At these points, the game really takes off, but there are huge periods where it doesn’t and it all seems like hard work. Dying certainly doesn’t help. Up to level seven you simply reincarnate at the nearest base – a nice sop to keep us noobs from throwing in the towel – but after that you’re faced with a choice between paying heavy penalties or having to return to your place of death and loot the grave to get your kit back. In WoW, you could do so as a spirit and only had to get near the mark, making recovering your possessions a hassle but not a particularly perilous one. In Vanguard, however, you have to travel in your vulnerable, physical form without armour and with only basic weaponry, to pretty much the exact point where you died. This means you can actually die several times on the way to get your stuff back – not what I’d call entertaining.
Vanguard also gets hard on solo players fairly early. Again, this fits in with the classic ethos, but it means the game isn’t as flexible as WoW or Guild Wars. We don’t always have our buddies on tap to play with, and it’s not always easy to find a pick-up group to play with, particularly at times – and there are many – when the servers aren’t so full.
The main reason to persist is potential. While the early game can be a bit of a grind, there is a real feeling that, should you find a good group and put a lot of time in, there’s a fantastic world to explore here. Telon has an almost dizzying sense of scale, and even in the early stages you can see epic narratives building up. All the same, do you really want to grind today so you can have jam tomorrow, when other games give you jam right from the start?
Perhaps the real key to understanding Vanguard is that even though it looks third-generation, it’s driven by an old-school mentality and how you respond will depend on how much you can share it. Like any good MMORPG – and this is a good MMORPG – it’s addictive, huge and habit-forming. It’s also well-designed and thoroughly gorgeous to look at. Yet it demands the sort of commitment that means it will never pull in the casual crowd that took to WoW and Guild Wars in such numbers. Provided player numbers stay up or even grow, Vanguard will give back everything that you put in. The question is, do you really have the time and energy to give it in the first place?
The first of the third-age MMORPGs looks fantastic, but feels a bit of a throwback to the first. A great step-up from WoW if you want more complexity and choice, but the more casual player is still better served by WoW or Guild Wars.
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