Innovation has been absent from the MMORPG scene in recent years. There are those who want to take it to a whole different level, whilst others want to take the old and slap on a few twists. The latter usually isn’t held in much esteem by its own players, but Vanguard: Saga of Heroes certainly has a lot of twists and takes that make it seem fresh.
When players get creative, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes is your fantasy come alive.
Similar to your average MMORPG, V:SOH is based around many familiar functions in an MMO: crafting, killing, questing, guilding. What sets V:SOH apart from its current competition, however, is what developers refer to as “Spheres.” Unlike “that other game,” V:SOH offers a variety of paths for players to choose when leveling up, not just one. Adventuring, Diplomacy, and Crafting are examples of these paths. Adventuring is something we all know, be it from D&D, EverQuest, or WoW. Players accept quests from NPCs marked with a quest icon; those NPCs will beg you to whack ten wolves in order to secure their safety for the night. As you continue along this route, you progressively gain better rewards to battle tougher obstacles and quests. Further down the adventuring trail, players are sent all across three vast continents that are totally unique to the MMO world. The magical world you play in, Telon, is inhabited with 19 races, each originating from either the equivalent medieval European continent of Thestra, the Asian-smooth-curves continent of Kojan, or the Arabian-African desert wastes of Qalia. Each of the continents is a marvel to behold, with a countless number of non-instanced secret dungeons and tall raging mountain peaks that stretch up into the sky. V:SOH is filled with eye candy, with graphics being second only to Age of Conan. Adventuring in itself is a common progression you’ve done in so many MMO’s, but with a beautiful new world and some entertaining quest lines. If lore interests you, you’ll soon find out that the world is jam-packed with it, giving the feeling of a true adventure. You are in a world, not a game. Danger is an ever-looming theme coupled with the relentless drive inspiring you to explore, find secret dungeons that are widely unknown, gives Vanguard players a feeling of accomplishment – ripping apart the sense of otherwise a monotonous grind.
Sigil had no problems making the old seem new. The quests themselves can seem boring and repetitive, but having to actually walk for a little while (or fly, if you choose to ride a wyvern or a gryphon) you can see what the beautiful world has to offer you along the way. Some dungeons are even targeted at soloing, making for a nice change in pace from the “LFG” command you always have to spam to enter each and every dungeon in most MMO’s these days. The dungeons are sprawling and ominous, I even got lost in one once!
The magnificent and sprawling cities are stunning. From the smooth lines and idyllic trees covering the entrance to the High Elves of Leth Nurae, to the bastion of human civilization at New Targonor, looking over the great sea, distinctive landscapes dominate the map. It screams details. The southern part of Qalia, a region inspired from Arabic and Indian influences, is where players will discover snake-hypnotizers seated on carpets. Camels travel in and out of the area, and buildings are crafted similarly to those in the real world. Each race has it's respective city, and I've yet had time to see them all.
Character creation is largely important for many MMO-players, and Vanguard by no means lacks this quality. Supplied with a huge array of tweaks and adjustments, players have the option of character customization to the extreme. The abundance of races only adds to the unique characters, and existing races include (but are not limited to): half-elves, humans, half-giants, fox-like men, and even wolf-like humanoids. Thanks to this feature (and probably the lack of players), it is unlikely that you will meet your clone.
Earlier I mentioned the overwhelming opportunities for adventure, but it doesn't end there. Two other “spheres” in V:SoH are geared toward Crafting and Diplomacy.
Crafting is not what you think. No really, it isn’t. Crafting in Vanguard: Saga of Heroes has its own level, gear and process to make each weapon or item, and the built-in system makes for a fun break from adventuring. It's an active process, you don’t just need click “mix” after 'just adding water,' and the mini-game is similar to the one found in EverQuest II.
Each stage of the crafting process requires a special workstation outfitted with the required tools. During the process, complications arise and need to be battled. This process limits players to a certain number of Action Points, giving the ability to ignore the damaging complications, or just wait and see what happens. The process is fairly complex, too complex for this review, so I will spare you. Rest assured, the crafting is what I spent the majority of my time on. I never liked crafting, but I did in Vanguard. I was actively engaged in the process.
Diplomacy is Vanguard's ace-in-the-sleeve, a never before seen addition to the MMORPG scene. Diplomatic transactions are represented in form of a card game. Equipped with your own deck of cards, each 'play' can be an emotion, statement, bluff, or anything to that effect, and you have to duel your NPC opponent in a game of stichomythia. Many gamers are familiar with this next reference (if you aren't, don't fear!), but the mini-game is loosely related to Magic: The Gathering. Diplomacy is also the best way to learn all about the game's lore, since the adventuring path's quests offer little incentive in forms of lore. The world of Telon has a rich history, and the best way to learn about it is through the use of Diplomacy. The sphere's cards are well-written and reflect the traits of people in a familiar way.
The Good: The biggest game world you've ever seen! A few unique classes add hundreds of hours, because for some reason, alting feels like a whole different experience. Vanguard's music does a fantastic job of setting the mood. Diplomacy has never been done before, and Crafting keeps you entertained when you're worn out from the dungeons and group-play. Three flying mounts and over 20 grounded mounts are available. Although lacking population, the community is tightly interwoven and backs up server-wide events on a large scale.
The Bad: The game engine is still clunky and cumbersone, even after months of patching. As with most MMO's, loading screens plague the game's zones. Animations are sub-par, though graphics make up for them. Bugs still crawl through the game's code, and though greatly improved since launch, were the initial reason for the small population. World population is small in comparison to most MMO's. Some level ranges are very tough to progress through if you intend to solo.
