play seriously.

SOE has some projects in the pipeline that are big and expensive by its standards. Planetside 2 is headed to release probably next year, with a whole new engine that SOE designed in-house. EverQuest Next, which will share that engine, is further out, and is the third (well, fifth, but you know what I mean) installment in their flagship franchise. If they’re not going all-out with it, they’re making a huge strategic error. Big money spent elsewhere is often accompanied by cuts in marginal corners of the business.

Vanguard had been allowed to wither on the vine by SOE for a long time. We started seeing very modest updates last year, and those have ramped up lately, but there was a period of over two years where not a single update of any kind was forthcoming. Not just no new content, but not even bug fixes. The only updates were to patch in holiday events and to fix server issues that actually took the game down. During this period there was very little indication that SOE had any interest in Vanguard at all. A few statements were made here and there that the company was still behind the game, but not often, and words are empty without action anyway. FanFaire was barren of even offhand talk of Vanguard for two years.

So here we have a game with the clear appearance of being unloved by its publisher, with a visibly minuscule player population, in a period when cancellation would have surprised absolutely no one and would seem to make sense on the face of it for a number of reasons. Yet Vanguard, despite all this, and despite the proclamations by naysayers that shutdown is right around the corner, gets a new lease on life this summer. Why? I can think of four possible reasons:

  1. SOE is run by idiots, and is chasing bad money with good. There are people who believe this, but I don’t, and the idea is terminally rebutted, in my opinion, by the conservatism I mentioned above. Conservatism doesn’t imply good sense, but if there’s one thing SOE cannot be accused of, it’s throwing money around willy-nilly.
  2. Vanguard is doing better than is generally supposed. While this is possible, there isn’t a shred of evidence to support it. There may be some percentage of people maintaining active subscriptions who don’t log in very often, but I’m inclined to think that this number is very small. Vanguard does add value to the SOE All Access Pass, but SOE appears to be moving (haltingly) away from the subscription model as the primary means of revenue, and their entire catalog (save only Planetside) going free to play makes non-subbing more attractive to those, like me, who like more than one of their games but tend to dabble in them.
  3. The change may have been forced by the terms of the deal with ProSiebenSat, whereby SOE agreed to move all their games to freemium as part of the arrangement. It’s hard for me to credit the idea that Vanguard could have been leveraged in this way by ProSiebenSat, nor would this theory explain why Planetside is, as far as we know, staying on the sub model. The latest word (as of yesterday) on the incredibly unpopular ProSeibenSat deal is that Vanguard (and EQ) will not be included in the arrangement at all. So nothing to see here.
  4. Vanguard is doing as badly as is commonly supposed, but the team at SOE really does believe in its viability as a product, and recognizes that a big part of the reason it’s doing so poorly is simply the neglect they have lavished upon it. Based on my understanding of SOE as a company, and of the people involved, I think that this is the most likely scenario. I think there are people at SOE invested in Vanguard who care about it and its survival and future direction. But note that caring doesn’t guarantee success.

Vanguard fans have rejoiced at the news, by and large. Oh, there’s been some of the typical anti-f2p and anti-SOE grumbling, but mostly it’s getting drowned out. I’m also seeing a surprising number of people saying that they’ve resubscribed already just based on the news alone, although I can’t say that there’s been a meaningful impact on in-game populations, at least yet (but bear in mind that I play at weird hours, too.) Words like “renaissance,” “revival,” “relaunch” and “second chance” (and “last chance,” too, which can’t be argued with,) are getting thrown around, not entirely without justification. I worry that words like these imply more optimism than is warranted.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m optimistic, too. And there’s a lot of space overhead, if you take my meaning. But we shouldn’t pretend that Vanguard’s history doesn’t leave substantial cause for pessimism. The game is also coming to the freemium market rather late — a market that is now quite crowded. I think we will, even in the direst case, see a significant uptick in players in Telon, and it’s my hope that it gets some attention from people who would like the game if they gave it a chance. But how big the increase will be is an open question. Predictions of new servers opening up, for example, are premature, to say the least.

