Perhaps the biggest draw of Vanguard, however, is the world itself. Powered by a heavily modified Unreal 2 engine, this is a feast of gorgeous textures, lighting and reflection effects, where – provided your system has a high-end GPU and a lot of RAM, you can expect enormous draw distances, truly panoramic landscapes and some great atmospheric effects (even if the rain is over-used in some locations). This is a game where even the trees look amazing. There are glitches here and there, and the odd clumsy bit of modelling, but overall this is as close to Oblivion as MMOs currently get. A lot of attention has clearly gone into landscape, architecture and creature design, and – as in WoW – it’s tempting just to explore and see everything the three continents have to offer.
However, while the world looks amazing, and the artistic style is frequently striking, there are several things that pull you out of the fiction. The first disappointment is how static the fauna is. Non-hostile creatures stand around waiting to be hunted down and battered into submission, while even hostiles don’t always react even when near-neighbours are attacked. Of course, some of this is to maintain a reasonable difficulty level – you don’t want the mobs ganging up at the opening of the game – but you can’t help feeling that WoW handles its menageries better. There are also a lot of areas in which everyone just seems to be standing around, waiting for the player to interact. This has always been the case with MMOs, and may always be so, but there are times when Vanguard’s illusion of its living breathing world simply isn’t as compelling as WoW’s, despite the clearly more advanced state of the visuals.
The most serious issue, however, is the underlying game style. Vanguard wants to provide a world of epic, group-based adventure, so you can’t expect the instant travel options and AI henchmen of a casual-friendly game like Guild Wars, but even given this there are long periods where Sigil’s baby feels like a good old-fashioned grind. For a game that prides itself on non-combat routes to advancement, there’s still a lot of emphasis on the classic ‘bash x Grey Wolves then return to me’ quest, to the extent that some quest-givers even give you a shopping list of monsters to be slaughtered. WoW and Guild Wars both do it to some extent, but both are usually better at hiding it. It’s a shame, because there are occasions when Vanguard does a fantastic job with its quests, linking several together as part of one mini-crusade against a particular villain, or pitching you as a hero who can halt a dark conspiracy.
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