It’s Been a While…

Flying around the Isle of Dawn
Flying around the Isle of Dawn

It’s been almost a year and a half since my last post here. The reasons for that are many, but the long and short of it is, I just haven’t had much time to play games. I still manage to pop into a game now and then, but there hasn’t really been anything that has grabbed my interest and pulled me in to the extent that I’d want to write about it… until now.

In the year and a half since my last post I’ve dabble with quite a few different games. I may not have much time to dedicate to them, but that hasn’t prevented my Steam library from expanding beyond a sustainable rate. Many games lay in wait, reporting nothing more than a few minutes played; just enough to check them out quickly to see what they look like. Some poor souls remain un-played at all; purchased on the cheap during one of the Steam sales, and to this day have never even been launched. It’s ridiculous.

One game has finally hooked me though, and it was a little unexpected. A few friends of mine have started playing Neverwinter, the recently released free-to-play MMO. I initially rejected their suggestions that I try it; I was done with MMOs I said. Eventually however, I relented and checked it out. My first impressions were positive; it looks gorgeous, and seems very accessible without obvious restrictions for those who want to play for free. As I played though, I found myself just going through the motions, it wasn’t grabbing me. It did however, spark an itch.

Entrance to the Earth Den.
Entrance to the Earth Den.

Neverwinter left me with just a hint of a longing for an old-school MMO, a taste for recapturing the feeling I had while playing EverQuest II during my heyday of MMO gaming. I wanted something a little different from EQII though, that game having run its course for me long ago. It was then that I decided to step into the world of Telon and give Vanguard: Saga of Heroes another try.

I bought Vanguard at launch, paying $60 for the game, but didn’t play it right away. Having played in the beta, I was all too familiar with the many bugs and various issues plaguing the game at launch, so I decided to wait before starting my subscription.  It wasn’t until quite some time after launch that I finally activated my first 30 days, but unfortunately, I had completely burned out on the MMORPG model of the day, and had no motivation to continue.

I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Vanguard. Yes, it had its problems, but I can remember the last day of the beta, when I was able to create a max-level (or close to it, can’t remember) character, and obtain a flying mount. As I flew all over Qalia, I was amazed at the detail of the world, and that impression never left me. Since then, I’ve always maintained that I would love nothing more than to fly all around Vanguard’s world, and just explore.

So, I loaded up Steam and downloaded the now free-to-play Vanguard and re-visited Telon. My old character was still accessible, but I had no idea how to play him, or where I needed to go, so I decided to start anew, creating a Thestran Human Shaman, and started on the Isle of Dawn.

It didn’t take long for a nostalgic wave to rush over me. It took me back to my first days with EQII; not knowing exactly how the game worked, or where I was going. I was hooked. The graphics are beginning to look a little old, yet still look great. My machine can now handle the game at its highest settings without a problem; definitely a switch from my first go around with the game.

The Steam client tells me I’ve logged 17 hours played in Vanguard. To me, given all my “real life” responsibilities, that’s a lot. I’m hooked; so much so that it’s inspired me to come back after a year and a half and write this. I have even, for the first time ever, spent real money in a free-to-play game. As you can see in the first image of this post, I’ve purchased a flying mount… and I love it.

As of tonight I have finished all the adventuring and diplomacy quests on the Isle of Dawn. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed doing the diplomacy quests; it’s not something I would have thought I’d be interested in, but here I am, a level 9 diplomat, having completed the main diplomatic quest line on the Isle.

As soon as I finish this post I’ll be hopping back into the game, and finishing off the last quest of the adventuring series which will take me off the Isle of Dawn to one of the main continents, where the first thing I do will likely be to fly all around Vanguard’s world, just exploring.

Free To Play

My daughter is away this week, visiting her grandparents at their cabin on the lake, and my wife will be away in Vancouver for a few days for work.  That means I’ll be home by myself, with just my dog to take care of, which subsequently means I’ll be free to play whatever games I want, and be as irresponsible with my time as I choose to be.  Of course I miss my wife and daughter, that goes without saying, but still… guilt-free gaming baby!

I’ll be spending some quality time with StarCraft II tonight, no doubt.  I played the first three missions of the campaign last night and I like it so far.  I’ll hopefully have some more impressions of it at a later date.

What I really meant to post about was the news that EverQuest II was going to introduce a free-to-play server.  You can read all the details at the official site, here: http://everquest2.com/news/read/current/3630.