On the other hand, one of the limits of the technology behind Vanguard may actually prove to be a backhanded asset in this respect; unlike EQ2, which is heavily zoned and which spawns new instances of zones is response to heavy population in those areas, Vanguard is uninstanced except in one raid dungeon, and that’s limited to six copies. All players are right out in the same world, and SOE doesn’t have the ability to stack a finite but very large number of active players onto the same Vanguard server. A tenfold increase in active players, which is not at all unbelievable, might well trigger the launch of a new server. And that would be the “holy cow, the Vanguard Renaissance is real” moment for a lot of people who might otherwise doubt it.

A Welcome Welcome Back

There are times when you come back to a game and you wonder why you left. This is one of those times. For all its flaws and blind spots and rough patches, Vanguard is a game that seethes with character and atmosphere. I hesitate to use the word “Vision” in the context of Vanguard, but if you drop the capital it’s clear Vanguard had some. It may be that a Vanguard with better project management and therefore a less troubled launch would have had less character. But as I’ve said before, give me a game that tried to do something distinct and only partly succeeded over a title that took a pedestrian path every step of the way.

I have always taken far more screenshots in Vanguard than in any other MMO. As a visual experience it has many failings in art design, but it has a lot of triumphs, too. In no other video game have I ever stopped what I was doing to gawk at a sunset. Its graphics are dated in many respects, but to me it still looks as incredible as ever, and the details that the original Sigil team put into the world really shows the love they had for it, whatever that team’s management failures. Even in areas I considered myself to have explored thoroughly, I’m still finding new things.

For my money, there are more amazing sights per chunk in Kojan than in Thestra or Qalia (each of which boasts more than a few, to be sure.) Among Vanguard’s many starting areas, though, I’ve never gotten all that far in any of the Kojani ones. I have made a point, this time around, to start new characters in starter areas I’ve previously underexplored, and I look forward to seeing more of the Kojani Isles. And the Bard in particular I see myself playing a lot of.

At some point, I will get around to playing Ardwulf himself again, and to doing some group stuff. But right now I’m having a great time just playing lowbies, exploring the content in all three spheres… and none of the starter areas I’m playing in has really let me down. The questing is conventional in the broad sense but very, very clever in any number of places, and the depth of the non-Adventuring spheres really makes Telon sing with depth.

One of my rebuilt characters is Mengku, a Bard. My previous Bard had been a High Elf, lost in the server merge; wanting to see more of the Kojan content convinced me to pick Wood Elf this time around. I have him up to level 8 so far and have started the Diplomacy content in Ca’ial Brael. Being able to play and progress without necessarily engaging in combat is a really nice break from the usual. I also plan to make him a leatherworker, but I want to get the diplomacy stuff in town done first, and get him to level 10 so he can go claim the IoD trinket at Tanvu.

Alts For Freemium and the Demise of Randolph

I made another handful of characters in Vanguard, in preparation for the transition to freemium. The consensus as to how things will shake out is that SOE will grandfather in existing character races, classes and character slots, much as they did for EQ2 (after considerable and justified bitching.) So the strategy is to make those characters now, so when f2p goes up you’ll be able to play them without necessarily having to pay out of pocket for whatever it is you’d ordinarily have to unlock. There is, of course, no guarantee things will work this way, and the grandfather date could be set to or before March 21, when the announcement was made. But this will irk some people, including myself.

Despite this variable I would not be terribly surprised if SOE’s implementation of the freemium model in Vanguard ends up being a bit more liberal than it is in EQ2. I don’t expect any radical departures, mind you, but it seems to me a great shame to lock such a variety of races and classes behind a transaction. Vanguard’s class design is unique, and I think it’d be wise not to lock those great designs behind a paywall. I won’t say that the Warrior, Rogue, Cleric and Sorcerer are entirely uninteresting, but all of the game’s great classes — the Bard, Blood Mage, Disciple and Necromancer, and all those that are almost as neat, like the Psionicist, Ranger, Dread Knight, Shaman and Monk — would be unavailable to free players if the EQ2 model is ported over verbatim. But SOE has a lot less to lose now, and Vanguard has more to gain. It would be very good strategy, in my judgement, to limit the game as little as possible while still building the infrastructure needed for robust microtransaction sales.

