The Trials of UnSub: Vanguard: Saga of Heroes

It was the best of trials, it was the worst of trials.

Let’s get this straight: Vanguard has the best trial set-up I’ve yet seen in a MMO. You get to play on a separate island using a ‘small’ (2GB) client that is set-up to both provide a storyline and a chance to get your character to level 10 in combat, crafting and diplomacy. Having played through the trial I know exactly what Vanguard is about. That’s fantastic. Too many trials I’ve played are too short and / or too broad to actually teach you what the game is like. By having a specially set-up area known as the Isle of Dawn that is only for trialists, Vanguard avoids this problem. The story is engaging enough and some of the systems, like the diplomacy card game, really shine through.

Screenshot of Vanguard's update notes on the SOE Station Launcher, dated April 3 2009.

How likely am I to buy a title that was last updated on April 3 2009? Not very. That's a sales-destroying oversight right there.

Of course, the problem with showing off a microcosm of the game to trialists is that any flaws become apparent more quickly. For a title as ‘old’ as Vanguard (launched 2007) I’d have expected no problems playing, but I actually suffered through a number of crashes and graphics issues – flickering screens, objects having ‘lines’ that shot off into the sky and so on. After some tweaking I fixed enough of these issues to be able to ignore them, but ultimately a trial needs to be a smooth ride if the aim is to get them to put down their cash. In the final form I was seeing, graphics and sound were acceptable but not outstanding.

Oh, and on the note of putting off players: nothing screams out “DON’T BUY THIS GAME!” like seeing update notes that are coming up to their first birthday whenever you go to launch. I’m sure Vanguard has been updated since then, but someone really needs to fix that issue with the SOE Station launcher.

Starting out I went as a Dark Elf Monk named Incand on Sartok, the FFA PvP server. Gameplay was okay, with the diplomacy card game being the highlight. It takes a little while to figure out a strategy / card range that works, but it certainly provided a different experience to Vanguard. Crafting (as a blacksmith) was alright, with it being a matter to just pick the order you press the various buttons in. Combat was dull and has probably dated the worst – stand in one place, hit the buttons and try not to aggro more than one opponent at a time.

Picture of a flight on a pegasus.

Scenic.

Vanguard’s quests were a mixed bag. By far the best was the completely unnecessary but incredibly pretty scouting mission on the back of a pegasus. It game a great view of the large size of the trial area and how much of a world Vanguard looked. Diplomacy quests could be fun, but often required finding the right clothes / items to have the right standing with the right diplomacy faction before you could complete them.

The worst quests were those that required you to repeatedly run back to the same target / location / NPC to complete them – I’ve just come from there and now I’ve got to run back? That’s just a pure, unfun timesink. And then there were the ‘dungeon’-style areas that could easily see you run into two (or more) mobs which would mean a quick trip to a rez point.

And here is where I felt that Vanguard really shoots itself in the foot – having completed all other quests, the final quest set sends the player to an occupied temple in an attempt to free it. Since this temple is occupied, it has lots of mobs wandering about – mobs that can quickly gang up and easily kill the light fighter-type Monk. I have no idea how other classes would deal with this situation, but if a fighter class is struggling in killing one, maybe two mobs at a time I ended up wondering how hard some classes would have it.

Constantly running from the rez point to buy a pegasus mount to get to the temple, then fight my way in, then fight through a room or two until being overwhelmed and starting the process again wasn’t fun. The whole final part of the trial was a massive kick to the groin and a large block over any desire to sign up and play.

To my way of thinking, the final quest of a trial area should be more aimed at getting the player psyched to buy the game rather than grinding down their will to play with repeated character deaths. Maybe this was the intent – maybe Vanguard really wants to hold onto its (former?) hardcore crown and to let me know that I was not l33t enough to play. If that’s the case, mission accomplished – my trial ran out before I could clear the temple. Having started out incredibly impressed with the scope of Vanguard’s trial, the final area killed any enjoyment I had in the game.

In my opinion, a MMO trial has two goals:

  1. To realistically show a player what the game is like and to teach them how to play (with as little as possible bait-and-switch occuring); and
  2. To encourage the player to sign on and pay for the full game.

Vanguard succeeded brilliantly on the first goal and bombed out horribly on the second. I highly recommend playing the Vanguard trial to all other MMO players and developers – it’s rare that you end up seeing such a polar mix of right and wrong in one place.

It was the best of trials; it was the worst of trials.

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4 thoughts on “The Trials of UnSub: Vanguard: Saga of Heroes

  1. I’m in the trial right now. I haven’t tried crafting or diplomacy as I’ve had enough fun just adventuring/questing. While trying to figure out how to get on a pegasus, a person said he needed to go to the temple too (I didn’t need to go though, yet) and invited me to group.

    I went ahead and accepted and we went to the temple, added a couple more people, and killed everything in there. However, I couldn’t even enter one portion since I didn’t have the right quest. I still had another quest to do before getting the one where I need to kill stuff in the temple.

    After the group disbanded I went ahead and got to quests that said I needed to go to the temple. I, like you, tried to kill stuff solo. Forget it. I’m playing a cleric that can heal and do pretty good damage, and there’s no way I can solo that.

    Thus, I believe the whole point of the temple is to group up with others. Admittedly, the most fun I’ve had in the trial was when I was grouped up with others and we were killing everything in the temple. And let’s face it, for solo play, an FPS or most games on console have that market.

    I think mmogs are made for grouping, and a game that makes it challenging/fun for groups is a good thing. In the group I was in, everyone seemed pretty mature and didn’t get all pissy when it was discovered I didn’t have the quest. I said if I needed to drop the group that’d be cool, but they said I should stay and even offered to help get me up to speed.

    I’m still a little undecided though (not because of the game), which is how I happened up on your blog. I think I may go ahead and buy a month though and see. But I did want to impart that your big negative of the game is probably because they want you to go in the temple with other players.

  2. I fully agree with the assessment that the Vanguard trial is by far the best designed trial I have ever seen.
    On all accounts, the final temple quest included.
    Actually the temple quest is probably the most important part of the trial because it sends a very important message, namely : “The most important parts of the game CANNOT be done solo! You will need to group.”

    I can’t understand why the author of this blog post bothered to run several times for the pegasus to try over and over a task that he should have known impossible.
    Personnaly I needed only one attempt to understand.
    The second time I came back with a group and easily prevailed.;

    Vanguard passed F2P so I came back to what I consider the best MMO concept of the last 10 years. Unfortunately their F2P is completely subpar as compared to Lotro f.ex.

    • I had trialed Vanguard before the F2P was introduced and there was no-one to group with to try to run that final temple. Content that requires a group when no group exists is a problem when you are trying to get people to pay money to play your game.

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