Overall: Graphics are gorgeous. The game offers some unique platforms and is a refreshing experience. The developers haven't given up on Vanguard (dubbed the “Spirit of EverQuest”), and improve content on a regular basis. If you tried Vanguard in the past and were unpleased, a 14-day trial is available from the website. Try it out, and enter a game like no other!
Gears of War, the game created by Epic Games and Microsoft Game Studios, was supposed to keep Xbox 360 fans amused until the dropping of Halo 3. The game has rebelled against the wishes of its fan base and gone over to the vast ocean that we call The Ocean of PC Gaming. Not only have they dolled up the box with a sticker advertising a free month of Live Gold (yes Games for Windows Live and Xbox Live are one in the same), but it also has the golden seal telling you that this is the game that is “Winner of 30+ Xbox 360 Game of the Year Awards.” Let us see if it is as good as the Xbox 360 version, or if its legs will be violently chainsawed out from underneath it.
The main story line is like any other sci-fi game dealing with aliens, except here, the aliens are called Locusts. Humans rule, aliens suck, aliens oppress the humans, humans attempt to put their foot into the aliens’ asses, which would hurt worse for the aliens due to the size of the boots that the humans wear.
You play as Marcus Fenix, a complete rip off of the comic book character Deathblow, and a prisoner. It is never explained in the game why he was placed in prison in the first place. He is rescued by former teammate and friend Domonic Santiago. After a quick skirmish through the prison, you “get to da choppa” Arnold Schwarzenegger style, where we learn the story. Your mission is to go find Alpha squad and a device they have, called “The Resonator,” which is supposed to map the Locust tunnels in the fittingly brown bowels of the planet. After linking up with Alpha, you head to an abandoned drilling plant, go underground, plant the resonator, and get out before it goes off. After emerging from the mine shaft, you get a radio comm. that tells you something you should have guessed: shit didn’t work.
You are then ordered to go to your father’s house to see if he had anything that would help in mapping the tunnels. You are picked up by said chopper, and brought to the academy where your father lived. Either this was a military academy or your dad was a professor, but when you arrive at the house the place is trashed and infested with Locusts. After killing the locusts and grabbing the data you were sent to collect, you jump in an APC that is conveniently parked out back, and head to the train station. You guessed it: players board a train that is carrying an explosive made to blow the hell out of the tunnels. When you arrive at the station, you learn that the train is under locust control, so you kill them all, let God sort them out, and drive the train off the rails after activating the bomb. WHEW! So there’s yer run-down, let’s get to the gameplay!
The gameplay is rock solid and visceral. Usually when a game is ported from console to PC waters, angry and merciless PC gamers end up with buggy controls; this is not one of those times, thankfully. The ability to take cover behind a wall and blind fire your weapon is a good idea, and sometimes you actually hit things, but what do you expect when you use the force rather than your eyes? The weapons are standard assault rifles, pistols, sniper rifle, grenades, and rocket lawn-chair. There are two unique weapons however, the torque bow, which fires an explosive that will impale an enemy then explode, and the chainsaw bayonet. Whoever thought of putting a chainsaw under an assault rifle is my new hero. There is something magical when you chainsaw an enemy in half and you hear your character profess his fear of “cooties”.
The AI on the other hand is a bit of a downer. At times you will be in a heavy firefight, then for no reason at all, a teammate and a Locust will stand right next to each other and do absolutely nothing. This isn’t an isolated incident. Teammates and enemies will randomly come down with a case of The Dumb and become absolutely useless. Another thing that the enemy AI will do is target you, AND ONLY YOU, for a chainsaw kill. I don’t mind the fact that the enemy gets the chainsaw, and I don’t mind that if a teammate dies the mission is over, but after getting singled out and chased by 4 Locusts who want to introduce their chainsaws to my delicate person, I found myself praying to the coding that the enemy would decide to chainsaw my teammates as we passed them. Alas these prayers were not answered by the coding.
Now here is where a lot of the Xbox 360 community got mad at Epic. For the PC version of the game, they made 5 new chapters that surround defeating the Brumak (a massive beast) that chased you away from Fenix’s house. You encounter the thing twice. Once at the front of an abandoned theater and the second time is out in a construction area next to a power station. Seeing as how this was never in the 360 version, I was quite impressed as how it felt like it had been in the game since its development on the 360. There was no information loss. Everything seemed to flow together very smoothly.
With multiplayer, gamers can link up with a friend and run co-op, or go fight seven random people and let the chainsaw massacre begin. It’s a bit saddening that despite having a four-man squad, only two-player co-op exists. The only drawback that I really have issues with in multiplayer is the lack of cross-platform multiplayer. It would have been nice to show those console kids how the mouse is superior to the thumb stick, but I guess Microsoft and Epic didn’t want to subject them to that level of abuse. Regardless, the PC multiplayer is very good, just as good as the 360, but at least now I can aim the damned sniper rifle without looking like I'm having a full body seizure.
The Good: compelling story line, great gameplay, brilliant graphics, and intense action.
The Bad: Teammates and enemies sometimes do nothing when there is plenty of killing to be done, your teammates cannot revive you if you go down, and some areas are a pain if you have to constantly redo them.
Overall: Replay value is very good. This is definite buy for PC modders and gamers, and a good addition to their collection.
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