With this in mind, though, one of the reasons I resubscribed almost immediately after the announcement was to get character made with an eye to them being grandfathered in if possible. Since I had lost a lot of characters to the server merge purge (all under adventuring level 10, and a bunch under 5,) and only had four characters on my account, three of which I created when I came back last year, I set about figuring out everything that I would realistically want to play and filed all twelve existing character slots. I’ll be happy to buy unlocks should the need come up, but there’s no sense spending more money than I have to — the SOE f2p model is not alt-friendly, and I am. Particularly in a game with as much variety in races and classes as Vanguard.

One buried but big change with this week’s update (updates which are coming noticable more rapidly now,) is that Randolph the Reindeer, the flying holiday mount that was given out several Christmases ago and subsequently made a year-round flying mount, was stripped of his flying ability. Some people are upset about this, and Randolph was incredibly handy, but more people are relieved to finally see the change made. I, personally, am in the latter camp.

The problem is that Randolph, in addition to being kind of silly, broke the game in some minor but non-trivial ways. You could use him to fly in and out of outdoor dungeons, for example, despite the fact that these tend to nominally be no-fly zones. Granted that this points to a problem with the underlying no-fly mechanic rather than being an issue specific to Randolph himself, but still. As an odd goodie during the holiday event I don’t mind it, but year-round flying was a bit too much, and additionally eroded the value of Vanguard’s other flying mounts, which take rather a lot of effort to get.

Now, the thing is, flying is one of the great beauties of Vanguard. Anything you can see, you can get to if you can fly. I am all for a flying mount at some accessible level and with a reasonable effort that doesn’t break the lore. Word is that there’s a level 20 questline in the works that will grant one, and I’m fine with that. I’m also fine with (as I expect) flying mounts bought through the store, as long as the best ones (currently the Griffin, the most spectacular mount in all MMOs as far as I’m concerned) remain things that you have to get through play.

Crafting, Diplomacy and the Hazards of Overpolish

Sometimes, starting fresh makes a big difference. Mnembao, my new Psionicist, is now level 10 in Adventuring, level 11 in crafting (Tailor) and level 4 in Diplomacy. At 17 hours in I still have not left the Khal chunk nor visited the third Adventuring quest hub. I had seen the Cliffs of Ghelgad (starter area for the Qaliathari and Mordebi humans) more than once, but despite having done some crafting down in Khal, I’ve never gotten much past it.

I’m working on that now; Ksaravi Hollow is a dungeon in the chunk intended for levels 7-11. Like all Vanguard dungeons it is open to the world and a large piece of it is pretty soloable if you’re careful, even with a brittle Psionicist. But I did get in my first corpse run, which was unexpected — the death penalty doesn’t take effect until level 11, but level 11 in any of the spheres will do, and I had already hit that as a crafter. Thankfully, all was well once I made it back down there and the XP hit really is pretty modest unless you manage a streak of deaths. And yes, I have seen a couple of other players down there, but have not (thus far) felt the need to group.

I’ve also taken up Diplomacy again, something I’d let slip by the last couple of times I’ve been playing Vanguard. It’s hard to keep track of stuff after leaving it alone for a long time, but starting from scratch there’s a lot to do. Level 4 gets you a bigger strategy hand, which helps a great deal. There is one quest in the early Khal diplomacy chain that’s hard to follow: you’re told to talk to some guards until the nearby guard sergeant has finished up whatever it is he’s doing, but you’re not told explicitly what will trigger the quest’s completion. It turns out that this is hitting level 4, which, if you haven’t done all of the lower-level diplomacy quests (I hadn’t) can take a fairly large number (like twenty) parleys to reach. I almost stomped off without completing it before I figured it out. I’m glad I didn’t, because if I had, it probably would have been another character I’d abandoned Diplomacy on.

Coming off of my experiences with SWTOR and Rift last year (both of which I decided not to buy based on their “strengths” in beta,) ancient, teetering old Vanguard seems like a breath of fresh air. Those games, like WoW, are highly polished — and like WoW today all of the fun seems to have been polished off of them. What was once an unquestioned virtue has now become, to my mind, a liability, with openness, dynamism, atmosphere and interactivity sacrificed at the altars of balance, ease and accessibility.