I’ve said it many times before, that I loved EverQuest II back when I played it, and hopefully this move does something to introduce the game to new players.  It used to drive me nuts to hear people put the game down without having tried it.  I’ll definitely be trying it out again myself.  It’s too bad I won’t have access to my existing characters, but they’ve been dormant long enough that I probably wouldn’t know how to play them anyway.

My only concern is that this move may prove to be too little too late.   The last time I was in EQII (free period just before the release of Sentinel’s Fate) it really showed its age and it couldn’t hook me in.  I can’t see anything having changed since then.  It’ll be nice to have the option of poking my head in now and then though.

I’m actually a little surprised that EQII was the game that SOE decided to try the free-to-play model on (aside from Free Realms of course).  I was hoping Vanguard would be the first to go that route.  I would love to play that game some more, I just can’t justify paying for it.

EverQuest II and Vanguard to Merge!

New Enchanted LandsI knew there was a reason SOE purchased Vanguard, I just never would have anticipated this. It was revealed today that the worlds of EverQuest II and Vanguard will be merged into one, creating the largest Massively Multiplayer Online game on the market. A press release announcing the merge was prematurely released by SOE’s director of product development, Loof Lirpa, and has since been taken off the web. The press release stated that this merging of worlds was the primary reason behind Sony’s purchase of the Vanguard assets from Sigil. Only now, after extensive performance improvements, has it become feasible to remake all of the EverQuest II zones in Vanguard’s engine; work which has been underway for several months now. The screenshot above shows a Barbarian Berzerker standing in the remade Enchanted Lands.

All of Vanguard’s character models are being scrapped in favour of the EQII ones, while the world geometry will be handled by the Vanguard engine. While light on details, the press release did state that some of the mechanics will obviously have to change in order to meld the two games together, most notably a consolidation of classes. However, the majority of the content will remain untouched, aside from the engine changes.

The press release stated that no additional purchase will be required by current subscribers to EQII or Vanguard, and the content will be pushed down through multiple, smaller patches as the “go-live” date approaches. The release date wasn’t specified, although it was said an in-game world event will commence sometime in the fall of 2008. It’s assumed the world event will help explain how the worlds of Norrath and Telon will become one.

Obviously I wish I could tell you more, but there really was not a lot of detail in the press release. To say I’m excited for this change would be an understatement. I was always really impressed with the world in Vanguard and often wondered to myself what it would be like to see a seamless EverQuest II world. The logistics of this announcement are mind-boggling, but if anyone can pull it off, it’s the hard working people at SOE. I can’t wait, but until then, enjoy April 1st.

Walking on Air

Spawn of KojukoI had a busy weekend in the “real world” so I didn’t get much time to play Vanguard, but in the time I did have I managed to get to level 11, oh yeah, end-game here I come!  I’ve enjoyed the quests so far, even though they have mostly been of the “kill x number of creature y” variety, the story behind them is at least engaging enough to keep my interest.  After choosing which version of Jin (light or dark) I was going to follow, I was set off on a series of trials to prove my worthiness.  While doing some of the quests I came across the Spawn of Kojuko who was kind enough to pose for my screenshot before charging at me.  I turned tail and ran like a true warrior would.  He managed one swipe at me which knocked my health bar down to a sliver, but that just made me run faster and I managed to escape.

In one of the trials I was teleported to the top of a very high mountain overlooking Tanvu, and was supposed to talk with a Lao’Jin master, Master Chuun.  The view from the top of the mountain was incredible so I just had to look around and perhaps grab a screenshot or two before speaking with the Master.  I could almost see the entire island from where I was, including the city of Tanvu far below.  I inched my way closer to the edge of the mountain for a better look, but I apparently inched a little too far forward as I fell off the edge and began plummeting towards the ground below.  I uttered an “oh crap” but just then my quest updated with a ding and I successfully completed Chuun’s trial.  I never did speak to him, so I’ll just assume his trial was going to ask me to put my faith in Jin and jump off the mountain.

Jalen’s CrossingA little later on, while walking around doing some quests near Magi Hold, I came across Kagero Skyhoof, Pegasus Master.  After talking with her I learned that I could rent a Pegasus for ten minutes at a cost of ten silver.  I did a quick inventory check to find that I had 22 silver, and 98 copper to my name.  Ten silver was feeling like a lot of money, but this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

Jalen’s CrossingThe ten minutes literally flew by, pun intended.  I ended up flying south to Ca’ial Brael and saw some pretty cool stuff along the way such as Jalen’s Crossing, the giant bridge pictured.  The ten minutes expired just as I was flying over Ca’ial Brael which is a gorgeous looking city.

