To this end, you get one of the most flexible character setups in the business. Sigil has made a lot of the 19 different playable races and 15 classes, and they’ve been right to. As well as the usual variations on Elves, dwarves and Halflings, there are several different races of men (in civilized and barbarian varieties). On top of these, the game throws in furry fox-like critters and cat-people in the Asian continent of Kojan, a race of scary-looking wolfmen, plus orcs, goblins and half-giants. The professions are sensibly split into defensive and offensive fighters and defensive and offensive spellscasters. However, as well as the usual tanks (the Warrior, the Paladin), ranged weapon and stealth types (Ranger, Rogue), healers (Cleric and Shaman) and heavy weapons dudes (the Necromancer, Sorcerer and Druid) there are some well thought out hybrids. The Dread Night, for example, is basically a tank with fearsome magic powers, while the Blood Mage is a healer with a nice side-line in offensive spells.
As usual, not all professions are open to all races, but all in all, there’s such a massive choice here that if you can’t create two or three characters you’d like to play, there must be something wrong with your imagination. Producing all these variants must have required a huge commitment on Sigil’s part, and I suspect that balancing them must be a nightmare. Only time will tell how well they manage it.
Like most MMORPGs, Vanguard is primarily combat-driven, but real effort has also gone into making sure that it’s not all dull right-click then sit-back stuff. Like Guild Wars or City of Heroes, you get a nice, responsive system of attacks and defences where the combos almost chain themselves together, and Vanguard also throws in a good system of reactive attacks and counters that only become available when specific conditions are met. More impressively, the game shows a real commitment to non-combat gameplay. I don’t really go in for crafting myself, but you can see how much thought has gone into virtual manufacture and shopkeeping.
Diplomacy, meanwhile, is something new entirely. Modelled on a trading-card game, the system has you playing debate-themed cards in order to drive a gauge up and down between you and your ‘opponent’. Things are complicated by the fact that each card played allots you and your opponent certain colour-coded points, and you both need these in order to play specific cards. It’s relatively complex at first, but there are good tutorials and it’s certainly not impossible to get your head around. What’s more Vanguard really runs with the idea, throwing in a whole tree of diplomacy quests that offer an alternative means of advancement.