Whatever deficiencies it might have, there is meat on the bones of Vanguard. It’s a bizarre twist when the great strength of WoW becomes a weakness, and the great flaw of Vanguard becomes an asset. I have a funny hunch that Vanguard’s dilute “old school” pedigree, never satisfying to EQ veterans who wanted something similar to the old hardcore grind, is something that fans of vanilla WoW who have grown to dislike Azeroth as it’s evolved might find appealing. It’s still a themepark game, and it gives you some guidance and direction, but you also have the ability to run off the rails and do what you want to a much greater degree than in those other titles.

Whether that potential audience will actually try Vanguard when it moves to freemium is another story. Deciding to launch EQ2 Extended instead of making Vanguard free to play in a market that wasn’t yet dominated by games with no cover charge represents a huge missed opportunity on SOE’s part. It would have been a gamble, but, y’know, sometimes you should gamble. What I hope for now is a nice boost to the population, which should help the game a great deal.

Crafting Progress and A Game Update

I’ve been out of Vanguard crafting for so long that I’d frankly forgotten many of the moving parts. Thanks to advice given on the previous posts and diligent study of Quert’s Crafting Guides, I’m starting to get caught up with it again.

Mnembao hit level 11 in Tailoring right before I finished up for the day. This opens up Tier 2 and several crafting questlines, some of which will take me off of Qalia. I’m starting to find sweet spots in doing work orders that net the most experience for time invested based on quality levels I can reliably hit. I am finally srating to make my own bags and such, and plan to craft a set of gear for myself before resuming Adventuring.

SOE has also announced that the first in a series of loyalty rewards is afoot. This is already up on Halgar and goes live on Telon later today. Visiting a Herald of Telon in any of various locations results in a “the Loyal” title, a Banshee pet and a Bracelet of Lucky Charms, which is (presumably) the same desirable trinket one gets from completing the Isle of Dawn storyline. The update also fixes the Ini-herat problem which has been lingering for a little bit.

These updates, while small, are starting come come to come out more regularly as the team ramps up activity in preparation for the free to play transition. We’ve already learned that no new content is going to get pushed out until then, but when it comes, that update should be fairly substantial.

The Crafting Game

In principle, I love Vanguard’s crafting system. It’s deep and detailed, isn’t click-and-walk, takes actual planning and forethought and lets you essentially design your own item bonuses to a large extent. On top of that, crafting in Vanguard is its own sphere, with its own level progression, gear, quests and abilities. It is an immensely rich part of the game.

In practice, I have never gotten all that far with it. This may be a function of having been in and out of the game along with a system that by its very depth discourages that kind of dabbling. I seem to recall reaching about Outfitter level 12 on the old pre-scrub Mnembao, but I may be inflating that number in my head. With the new version having reached adventuring level 8, I’d like to be able to craft him some decent gear before he outlevels it, and most of the desirable stuff is toward the top of the tier.

I’ve already harvested bunches of Jute and Hide outside of Khal, enough to top out my harvesting skills for the tier, and I’ve been systematically refining these into useful materials. Between that and the introductory crafting quests I’ve gotten him up to level 6, and I have more mats to convert. This has been fraught with peril; the crafting process can be punishing at times, and losing mats seems inevitable. It’s possible that I’m just bad at it, but it also seems certain that on some operations you’ll need four or five crafting tools when your toolbelt only carries three, or additional utilities that won’t fit on your workbench. And then there’s the chance of getting a ton of complications that burn enough action points that you can’t complete the combine at all. I think I’ve lost about ten units of mats to these issues. Some of these issues should be alleviated now that I qualify for the next highest level of crafting tools, which will be nice.

In any event, although I don’t see myself making especially rapid progress, the activity of crafting itself is kind of fun, much more so than the click-and-forget of WoW or LotRO or the twitchy, attention-hogging system of EQ2. Sometimes it seems obvious to me why Vanguard is as (un)popular as it is, and at other times it amazes me that it hasn’t attracted more people, when so many claim to want a crafting system very much like this.