Vanguard: Saga of Heroes was one of the long-awaited MMORPGs of 2007, coming from the original designer of Everquest and promising "old school" challenging gameplay with modern graphics and interface concepts. Despite multiple release delays, it was still shipped in a very buggy condition, with features promised on the box not yet implemented, and hardware requirements well beyond the standard desktop machine of the time. Recently, it has made the conversion to free-to-play, which is tempting enough to bring back some of the original players and possibly attract new ones.
Graphically, Vanguard was well ahead of its time, and implementation issues made even higher-end machines of the day sputter when running it. Years of code tweaks, and hardware improvements, have changed that; the game runs almost too fast on my mid-range hardware, I sometimes turn too fast or overrun a goal.
The landscape views, in particular, are outstanding. These are no painted backdrops showing you things that aren't part of the world. If you see a mountain or tower in the far distance, you can run to it. There are countless points where even a jaded player (I've been at this since Kesmai in 1990) will stop and stare. On the down side, many of the character models are stiff, and the cities are filled with people who just stand there, with minimal or no idle animation.
Gameplay in Vanguard is easily recognizable in general: Pick a race (limited if you're F2P), a class (ditto), and head off to gather ten rat tails, gearing up all the while, so you can gather 10 giant rat tails, and so on. Vanguard shines in the depth of character development. You don't just have your armor; you have a different set of clothes for Diplomacy, and another set for Crafting, and a fourth for Harvesting. You do switch between them automatically as you engage in different tasks. Your mount can be equipped with different horseshoes, saddles, and so on. Crafting is far more complex and interactive than in most MMORPGs; you must make constant choices throughout the process as complications arise or resources are expended.
Combat consists of clicking the appropriate buttons in the appropriate order, though there is complexity here, as well. Different attacks set up conditions on the target which can be exploited by other powers, and those who master the various combinations, especially when they cross class boundaries, will have an edge.
Diplomacy is a type of gameplay that no other MMO duplicates. You perform it as a card game, slightly akin to Magic, and you earn cards (thus expanding your options in a diplomatic encounter) by questing and adventuring. Successful use of diplomacy can turn on region-wide buffs, so it has some direct impact on the world.
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