Shrine of TimeI then headed west from Ca’ial Brael to Tawar Galan which is right on the coast.  I found a mount vendor nearby and decided to spend what little money I had left on a Young Dusky Brown Horse which left me with four copper in my pockets.  I had a long journey back to Tanvu though, so I figured it’d be worth it.  Hey, who doesn’t like having a horse?  The horse I bought is the slowest one available, but it’s still pretty cool trotting around on a horse.  I made my way back to Jalen’s Crossing where I found a teleporter which zapped me back to Tanvu which is right where I needed to be for my next set of quests.  I happened to see in the out of character chat that at around level fifteen or so I may be ready to explore some of the other continents, so I’m looking forward to that.  I may even get brave enough in the coming days to try grouping, but I’ll have to see, because I still feel like a complete noob in this game.

Young and n00bish Again

Shang VillageAfter just two hours or so of play, here are my initial, immediate impressions (not a review!) of Vanguard.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I created a Kojani Disciple on the Xeth Server.  I decided on my class first, just from reading the class descriptions and choosing one that sounded interesting to me.  This was a harder choice than I thought it would be, because so many of the classes sounded cool.  I also considered a Paladin, Ranger, Necromancer, Druid, or Shaman.  Again, no other game I’ve seen has a group of classes that seems as varied and interesting to me than Vanguard.  Once I had selected Disciple, I was now restricted to which race I could choose.  None of the Thestran races could be a Disciple, so that left a Kojani or Qaliathari race.  The majority of my time in the beta was spent in Qalia, and I don’t think I spent any time in Kojan as I think it was inaccessible at the time, so I settled on a Kojani race.  From there, I chose the human simply because I prefer playing human-type characters, nothing more, nothing less.

I didn’t spend too much time with the character customization.  I actually liked the pre-generated look that came up by default.  I changed a few sliders here and there, but I wasn’t too worried about the look of my guy.  I spent more time thinking of the name, Qae Zhynn, which ultimately came out sounding like a spice.  Ah well.

With all that done, I soon found myself on the shores of a small island amidst an invasion on nearby Shang Village by the Imperial Army.  As a member of the invading army, my first quest was to boost the morale of some fellow soldiers who were having morality issues with the fact that the village was comprised of just women and children and weren’t carrying out their orders.  It didn’t take long to discover that I was heading down a bad path, blindly following orders without thinking of the consequences.  A few quests down the road I was tasked with killing Master Fhungusu, the leader of Shang Village.  I became a little concerned when I saw he was level 50, slightly over my head as a level 2 character.  It turns out he foresaw my coming, and he reached out to my character, telling me it was time to be born again.  I was instantly teleported miles away from Shang Village to Dellerjuba, where my road to redemption was to begin.

I quite enjoyed this opening experience; it felt very dynamic.  It was neat to see non-player characters running around, fighting; for once I didn’t feel like I was all by myself.  It was also nice to know that this is just one starting experience among many, based on which race you choose. 

I’m still in awe over the world of Telon.  The world graphics are great, and I haven’t had any performance issues at all.  I’m currently playing with my settings on medium which looks just fine, and performs just as well.  I’ve even run around a bit with all the settings at max which looks even better and is still decently playable.  There has definitely been some optimization done since the beta period.

Shang VillageBefore I get into some of the things that I thought were really cool, I have a few issues that jumped out at me.  Remember, this is only after two hours or so of playing.  First, the font over characters’ heads is butt ugly.  It’s so incredibly plain that it stands out, and I find it to be quite jarring.  Secondly, I can’t stand the targeting reticule.  It just seems so big and stupid looking.  I’d prefer it if it was just a flat circle around the target, rather than the three dimensional monstrosity that it is now.  Finally, some of the character animations are crap, plain and simple, especially while swimming.  I’ve heard that the character models are going to be revamped, which is sorely needed, because they don’t fit with the gorgeous looking world.

Here I go again about the world of Vanguard, which I think is top notch.  It was what sold me on Vanguard in the first place, back during the last hour of beta when I got to fly around Qalia.  This is the closest I’ve seen an MMO come to creating a play space that feels like an actual world.  What I wouldn’t give for a flying mount now…

Next, there was something awe-inspiring standing by the shore and seeing a player-made boat float down the river.  It’s hard to explain, but it definitely served as a “cooooooool!” moment for me.  That’s just another thing to strive for I guess, but at this point I have no idea what it would take to get one.

So after just a short time with the game, currently sitting at level six, I must say I’m enjoying it a fair bit.  Of course, it’s pretty hard to get bored of an MMO this early in to it, so I’ll just have to wait and see.